One band that certainly had their hands full this year was Kentucky/West Virginia's Social Junk. Now operating as the duo of Heather Young and Noah Anthony with occasional help from auxiliary member Rickman, the band mounted their first nationwide tour and released two full length CD-R's, two cassettes, a split cassette with Kraken Fury (aka Thaddeus of the Warmer Milks) and solo albums by all three members this year. While the band has never been afraid of using every tool available to them to make their eerie spook jams, they've occasionally been prone in the past to overlooking their own amazing songwriting and instrumental talents in the name of more, shall we say, 'fucked'. While they still clearly favor the toys and the noise, this year's two CD-R releases saw them hitting their stride and showcasing their talents like never before. Gone are the meandering blowouts of last year's Trailer Witch and the dry muck of 2005's Champs, replaced instead with meticulously planned and brilliantly orchestrated songs of melancholy and delirium. The first release to come tumbling from their fertile womb this year was the Offering CD-R on Baltimore label MT6. This one could haunt a child for years. Playing out like some sick desert nightmare the band pulls you in safely at first with soothing synth tones, and then segues into a westerny "on your way to the gallows" kinda groove driven by a simple ominous jangly guitar line. Things get much darker on the next two tracks, 'Stoner Car' and 'City's On Fire', two live favorites. 'Stoner Car' has an impossibly drilling looped guitar part and lots of chimes and horns, and it certainly does not produce fond thoughts of being high in an automobile. The prize on this one is 'City's on Fire'. Kicking off with unsettling manic laughter more drilled loop guitar and aggressive yet sparse percussion the song builds to a terrifying climax as Anthony menacingly taunts "your children are alone/your house is on fire/your city's on fire!". Meanwhile you presumably stand in pale faced shock while watching it burn to the ground. Truly an ugly song by anyone's standards. And you're far from off the hook. 'Mind' doesn't bother to clean up the mess left by 'City's on Fire', and instead wallows in upsetting noise and more hostile taunts from Anthony until it's abruptly interrupted by an unexpected emptiness carried along by haunting percussion. The whole thing builds back up getting even cruder than before, and kicks sand directly into your face with both feet. This song also appears in much less imposing form on a split cassette with Robedoor from this year's Deathbomb Arc tape club, although I've gotta say I much prefer the 'dirty' version. Next up is the song 'Wedlock' which demonstrates the band's softer side and highlights Heather Young's amazing voice. The song is nearly acapella with just a few quiet drones and whipping flares echoing in the background. It may be their only love song up to this point, I'm not sure, but as beautiful as it is, I could certainly go for many more. The album finishes up on another quiet note as simple rumbling guitar and echoing horns create a peaceful soundscape far from the bombast of 'City's on Fire' and 'Mind'. I think there is always something to be said for an album that you can create and maintain your own concept around independent of the artist's vision. The creepy crud that this record shores up in my mind scares the shit out of me, and that's part of why I love it so much. On to newer things: the band recently released the Dirty Cloud CD-R on American Grizzly. While it starts in a relatively similar fashion to Offering with that kinda dying in the desert vibe, it's clear early on that this record is not nearly as ugly as it's predecessor. For one Anthony's vocals are much calmer in general and often carry heavy effects processing, and Young's vocals are more prominently featured. Instead of building into massive wasteland proportions many of the songs, such as the nine-minute 'Bloodletting', cruise instead to a peaceful warm place, offering droning comfort instead of bone-shattering aggression. The album still has it's share of noisers of course, 'Lands or Sands' sounds like someone trying to yell at you from across the bridge in a panic inducing traffic jam and 'Ramblin' Pines' sounds like the support beams holding that bridge snapping as easily as a rubber band while Flying Saucer Attack plays, barely audible on your car stereo. But ultimately even the title track, which is the heaviest song on the record, leads somewhere more pleasant. Having seen the band a few times on their last tour i can attest that not all these songs come across quite as comforting in the live setting, but hearing them play the untitled last track on this album in LA last August made me view what this band was capable of in a whole new light. At that point I hadn't heard Dirty Cloud yet, but now that I have I'm more aware than ever of the huge talent and potential this band has to offer both within and outside of the greater 'noise pantheon' or whatever. And it seems I'm not alone in noticing either. Five years of hard work has finally paid off as the band is currently preparing their first LP for release on Deathbomb Arc and their first "real" CD to be released on Project Active Media. I'd like to make a toast to five more years.
Monday, December 24, 2007
That is the motto for one Occasional Detroit, hailing originally from Yisplanti, Michigan now living in New Mexico. They are a total anomaly, not because they cross hip-hop with "noise" or whatever, but because they do it so well. Towondo (or Beyababa as he's sometimes known) and Demeat first popped up on my radar back in late 2005 when I saw them play in St. Louis. Their performance was one of the most surreal shows I've ever had the pleasure to witness. The set wasn't really very musical, but instead was some weird skit that involved Towondo, clad in a tutu, dying while Demeat talked on the phone. No one knew what to make of it and everyone loved it. Everyone agreed it was somehow political but no one could quite figure out how. I still haven't figured it out. What I have learned however is that O-D is a lot more than just some silly skit band as evidenced by two stellar releases this year. Both records are collaborations with Charleston, South Carolina's Gaybomb aka Andrew Barranca, ex-member of Puke Attack and the man behind the newly formed Isle of Man label. The first record, a beautiful clear purple LP in a picture disc sleeve released on Isle of Man, is a thorough document of the meeting of these two artists. It spans quite a distance, starting on rocky ground with a soundcheck and lots of "are we recording?" talk. But before you can say the word "amateur" an infectious beat has kicked in and Towando has started to free associate (i believe in hip-hop they call it a flow) about pasta and mic problems. It only gets weirder from there. Barely audible Farfisa tones, saxophone, and Gaybomb's distinctive card-reader all collide as Demeat and Towondo battle back and forth about what day of the week it is. And that's only the first song! The other two songs on the first side of the LP mine even more confounding territory, twisting their experimental hip-hop stylings into a much more curious and abstract concoction by incorporating elements of tropicalia, jazz, lounge, eastern music, and harsh noise into the mix. The B-side is where things really get poppin'. After a false start or two and a few beat tweaking moments things really start to cook as Demeat gives a laid back flow and the bass builds to the sound of a helicopter whirring three feet above yr head. The gears are then shifted as Gaybomb takes over with the saxophone and the beat starts to falter and stutter out. Before you realize what has happened everything is more or less back in order and Demeat hasn't missed a step. Towards the end of the track the beat kicks in even harder and there is a G-funk style synth line for a moment before being drowned out again by the saxophone and Demeat's continuing flow. But as great as this track is it's really only a build up for the final helping. Yes, if there is anything O-D know how to do, it's keep people hanging on, and the payoff doesn't get much better than the last song on this record, called simply "Electro-Pop". I don't even know where to start on this one! Try to imagine if you can, the cruddiest sounding drum n' bass track in the world (but you know, in a good way) with one of those dudes who freestyles for money near the airport having a psychotic break over it. Yeah, this shit is REAL fucking good, amazing in fact and proof that O-D has the world in their hands and a future worth betting on. But just in case there is further proof needed, from the same session comes a 7" from the fine people at Human Conduct and I Just Live Here. And it too is a monster. Gone is the light-hearted, casual opening of the LP replaced instead with overblown card-reader scratches and glowing synths. Deep hitting bass kicks in and Demeat unleashes a flow that actually rivals Beyababa's on "Electro-Pop". The B-side is a mind fuck similar to the alien weirdness of the latter half of the LP's A-side, but more spastic. The cover art is great too, if for no other reason than because I have no idea what it's trying to convey, a common experience for me when dealing with this curious duo. I'm gonna go ahead and predict that this band will end up on Load eventually. They seem to be exactly what the biggest little noise label in the world is missing, especially after those previous failed attempts at experimental hip-hop and techno (anyone remember Pleasurehorse or even worse Hawd Gankstuh Rappuhs MC's wid gatz? I didn't think so). After Load signed three of my favorite bands (Sword Heaven, Air Conditioning, Silver Daggers) in like one month or something last year, I feel like I can get a sense about these things. The only thing standing between O-D and world domination is someone willing to throw money at them. They're way too good for Troubleman, so here's hoping Load signs them soon. Either way they are a band for the ages and a true original.
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Without a doubt the record I wore out more than any other this year was the Population Problems comp. 7" on Cephia's Treat. The comp. features eight bands (6 from Tampa, 2 from Savannah, Georgia). It starts off simply enough with a lumbering sneer from two piece junk-rockers Byron House and then moves into harsher territory with Savannah's Oubliette generating a ravaging meditation on child birth. Both choice tracks, for sure, but it's after this that the record takes a turn into the truly odd. Then and Than utilize simple drum machine patterns, frequency sweep synth lines, and an instrument that may or not be a theremin to create something that sounds like it should've been on the soundtrack to AI (remember that shitty movie? actually I've never seen it, but this song makes me think of the imagery from that film). Turmoiled Functions follows this up with a piece that works as a compliment to the Then and Than track, but definitely has a bit more of an ominous feel to it. Next up is The Oals. If you've ever wondered what it would be like to have a picnic on a cloud, this track could probably give you some insight. Soft piano, brushed drums, soothing vocals that are all about how much they care about you (no shit!), this track always puts me in a great mood. Short but sweet. Haves and Thirds, aka Cephia's Treat headmaster Todd Lynne, weighs in next. The track is typical of what he's been doing for years, but in case you're unfamiliar, it involves hip hop beats, a very distinctive style of guitar playing, and samples from all your favorite 80's films. I literally can not say enough good things about Haves and Thirds. This particular movement finds samples from the Cleese classic Clue popping up and warbles along at an unsteady speed, creating what I'm daring to call his best composition yet. Noche Rider follow up doing another two-piece rock thing, though their track is much more, shall we say "rock n' roll", than the Byron House contribution. It sorta has a Sabbathy feel to it for a second, and then there are a couple of drum rolls, a few string bends and it's over. Curious to hear more from these Savannah cats. Capping off one weird-ass monster is the Fas'ners. I played their song for a friend and she said it sounded like elevator music. While that's not something I completely agree with, I can see where she's coming from. The instrumentation on this one is similar to that of Then and Than or Turmoiled Functions, only instead of alien landscapes it brings about visions of a much more loungey, casual setting. Maybe like a post-modern beer commercial or something. Does that make sense? It doesn't does it? It doesn't matter. So what exactly is so special about this record that made it stand out for me so much? Well, for one it's very uncommon for artists in this realm to have songs this short. Most of the songs are less than a minute and a half long, but in a style that could easily lend itself to much longer more drawn out tracks. Sometimes this can be problematic (see Limp Lungs below), but in this case it works for every song. More than anything else though, I think it's the sense of simplicity that all of these bands have in common that really got me hooked. In a time when everything in underground music has been completely blown open and anything can be and regularly is accepted, it's truly amazing to hear artists making music that is this distinctive and well thought out with little to no skill and incredibly simple instrumentation. There are so many weird records coming out now, it's rare to find one that is still weird when compared to everything else. This record is beyond that. It is truly a bizarre experience and absolutely my pick for record of the year. Oh and before I get too carried away, it's worth mentioning that the 12" comp. Everything Is A Theory, which came out in 2006, is probably the best record of last year. Tampa's on a roll.
So after listening to Population Problems over and over (and over and over and over), I decided to check out a few of the other 7 inchers Cephia's has put out in the last couple of years. Here's a quick recap:
The New Flesh w/ Robert Inhuman- Punch Drunk In this Shit World one sided 7"
Ho-ly Shit. This is the kind of record that would make my dear mother cry. Absolutely mind-shreddingly shrill vocals from Realicide's Robert Inhuman on top of the New Flesh's grinding hate-rock. The combination of the two artist's distinct styles is undeniably compelling and forms to create something that makes yesteryear's hardcore seem like something yr dad tries to tell you is cool. Essential.
When I was in high school I was in a grind band. We had somewhere around 25 songs and knew every single one note for note and by name. No one else could tell our songs apart and everyone said they all sounded the same. That could be because every single one was written and performed in the same style, OR it could simply be because they weren't listening closely enough. Byron House strikes me as a band that could have a similar problem. While to me their songs don't all sound the same, there are a lot of haters out there who will probably tell you that this band has no idea what they're doing and has no control over their compositions. Not only is this mis-informed it's outright fucking wrong. Borrowing the manner in which grind bands operate and plugging in their own twisted variables these two Tampa delinquents crank out 13 doses of discordant punk racket that took a lot more planning than many would give them credit for. Think Half-Japanese with the attitude of Body Count and you've got an idea of what's happening here.
Limp Lungs/Fas'ners- Punk Cliches split one sided 7"
I actually picked this one up awhile back when I ordered the Sword Heaven/16 Bitch Pile-Up split LP. This record is now out of print, but I like it a lot, so I'll talk about it anyway. The Limp Lungs are an odd proposition, especially in this format. They turn in an airy, buzzy number, that barely taps you on the shoulder and gets you involved, but is too short to really latch on to. I loved this track when I first got the record. Now I think it's just okay, but I'm desperate to get the full story and find this band's opus. I know it's out there. Limp Lungs, if yr reading this, please get in touch. The Fas'ners really upset me on this release. "What the fuck is this shit!?" I kept asking myself listening to the song over and over. It sounded like a good natured booty bass track played through a toy keyboard or something. It actually wasn't until after hearing their track on the Population Problems 7" that I decided to give it another chance. I used to hate this song, now I love it. Funny how things turn out.
Cramped Quarters comp. 7"
After being so into the Population Problems comp. I figured I had better check out it's counterpart from a few years earlier. This record actually starts off quite similarly with a Byron House rager followed by a harsh noise blowout (this time by Dead/Bird). That's about where the similarities end however. Gone are the alien picnic synth jams (except for the obligatory Haves and Thirds track of course), replaced instead with out there harshness (Russian Tsarcasm, emBard, EN, Hepatitis Youth) and more traditional rock stylings (Yukhonic, What's Yr Damage?). This is still an incredible record in it's own right, released to commemorate a winter 2003 tour that took place while I was still in musical short pants.
SLD- In With The Old 7"
I picked this one up on a recommendation from a friend who said it was the best punk record of the 90's. While I don't exactly second that, what's here was well documented and I'm glad I got to hear it. SLD was the band of Haves and Thirds/Cephia's pres. Todd Lynne back in the late 90's. Listening to it makes it easier to understand why he seems to be so insistent on dissing the southeastern hardcore scene of the same time period, since this music is very disconnected from what was happening in that miserable excuse of a scene (yeah, I was there, and while I love many of those bands, nothing, and I mean NOTHING, was less fun than being at a political hardcore show in the late 90's in Tennessee). The description on the Cephia's site says the record is a cross between Void and New Order, and that's actually not so far off. Basically you have the traditional hardcore speed parts and then pretty breakdowns that have nice melody and texture to them, and the occasional noise loop popping up here and there. Not what I would consider essential listening (like the Southeastern Hardcore, Fuck Yeah! 7" comp. or the first His Hero is Gone 7") but well worth hearing if you get the chance.
Hello and welcome to Myth of Leisure. I've started this blog to discuss music I'm into. I know, there are already a bunch of other blogs that discuss the music I'm into, but I'm throwing my hat in anyway. A quick bit about me: I'm a 27 year old college student in the deep south. I recently moved back in with my parents to save money to move to the west coast. I am an admitted vinyl fetishist, which i know is a bit of a hipster handicap in this CD/tape age but the heart wants what it wants I guess, and my heart wants vinyl. Lots of it. I don't get to buy music as often as I'd like since I'm a workophobic, but I do okay for having no real income to speak of. The most important thing you should know about me is that I'm NOT a "music writer". I have no experience with or knowledge of the dos and don'ts of music criticism, and I don't really care to learn them. Nor do I have a desire to analyze music from an "artistic" standpoint. I have no credible background or real knowledge of "avant garde" music in general, or of the "language of music" or whatever. Instead I came to where I am now through my interest in punk, bedroom recordings, and of course, Sonic Youth. Generally I hate "critics" as such and am much more enamored with people who write about music because they love it and not because it's their job. That is why I am here. To get started I'll discuss some of my favorite records of the past year. Hope you enjoy the words.