Tuesday, April 26, 2011
Many years ago in a town far, far away called Gothenburg, Sweden, a retro-doom band lived by the name of Norrsken. This band of slaves to all in the name of rock decided to split ways. One valiant member went on to form Witchcraft. The remaining would go on to begin what is known to me as the greatest rock and roll band of my generation-GRAVEYARD.
Their self-titled debut on Tee Pee Records showed promise and they gained much critical acclaim in the underground. Over the course of the last four years, after serious touring and dialing in on their sound we finally see the release of a second album-Hisingen Blues, and I can't love it more.
Califone, Quicksand/Cradlesnakes, 2003
Opening the shades of the window next to my desk this afternoon, I greet patches of blue sky rolled over by thick storm-clouds and the occasional rumble of thunder. Springtime in Salt Lake is like this; an undecided outside hints at the magic of blooming life to come, but suspends our hearts in their winter retreats as we yearn to emerge. Earlier, I was reading a close friend’s account of the death of his grandmother, and, like always, this friend broke me wide open with a single sentence: “What I want to say is that we live at edges.” Today, like every other day in which I am actually awake to the world, I open my eyes to namelessness, to an edge of weather showing its remarkable knack for refusing my language (R. Blaser: “the tree stands before me of what name”).
Right now, Califone is meeting me at this particular edge. A band that itself emerged from lead singer Tim Rutili’s former blues-rock outfit Red Red Meat, Califone, with their first release dating back to 1998 and nine albums following, navigates on each of their albums the peculiar intersections between folk, psychedelic, blues, electronica, and pop with haphazard grace. With my attention so focused on the shifting April weather, I threw on their incredible 2003 album, Quicksand/Cradlesnakes, and sank sweetly into its ramshackle beauty.
The kind of experimentation with Americana that Rutili and company do so well strikes a certain chord with me because of the power with which its soundscapes conjure landscapes. Quicksand/Cradlesnakes is sparse, delicate, and full of movement. High deserts, plains, tundras, country roads. For me, the promise of these open, often arid spaces (both geographically and musically) is that they leave what's living there the room to move freely, But, of course, the knowledge of additional presences drives us towards companionship, so the players and their instruments find their own paths toward each other. Droning strings collapse instantly into ambling banjo plucking, catchy melodies are dissolved by clattering percussion, and the guitars move from cooperative riffs to surreal dissonance in a way that evokes the playful dance of light and dark outside my window.
The high points of this album are the points where it is most focused, namely “Michigan Girls” (one of my favorite songs ever recorded), but I think they hold up so well because of the understated sonic explorations they get to intermittently peek through. This is not an album full of atemporal songwriting gems that can stand alone, but rather a study in the process of “song” that walks itself up to the edge of its own considerations and waits there for us, softly tapping its boots in the dust.
Califone - Michigan Girls by henryfess
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Endless Boogie, Full House Head
Jon The Fisherman/Jonny Rotten/Blackreignbow told me to go check out Endless Boogie at The Hemlock Tavern on Polk St. I immediately consulted their latest LP ‘Full House Head’ and was sold within the first minute. I assumed that this band I had never heard of, branded all over the internet as “heavy-psych,” were going to be 4, 20-something-year-olds with beards, western-style plaid shirts and skinny jeans. So I enter this upscale bohemian venue that has poured every dollar and inch of energy it has, trying to maintain that hole-in-the-wall dive bar vibe, and they do a pretty fucking good job at it, woulda’ fooled me until my the bill came and I took a moment to look around at the clientele, which consisted of legal interns and barista’s struggling to pay for acting school even though they just graduated from Yale, all done up in the finest ‘Darkside,’ costume versions of themselves. Needless to say I am floored when a band from Brooklyn whose combined age is 169, walks on stage and fucking shreds my face off with an industrial vegetable grader for the next 50 minutes.
Monday, April 18, 2011
Luz Elena, the main voice and songwriter behind Portland band Y La Bamba, has quite a story to tell. Her parents were Mexican immigrants that brought their family to America for a better life. She grew up in the San Francisco area with a socially sheltered and staunch catholic upbringing listening to mostly traditional Mexican music. Later in life she traveled to New Zealand to further study Theology, eventually missioned to India, contracted disease, suffered from Insomnia, lost 60 pounds, etc. and her journey back to health left her in Portland. She mingled with the eclectic music scene there of and Y La Bamba was born...kind of. So that's the short story of her background that can give you an insight in to where her incredible songwriting is being pulled from. She's had a wild ride it seems. She started mostly doing acoustic stuff-recording raw songs to her mac-book, which kind of turned into her first effort entitled "Alida St." Her style is her own, a version of freak-folk, if you will. You'll instantly fall in love with her voice. Very classy and crisp, but the way it unpredictably twists up and down through the songs is what hooks you. She has an uncanny prowess and is great alone, but when she meshes with the full band their sound really shines. They're a super talented group of musicians (6 including Luz) using horns, accordion, fiddle, singing saw, percussion, and guitars to delicately carry their complex vocal harmonies through the songs in an almost jazzy sort of way. It's very light, beautiful and blissful music that you can sway and groove to with ease. Something like a Latino influenced Thao Nguyen meets Beirut meets Devendra Banhart. Hooky acoustic guitar melodies, an ambience of horns, strings and accordion, and groovy drum rhythms backing a powerful vocal force that instantly consumes you. Their first real full-length entitled "Lupon" was released in 2010 and is highly recommended.
Thursday, April 14, 2011
Wednesday, April 13, 2011
Skeme, Pistols and Palm Trees, 2010
Question for today: where do we draw the line between rap and pop? The two have always been in conversation, but I’m starting to get discouraged with rap’s increasing inability to actually sound like rap. Don’t get it twisted, I love throwing Wiz Khalifa or Drake on at a party just to watch the hips wobble, but if I have to hear one more song of some overly-manicured dude harmonizing with himself for four minutes about how many other guys’ girlfriends he’s slept with, I am going to lose it. The genre of rap has always celebrated lyrical creativity, brash delivery, energy, confidence (i.e. swaaaaaag), etc., etc., and frankly, too many of these young guns sound too fucking lazy.
Fortunately, and in large part due to the insane networking skills of my good friend Nick (I see you Deek!), I have been put on to the burgeoning L.A. rap revival. For far too long, the Left Coast has been relatively quiet; partially because of the blogosphere’s de-emphasizing of regional loyalty, and partially because 50 Cent killed our faith in gangsta rap. Whatever. Cali is back, and they are going hard! That shit I can’t stop bumping right now? Skeme’s Pistols & Palm Trees mixtape. While the sound quality is so-so (Skeme, if you ever read this, I’ve been told to pass it on that you should’ve had Glenn at Truth Studios master your tape), the raps are absolutely on point. It’s pretty easy to gather from the choruses, the production, and Skeme’s sense of melody that he has paid attention to the ongoing trends in contemporary rap music, but nowhere on this tape does he pander to the sissies who don’t want their rappers to actually do any rapping. Take “Keep it G,” a bouncy, club-friendly swagfest featuring Young Money’s Tyga that surprises with one of the catchiest choruses EVER about keepin’ it gangster as fuck.
As the title infers, there are dozens of toasts to the good life, but he’s armed at the party. This mixtape is everything I love about West Coast hip hop for that exact reason. It’s got a little bit of danger (“Pistols”), a rough-around-the-edges first impression that comes mostly from Skeme’s intense, almost snarly delivery, but after that it’s all kush smoke, fly girls, and $100 bills (“We Know”). Listen to standout track “Chuck Taylors” and light one up; pure California cool.
Skeme - Chuck Taylors by henryfess
Tuesday, April 12, 2011
The Weeknd - High For This by TomJenkins
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
oOoOO – oOoOO EP
You can say that “labels are for jars,” and I would much rather just talk about the music than lump it into categories, but sometimes you just have to generalize. So there's that whole chillwave phase what with Toro y Moi, Washed Out, Memory Tapes, and others spearheading the quite literally “chill,” dreamy, slow lo-fi that's perfect as a blissful soundtrack to high times at the beach. But with Toro y Moi's new album spearheading a new direction into the forays of live-instrumentation and funk, it seems to have lost some of the luster that made it so fashionable last year. Pitchfork probably would call it “dead.” But it's not dead, it's a genre, and even though I dig chillwave, I'm gonna talk a little bit about it's cousin. Maybe it's more of an evil twin, but either way it's being dubbed the inane name of “witch house.” It's the dark side of chillwave; super-slowed down electronic with drippy synths, a notable dirty Southern rap accent, and a load of weird, creepy sounds that just have to have been sampled from horror films. The big guns here are Salem, Balam Acab, and oOoOO (props to anyone who can think of another band/artist's name that's longer than “xx” and consists of only one letter). There's also this bro who goes by the symbol of a triangle. With two crosses on either side. Or something. Anyway, I got kinda turned off by Salem because their live show is so mind-numbingly awful so I proclaim this oOoOO thing king of “witch house,” as much as it pains me to use those two words. I recommend taking in his oOoOO EP as a whole, but if you're not gonna download it, at least listen to “Hearts,” which is oOoOO at his best. It bridges contemporary hip hop with its share of snaps and claps, and drugged out, depressing electro-goth. A forlorn, fairly monotone female voice gives it some personality, sounding as if this is the last song she'll ever sing, and it gets a little funky with a bassline that's a departure from his other stuff, but it's still otherwordly with synths that dizzily twist and turn and writhe around your head as you get transported to some unknown place in the dark of the night. Call it a party song for the apocalypse, where you chill with people that look like that thing on the EP cover. I shouldn't quote YouTube, but after reading this comment under the “Hearts” clip I just felt compelled: "this song is so fucking good i'm hosting a halloween party this year where all we do is cocaine and listen to this song on repeat and what's the spookiest booze..? VODKA AND BLOOD. you're all invited." oOoOO, look what you've done to these people. Now where's my invitation?
Download oOoOO EP