Classic Album of the Week: Sonic Youth-Daydream Nation

Daydream Nation is one of those records that came at the end of a decade and gave the world a taste of every sound that was about to explode all over a genre.  The band looked to DC hardcore and threw in some lengthy, Patti Smith spoken word art rock and also purely innovated new ideology.  The general brooding darkness–a byproduct of alternate guitar tunings and heavy distortion–would be all over the Seattle scene, whereas experimental moments–like the ambient track “Providence”–would influence the likes of Bark Psychosis and Godspeed! You Black Emperor.

Raucous riffs dominate, on some tracks underlying a fun vocal delivery before pounding the listener for huge swaths of time with a switch into minor yielding a noisy finale.  There’s a sense that the band came up with little, simple song structures, but they come at an irregular pace.  We open with Kim Gordon’s hazy spoken word, before a fun, marching tune sets in; “The Sprawl” ends with a spacey instrumental, then the singers don’t show up for another two minutes at the beginning of “Cross the Breeze.”

The lyrics capture the moods of the 20s with laying them out to obviously for you.  “I’m over the city, fucking the future” suggests mild arrogance; “I remember our youth, our high ideals” tells us about how the magic gets pummeled out of you.

When you take a step back, you see an 80-minute record that many consider a masterpiece, but the listening experience is never overly daunting and flies by with each stroke of that cheap guitar.

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The Uncoverables Podcast: Jesse Beaman Interview (My Empty Phantom)

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This week’s episode features an interview with Jesse Beaman, who writes music under the stage name My Empty Phantom.  His album “Collection of Memories I/II” was reviewed on positively underground last year and we’re excited for it’s partner album due for release this year.

The episode also features and handful of exciting new rock releases.

Priests-Nothing Feels Natural from “Nothing Feels Natural”

Tim Darcy-Still Waking Up from “Saturday Night”

My Empty Phantom-Reflection and Forever from “Collection of Memories I/II”

Real Estate-Darling from “In Mind”

Parlor Walls-Play Opposites from “Opposites”

The Uncoverables Podcast: Janu-scary 2017 Experimental Mix

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This is the second half of my radio show from last week featuring new and upcoming music from January 2017.

W Zabarkas: “Autumn Invades the House” from The Origin of Dreams

Aaron Lumley and Jasper Stadhouders: “Lapis Philosophorum” from Strung Out

Mere: “V” from Mere II

Astvaldur: “Flesh” from At Least

Daniel WJ Mackenzie: “Abandonment II” from Everytime Feels like the Last Time

Julie Byrne: “Natural Blue” from Not Even Happiness

Austra-Future Politics: Album Review

Austra’s voice gives new meaning to music critic phrases of “soaring melodies,” “atmospheric high notes,” and the like.  Throughout Future Politics, impressive vocal acrobatics float over icy electroacoustic space, only coming down to earth on occasion to utter viciously catchy hooks.  The record touches upon the cold nature of contemporary society and government with city life, capitalism, and relationships all facing dissection.  Although Austra’s beats punch and her more radio friendly cuts may incorporate instances of blissful warmth, the record is certainly not complete without tension and contemplation.

“We Were Alive” introduces the mood of the record really well without jumping into the subject matter too specifically.  Disclaimer, I found some of the lyrics hard to decipher, but there’s a sense that Austra is locked in—she uses the metaphor of a fortress—and needs to escape to feel alive.  That which makes her feel this way is left unclear for now, so the general nervousness of the record is introduced rather than her political stances.  We also see microcosms of ideas that will grow more extensive later in the project; the beat here, for example, is certainly driving and punchy, but Austra juxtaposes this with her lengthy vocal lines, adding a bit more discord into the equation.  Towards the end of the record this comes through a lot and even the fourth track—which touches upon the feeling of disconnect—deepens the divide.

After getting things going, Austra delivers some stand-out tracks with “Future Politics” and “Utopia.”  As the single, “Future Politics” is the most straightforward in terms of structure.  The beat is heavy and consistent with a rather wobbling bass line adding to the dance-ability.  Also the hook is a bit more suitable for sing along than the more difficult material later on.  Before the album had dropped, I was admittedly skeptical of this track.  The bass line might be a bit too much for this type of sound and the hook is repeated quite a few times, but after hearing the whole record, it works a lot better for me now.  Also thematically, it’s kind of the heart of the project.  Austra suggests that there’s something wrong with the modern political state and we need to create a better system for the future.  Also, the verses offer a glance at the heartless nature of capitalist systems: “the system won’t help you when your money runs out…I’m not a coward like them I don’t need more money.”

“Utopia” also looks to the future and paints a dark picture of modern life.  Austra sort of describes the city as a mechanical mechanism, void of a sense of community: “I live in a city full of people I don’t know/People riding highways from the workplace to the home.”  Next, Austra talks a bit about relationships and how people can get locked into toxic situations: “A woman screams, she’s looking for meaning behind/A man who’ll make her cry her whole damn life.” This melody might be a bit more out of bounds for sing along, but its driving, triumphant nature certainly gets locked in your brain.

The middle of the record drifts a bit away from the monumental singles and starts to turn to more adventurous song formats.  “I Love You More than You Love Yourself” almost takes up a hyperbolic pop sound at first, but the bridge takes a rather drastic shift with spacey, hymnal synths completely breaking up the rhythmic drive.  “Freepower” adds a lot to the narrative by referencing the first track on the record’s idea of a “fortress.”  Here, Austra is quite clearly wondering about the rhetoric of freedom that’s pushed so heavily by western countries like Canada and the US: “if only it were true if only.”  Sonically, the tune dips its feet into more instrumental driven territory as it drones on into the fifth minute with Austra’s haunting “oohs” really molding the mood into a much darker sound.  “Beyond a Mortal” pushes this even further as the vocal part almost follows the role of an instrumental, simply adding another piece into the collage.  It’s nice how the record sort of spills out in all directions as it goes on.  The songs are pretty contained to start, but these sonic explorations contrast the front of the record completely and we end off in a much different place.

The record doesn’t come entirely without miscues; “Angel in Your Eye” is a bit all over the place sonically.  We get a bit of funk tinged groove that seems pretty far removed from Austra’s playbook.  Perhaps realizing this, the track seems to jump back to the comfort zone at the chorus—the end result is a bit incoherent.  Still, Austra’s really put together something special here.  Her ability to construct a radio worthy hook comes through quite often, but her ear for unpredictable instrumental and vocal ideas also guides her deep into uncharted territory.

-Donovan Burtan

8/10

Listen/Purchase: https://austramusic.bandcamp.com/album/future-politics

W. Zabarkas-The Origin of Dreams: Album Review

W. Zabarkas is a Russian-based musician who taps into the ironic tagline of the Glistening Examples record label that released his project: “Barely Evident Since 2006.” Zabarkas doesn’t have too much of a website and his social media presence isn’t particularly extroverted.  Nonetheless, The Origin of Dreams is a glistening beauty.  Each track builds a massive, shimmering wall of sound that drones on for a rather long period of time.  Upon first listen, it’s hard to gage the level of contrast between these four tracks, but the aura of the project certainly inspires deeper listening.  After gaining more of an understanding of the elements that Zabarkas cloaks beneath his veil of shimmering glory, it’s clear that his ability to subtly incorporate various rhythmic and melodic structures into his dense sound environment is unique to say the least.

The album fades in with a very wide drone, accompanied by a swaying back and forth bass sound.  Ever so slowly a high, almost guitar sounding melody enters the room.  With loads of distortion in tow, the pseudo-guitar fits into the central aspects of the song, but adds a bit more strain into the major third bass motion.  A lot of structural components at play here are due to return later on the record.  The fact that the melodic element is only panned to the left comes back quite frequently and helps give each track a sense of depth.  Also, the momentum that the drone sound achieves through its glittering overtones gives the impression that the volume is constantly increasing, making the ending feel larger than life.

“Forest-91” follows with a slightly thinner drone sound, at least to start things off.  This track is all about rhythm.  It seems like Zabarkas first has bit of a specific sound, but as the whole space expands, natural waves occur, making sort of mini, off-kilter grooves.  Eventually Zabarkas comments on this with more intentional keyboard melodies played beneath the surface and the track actually ends off with the exposed synth melody.  Again, all of this action is sort of collaged into one general kaleidoscope, but as opposed to the first track’s straining melody, the action hear is more rhythmically driven.

The third track is probably the best example of a particular juxtaposition that Zabarkas is working with.  As a whole the album is very steady, but a lot of the rhythmic motions within the overall structure tend to be more erratic and unpredictable.  “2094” showcases this rather clearly with the almost shaky keyboard sound that comes into the right ear.  Seemingly bubbling and fidgeting at completely random intervals, the sound offers a nice sense of tension to contrast the blissful energy of the first sounds. The last track, “Whereof One Cannot Speak, Thereof One Must Be Silent,” works a bit as a summary track, capturing all of the devices on the record one final time.

It’s certainly fair to mark down this project a bit for lacking contrast, but the subtleties that Zabarkas brings make for a truly capturing aura.  Melodic elements both collage themselves into the shimmering landscape and stretch deep into the background.  Rhythmic elements, whether intentional or accidental juxtapose the notion of stability, making for a not so one dimensional experience.

-Donovan Burtan

7/10

Certainly want to hear more from this artist.

Listen/Purchase: https://glisteningexamples.bandcamp.com/album/the-origin-of-dreamshttps://glisteningexamples.bandcamp.com/album/the-origin-of-dreams

 

Looking Ahead: Week of January 23rd

Similarly to Blood Quartet, Mere adds together post-rock vibes with a jazz horn player and see what happens.  The record is capturing throughout with droning space balancing out the screaming bass clarinet.

FJAAK throw together pounding house beats and fun melodies for a record that hits hard from front to back.

Priest’s make punk music that can’t be put in a box.  This record gives the impression that it’s going to re-interpret riot grrrl, then it jumps into droning post-punk melodies, before hitting you over the head with straight ahead rock. (hear it in full on npr first listen)

Concert Log: Tom Rainey’s Obbligato at the Jazz Gallery NYC

Lucked into a trip to New York.  Here’s my thoughts on the Tom Rainey Obliggato show that I caught on my first night. (sorry about the picture Kris Davis is missing)

Tom Rainey’s night at the Jazz Gallery felt a lot like what it was: a return to standard practice through the lens of some of the most daring experimentalists in the contemporary jazz community.  Ingrid Laubrock, Kris Davis, Ralph Alessi, and Drew Gress took the notion of abstraction into everything they did.  Form wasn’t thrown out the window, but traditional tunes like “Stella By Starlight” and “What is This Thing Called Love” were stripped for parts with brief highlights of the melody thrown into the mix alongside wild improvised countermelodies and incredibly interactive rhythm section roles.  The lines between solos were extremely non-confining as musicians were gradually left alone in space as the previous musician finished off their ideas.  Each musician had a moment in the spotlight, but nothing felt forced, making for a set that flew by in an instant.

Rainey really gave the group its spirit.  His creative, lyrical drum style is perfect for gesturing towards a meter without articulating every beat.  On “Stella,” Rainey very rarely touched upon the ride, almost using the kit as a set of hand drums.  During his biggest solo, Rainey used his finger on one hand and sticks in the other to broaden his immense dynamic range.  Sounds I didn’t know were possible were ripped out of the cymbals and more primal ideas were expressed with pummeling shots on the floor tom.

Alessi showed off his biting technical prowess in a way that never felt showy. In one tune, he added a note into the final chord so quiet that it could barely even be heard—the true sign of a good trumpet player.  Later, he gave a glimpse of his capacity for acrobatic high notes with his invigorating, unaccompanied solo.  Never to be outdone, Ingrid Laubrock also jumped in for some electrifying solos and unleashed some beauty with her command of the night’s only ballad.

One of the most impressive aspects of the night was the lightness every musician was able to tap into.  Obviously the jumps into more pulverizing territory were entertaining, but when the group was all playing at once, there was a concerted effort for each player to articulate as quietly as possible, so that everything on stage could speak clearly to the audience.  This really helped push the malleability of the tunes because the musicians could easily hear each other’s ideas and provide responses.  Also, this ideology snuck into larger ideas of the concert as musicians clearly commanded the stage alone at times, but kept in mind the rest of the musicians involved so that the experience would remain non-hierarchical.

The night stood as a reminder for the amount of internalized jazz time and feel that all of the musicians in this community keep.  All of the deep dives into free improvisation never erase the fact that these musicians can play the piss out of a tune.  At the same time, it didn’t feel like a night with any real confinements, more-so a musical moment where swing feel, jazz melodies, and limitless improvisation all held equal standing.

-Donovan Burtan