elkhorn - acoustic storm

acoustic storm, the latest record from east coast instrumental psych-folk duo elkhorn, was recorded at home, late at night during a blizzard, making the best of a bad situation. a big show in brooklyn had been snowed out so they took that energy and frustration and put it on tape. this could be seen as foreshadowing for the circumstances musicians and other artists find themselves in now...mother nature, in the form of a pandemic and the limits of human societal cohesion and intelligence (we are, after all, natural beings)  has put an end to the idea of safe, responsible performance, and we are left with only remote means of expression. it's heartening, to me at least, that this particular reaction to a cancelled performance resulted in my favorite elkhorn record to date, one that explores new territory for these veteran players.

joined by turner williams of ramble tamble on an additional guitar, the band eschews their familiar electric jazz/acoustic american primitive dichotomy and goes all unplugged for these two amorphous, improvised sides. the music flows between various folk and jazz inflected grooves, at times getting distant in tunnels of near-disintegration, only to come back to something recognizable as being adjacent to the folk-blues. this is unencumbered, instinctive jamming, and the organic feel is reinforced by the gritty sounds of fingers sliding and tapping, an occasional bump here and there. the style of recording reminds me of the intimacy and immediacy of something like the pizza tapes, but mood-wise, this music can no more be pinned down than the snow storm it is named after. 

the LP is available for pre-order from cardinal fuzz in the UK and centripetal force in the US. 

yes selma - the koker ballads

i came at the koker ballads not knowing what to expect. the discography of baltimore-based multi-instrumentalist and experimental recording artist yes selma is vast and varied, so i had no idea if i'd find fucked up indie-pop fragments or some kind of industrial free jazz. what i discovered was music made from and for our fraught times; bleak, minimal, introspective drones created with nothing but a casio, a microphone, and a tascam 4 track. 

my first thought listening to this blast through the speakers of my stereo was that this is what 'no pussyfooting' would sound like if it was made with absolutely no budget (and no guitar), and that's a great thing. YS placed a microphone against the window during the lonely, self-isolated process of recording the instrumental drones, and mixed these field recordings in with the hazy layers of the compositions. the sounds of life going by, laughing kids and casual gatherers especially, are heartbreaking in this context. 

this is high-end quarantine rock, a prophecy of harsh wind eroding the sharp corners off of a dead civilization. this album can comfort too, however, because within the pain of its detached documentation of the normal world, there is a warm nostalgia that matches the soft hiss from the all-tape recording process. get it on limited cassette or digital from KMAN 92.5 tapes.

tapes and tubes - sugarbushey

'sugarbushey' is the brand new album from philadelphia based poet and musician tapes & tubes. it came out yesterday on UK imprint TQN-aut, and the limited edition CD is already sold out. i understand why. i have been keeping up with T&T's many recordings over the years, and 'sugarbushey' is the purest and most ambitious distillation yet of the stylistic elements they have at their disposal. 

the album trades distorted pieces of observational, tactile poetry with warm soundscapes, haunted by tape errors and minimal, floating collections of guitar notes. the earthly details in the poetry and the mystical drift of the music unite the ground and sky in a holistic presentation. T&T uses images and sounds of the everyday to connect with the eternal. there is a feeling of heavy contemplation and of absorption into the swirling energetic tides of the universe. 

'sugarbushey' leans more heavily on music than on words, which is a change from past T&T albums i have enjoyed, but an excellent balance is struck here. the album begins with a short poem about the places in which beauty can be found, and ends with a nearly eight minute snowdrift of tone, hiss and field recordings called 'tape deck', which feels like a perfect coda, like a wordless version of the first track. download 'sugarbushey' here.

buck curran - no love is sorrow

'no love is sorrow' is the third solo LP from american ex-pat guitarist and songwriter buck curran, who is currently based in italy. reflecting its title, 'no love' is a heavy and heartfelt album that draws the listener close to its intimately recorded instrumental landscapes and illuminates the darker corners of emotional experience with its lyrics. 

the opening track, 'blue raga' invokes buck's well know admiration for hermetic fingerstyle guru robbie basho (for whom he curated two excellent tribute compilations) with a fluid dance between two guitars, recorded closely so that the details of fingers and plectrums on strings are present, a technique i appreciated on buck's last album 'morning haikus and afternoon ragas' as well. 

the next track, 'ghost on the hill', sets up the basic range of the album, complimenting the guitar explorations that opened the album with a melancholy, psych-tinged love song. other highlights include harmonies from buck's partner adele pappalardo (check out her tunes here) on the trad-folky 'deep in the lovin' arms of my babe', and the crushing, spaced-out kosmische feedback jam that is 'war behind the sun'.

'no love is sorrow' is available for download and on spotify, and i believe it will be out on vinyl in the near future.

fuck racists, fascists and capitalists and happy saturday from MFOA

horse apples - love and some verses

continuing on the theme of jams that preface some blood-moving pop-type action with meditative synth passages, i thought i would write a little bit about 'love and some verses', the latest track from upstate new york bedroom producer horse apples.

the song opens gently with bird sounds and a bubbling, swelling synth arpeggio, evoking a pastoral morning coffee vibe. before too long, a brushed snare drum and an e-piano melody shift the gears from drone to electro-folk. the arrangement reminds me a bit of late 90's british singer/songwriter david gray, who may not have gotten enough credit for the forward looking production of his hit album. however, horse apples is considerably more THC drenched than david gray. the pop sensibilities are here but they are undermined, in a good way, by shimmering slabs of synth that surface from the mix and hit like sunbeams on bloodshot eyes, and the laid back romantic slacker vibe of the vocals. also, the bird sounds never get potted down, chirping insistently over the titular verses.

horse apples have released a number of songs in the past few months, 'love and some verses' being a highlight for me. i recommend checking all of them out, which can be done easily by copping them in collected form as the album "II", available here as a download and/or a free one-of-a-kind CDR.

andrew weathers ensemble - two songs

something has spoken to me and said "start posting here again". for the first real MFOA post in 3 or so years, i figured what better music to write about than some new stuff from andrew weathers; founder of full spectrum records, the guy who masters everyone's DIY albums, and one of the truest fellow travelers i have met out here trying to think about new ways to make, share and imagine music in the conditions under which we are all obliged to suffer. andrew's latest release is a pair of sprawling "ambient country" (as he calls them) jams recorded with his nation-spanning group of collaborators under the name andrew weathers ensemble. i believe this is their penultimate release as this incarnation, but somehow i doubt the output will really slow down.

this first of the two songs is an expansive rendering of a sweet hymn-like song called 'little tack' by outsider/visionary artist and minister howard finster. it seems to be a celebration of the humble things that keep us grounded, of things that work without fanfare. frustrating the instinct for quick gratification, this arrangement has a slow build with droning accordion and synth sounds accompanying the first verse. the autotuned vocals have the de-personalized personality we have now grown used to from those who use autotune not to hit notes but to bring grit. the effect is to stretch this slice of americana into pure atmosphere, but eventually this song gives in to something that sounds a bit like kraut-rock countrypolitan, if that could be laid back. it swells and taps and becomes ecstatic. the music becomes the celebration of simple work that lyrics imply.

the second song, side B of the cassette, is an original instrumental composition called 'plains of paradise'. in the tradition of ambient music it evokes the landscape in the title, a landscape that is at once bountiful and desolate, that holds all of life and death in the infinitely thin border between grass and sky. the loping, clicking beat and insistently thumping guitar strings keep you bit in ennio morricone territory, which is appropriate. the plains seems to haunt andrew's music in general, and it is where he has set up shop, in the arid expanse of southwest texas.

'two songs' is available digitally here and on cassette from timesuck tapes.

this wouldn't be MFOA if i didn't say that i also released some new music the other day. it's called 'if i could only remember my dog's name' and you can name your price for it here.

listen to the modern folk

the modern folk music of america has shared the music of many artists, but i would be disingenuous if i said that it was never my intention to also spread awareness of my own music. i like the idea that there are no barriers at all to being a musician or any kind of artist, and one of my thoughts was that by writing a positive review of someone's music, i could make it more real for them and encourage them to continue to create and 'be an artist' when they might have faced some hesitancy...a symptom of global western capitalism that is sometimes known as 'imposter syndrome'. i don't believe in the difference between an artist whose significance has been reified and validated by the projecting lens of commerce and one who has only been observed and appreciated by a few people. part of the point of MFOA was to manifest that lack of belief in these commonly understood categories, and create the freedom to consider oneself an 'artist', both for myself and others...so i have always shared my own music along with theirs.

i have not had time in the past few years to live up to my own standards here on MFOA...i do not have the time and energy to be generous enough to honor all contributions in the spirit of the project. i have made plenty of my own music though, 5 or 6 albums worth since MFOA died down. you can find it on bandcamp or spotify, or with videos on youtube. almost everything i have ever recorded, the back catalog, at least 40 albums and a lot of live stuff, is at practice records.

Kid Charlemagne and Bear

Steely Dan is known for many things, such as fusing rock and jazz, making guitarists do more takes than anyone other than Phil Spector and being named after a fictional sentient dildo, but perhaps chief among them is their penchant for wry, dark, literary lyrics. I think the best example of this trademark Steely Dan lyrical style is the historical bio-song Kid Charlemagne, the lead single from their 5th LP The Royal Scam, which tells the story of the downfall of self-proclaimed “King of Acid” and Grateful Dead financial backer/soundman Owsley “Bear” Stanley with a Thomas Pynchon-esque level of psychedelic noir atmosphere.

Walter Becker and Donald Fagen had been building up to this sort of story-song masterpiece and these kinds of ominous vibrations over the course of the albums that preceded The Royal Scam. One need only look to jams like “Barrytown” from Pretzel Logic, which details Fagen’s annoyance over a run in with a moonie, or “My Old School” from Countdown to Ecstasy, a song about how pissed off he was to get caught up in a minor drug bust at his alma mater Bard College, to see the knack for exploding the details of a fleeting dramatic situation out into a shadowy maze of sly cultural references and mysterious signifiers. Songs like “Any Major Dude Will Tell You” and “Doctor Wu” (You should check out Minutemen’s cover) show his recurring interest in drug culture and the charismatic, ambiguous characters that inhabit that world. Arguably, there is no greater drug figure-head in the history of the American counter-culture than Owsley Stanley. In him, Steely Dan had found the perfect muse for the ultimate expression of their lyrical style.

Kid Charlemagne is an apt nom de guerre for Bear. The real Charlemagne united most of Western Europe in the middle ages, laying the groundwork for Europe as we know it today. Owsley Stanley, a skilled self-taught electronics engineer, chemist, and former professional ballet dancer, united the hip youth of America in tripping balls and consciousness expansion with tabs and blotters of his trademark acid in the heady years prior to the scheduling of LSD as an illegal drug. The Merry Pranksters, the “Acid Tests”, the bay area and LA psych scenes, and that one episode of Dragnet were all fueled by Owsley’s doses.  By his own calculations, he distributed as many as ten million hits between 1965 and 1967. This of course, could not last, and Stanley’s lab in Orinda, California, in the hills east of Berkeley, was eventually raided. He continued to work for The Grateful Dead until their infamous New Orleans bust (immortalized in another psychedelic noir story song, “Truckin’”), accumulating along the way an epic stash of live recordings of the San Francisco music scene of the late 60’s, including tapes of Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, Jimi Hendrix, and Blue Cheer, among many others. After the New Orleans bust he served two years in prison and went underground upon his release, later becoming an Australian citizen.

Just as in songs like “Barrytown”, Becker and Fagen’s spite and derision seems to be firing on all cylinders when handling the subject of Owsley Stanley. “Kid Charlemagne” mocks his heyday, reducing the impact of the Merry Pranksters to an eye-catching “technicolor motorhome”, and revels in his failure, with condescending lines like “son you were mistaken, you are obsolete, look at all the white men on the street”. The aesthetic of Steely Dan could not be more opposed to the aesthetic of the Haight-Ashbury true hippy moment, and at first glance this song seems to be a straight-up critique of that cultural movement and an exposition of its paranoid flash-in-the pan guru. What could be more different than the free form jamming of the Grateful Dead, recorded live, with tons of flubs, awkward stage banter, and crowd noise; and the super slick, dialed-in studio soul-jazz bounce of a Steely Dan hit? What could be more opposite than a thousand dirty teenagers writhing to noise in a warehouse covered in day-glo paint and acid spiked orange juice and the lone audiophile dropping the needle of his Bang & Olufsen turntable on a hot stamper pressing of Aja in his custom designed record den, swirling a neat scotch in a crystal rocks glass? What makes ”Kid Charlemagne” so great is that it cannot be that simple. Philosophers from ancient Greeks to Buddhists to post-modernists have observed a phenomenon known as the unity of opposites, and this song expresses it perfectly.

The similarities between Steely Dan and their scruffy protagonist are obvious from the beginning. “Just by chance you crossed the diamond with the pearl” describes Owsley’s nailing down an acid formula rivaling that of pharmaceutical company Sandoz, but it also describes the singular musical fusion of Steely Dan, which at its very best has never been replicated. I’ve never described a band and said “this sounds like Steely Dan”, because that’s never really been true. I think Steely Dan can lay claim to having accomplished, with an album like Aja, the peak of their expression, an alchemical fusion of disparate influences, equipment and personnel with their personal vision and sharply honed skills to create a new and mind-bending experience. I’m sure an aging hippy that had the pleasure of sampling some of Bear’s wares would make a similar observation. The song goes on describe Bear’s dedication to his craft: “On the hill the stuff was laced with kerosene, but yours was kitchen clean”; Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s unyielding perfectionism and will to make music that still stands as some version of maximizing the potential of an analog recording studio is a result of the same will that drove Owsley to be a ballet dancer, electronic and sound engineer, and the best underground LSD chemist known to history. Both efforts left lasting marks in their respective fields.

From this point, the lyrics begin to describe Stanley’s downfall, which for me can only suggest another interesting unity between these ostensible opposites. Stanley himself fell from grace, but acid, the thing he made ubiquitous in the American counter-culture, is as popular as ever, even going square, being used in “micro-doses” by Silicon Valley business men to give them a creative edge. The godheads of the musical culture he helped to create, The Grateful Dead, have also undergone a somewhat unexpected re-birth, playing to tens of thousands once again, with John Mayer on lead guitar for some reason (I guess because he can shred and handle his doses?). While not as precipitous, Steely Dan has had a decline as well (who’s jamming Everything Must Go on a regular basis?) but their music, in a way that is divorced from them, in that it can be heard again without any knowledge of their involvement as artists, is as relevant as ever in the form of breaks and samples for hip-hop hits, memorably “Déjà vu (Uptown Baby)” by Lord Tariq and Peter Gunz, and “Champion”, by Kanye West, which samples the chorus of “Kid Charlemagne” (these are the obvious ones but the list goes on).  Fagen and Becker were apparently not impressed with the way West used “Kid Charlemagne” and wanted to block the sampling rights, but West wrote them an actual letter saying how much the song meant to him. Did Kanye know about Owsley, and feel a kinship with the King of Acid, or did he identify with the song on an entirely different level unique to him? That is the power and mystery of Steely Dan at their height.

The second half of the song tells, through the character of Owsley, a story that’s familiar by now from cultural milestones such as Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Inherent Vice…the comedown from the hippy high, the buy-in to square society by the majority of the former freaks, and the consequences for those that won’t let go of their outlaw status. There is a lyrical twist at the end of the song that fully embodies the unity of opposites; the perspective shifts from a third person, judgmental “you” to a more inclusive first person, “we”…for the last verse, Fagen and Stanley are full-on partners in crime. “Clean this mess else we’ll both end up in jail, those test tubes and the scale, just get it all out of here”…the imagery is concrete, the paranoia is visceral. The penultimate lines truly give this song a climax, in large part due to Fagen’s amazing performance of this miniature conversation between, for all intents and purposes, him and Stanley: “Is there gas in the car? Yes, there’s gas in the car, I think the people down the hall know who you are”.  I hope by this point in this article you have listened to the song because text does not do this part justice.  Finally, Fagen steps back: “cause the man is wise, you are still an outlaw in his eyes”. He’s resumed that judgmental third person stance, but we know that he was asking if there was gas in the car, sharing with Owsley Stanley the existential dread caused by staring into the setting sun of his cultural relevancy. At the peak of his considerable, dark, moody, lyrical powers, Donald Fagen was able to invoke the character of Owsley Stanley, King of Acid, to express the fundamental truth of the unity of opposites.

I would be remiss if I did not discuss the musical aspects of “Kid Charlemagne” just a bit, because beyond the lyrical fireworks it truly is a jam. It’s anchored rhythmically by a disco/soul/funk backbeat created by Steely Dan stalwart session bassist Chuck Rainey and legendary drummer Bernard Purdie, who has played with everyone from Albert Ayler to Cat Stevens, which I think means everyone, and whose nickname is Mississippi Bigfoot. The funk vibes are turned up by the presence of session man Paul Griffin, who played keys on Highway 61 Revisited, rocking a choppy clavinet. This is really a stripped down funk-rocker for a Steely Dan song, filled out by jazz pianist Don Grolnick on Fender Rhodes E-piano, Walter Becker on rhythm guitar, and jazz and session guitarist Larry Carlton playing an insane guitar solo that Rolling Stone ranked the third best on record. That guitar solo, the musical centerpiece of the song (along with Donald Fagen crooning “there’s gas in tha caaaaaaah”) is another moment where the unity of opposites is invoked: the solo is strange, modal, distorted, psychedelic and jazz inflected (not unlike a Jerry Garcia solo), contrasting sharply but tastefully with the razor sharp rhythms and melodies of the song and summoning the lysergic counter-culture vibes of the song’s anti-hero. 

prana crafter and the modern folk live sets from the projection museum

earlier this month, i had the opportunity to play a very special show, opening up for new york shredders elkhorn and olympic peninsula guitar wizard prana crafter at a unique venue here in portland, oregon called the projection museum.

it was a wonderful evening. i took the chance to record the performances, although in my frenzy to get it right i messed up the settings on one microphone, losing a channel in the process. i think it still turned out alright. check out sets by me and prana crafter below.

the modern folk live at the projection museum

prana crafter live at the projection museum

thanks for listening!

midwestern medicine - the winking badge

midwestern medicine is a portland, maine power trio fronted by brock ginther, who i have featured here before in his solo incarnation.

with a capable rhythm section, he is able to let his more stripped down,  frenetic tendencies shine on the three manic indie rock jams that make up 'the winking badge', spewing some caustic wit in the form of heavy freakouts, country rock pastiche and power-pop melodies. highly recommended.

get it here.

bill mackay - esker

bill mackay is a chicago guitarist who has been active for years on the experimental music scene. his new record 'esker' is due out may 5th on drag city records. the album is a deep dive into the possibilities of the guitar, an instrumental voyage through various styles, from spacey psychedelia to blues and ragtime.

most of these compositions are built from layers of guitars that weave in and out of harmony, offering various tones and textures. a few songs celebrate the lone guitar and traditional fingerpicking, such as the intricate but laid-back 'candy'. there is also an expansive range at play with the frequent use of the slide, from a delta blues sound to a more tripped out moan. bits of percussion liven up some jams, a touch that reminds me of sandy bull. all the guitar work on 'esker' is languid and deliberate, it feels effortless. highly recommended. check out the first two tracks below.

pre-order it here.

ohr / sergey kostyrko & alexander zaitsev - split

the split tape between russian ambient noise musicians ohr (side A) and sergey kostyrko and alexander zaitsev (side B) is the latest release from experimental label spina!rec out of st. petersburg, russia.

the tape consists of a couple long-form modular synth drones, full of layered textures, crackling and humming like living things, at times coalescing into subtle, glitchy rhythms. classic meditative drones.

get it here.

tapes & tubes - halloween parade b/w sun:moon:stars

delaware musician tapes & tubes (AKA austin potter) has a side business cutting DIY lathe records for various underground musicians, many of which i have featured here on MFOA, such as pulco, tremolo ghosts, the sioux trails guys, and myself.

his latest release is a lathe-cut 7" of his own, featuring a trio of his atmospheric song/story/poems that invoke a haunted and lonely vision of americana.

the thing about handmade 7" records is, you can't make a lot, so these are already sold out. you can still grab this great music digitally right here.

monte burrows - skua

monte burrows is a los angeles based sound artist. his latest release is called 'skua', out now on french tape label falt. 'skua' is a collection of sound art compositions made from looped and sampled field recordings.

what intrigues me most about this music is the way rhythm can be extracted from the sounds of everyday life. while rhythm is not the only focus on 'skua', which also revels in diverse sonic textures and subtle overtones, the looping technique gives voice to repetitions. i love the interaction between title and content on side B ('false beach'), where a lazy beat of looped noise imitates waves.

get it here.

gregory talbot - recordings on an empty stomach

gregory talbot is a ambient/noise/drone artist based in norway who has released many albums over the past couple decades under various names. his latest album, 'recordings on an empty stomach', is his first under his full name and his first since 2006. it is available now on hand-dubbed cassette from german tape label midnight circles (highly recommended label for lofi drone heads).

'recordings on an empty stomach' was composed using modular synth gear and pitch scrambled field recordings. these are patient, hazy drones that build build to heavy densities, manipulating the sounds of the actual world to create a simulacra of ambient sound. the noise of happenstance by design. accomplished drone.

get it here.


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