I don’t really buy music anymore, and I expect that many of y’all don’t either. It’s not a good habit, I know, but if I get something purely digitally then I forget it exists, and I have a strange habit of losing CDs that I actually care about. Nowadays I usually just listen to music in the station and put up with awful spotify ads. However, I somehow still receive an iTunes giftcard about once a year and manage to find a digital album or two that I decide is worthy of a proper purchase.
This year, it is BEYONCE, by Beyonce. It was an easy choice – 14 audio files at $1.29 a piece plus 18 videos at $1.99 each, a strangely-derived iTunes value of $53.88 (does iTunes have tax?), available for only $15.99 as a united purchase. Plus, none of it is on spotify (which I didn’t expect). Over half of the annual giftcard, but the buzz already has made clear that the purchase will be VERY worth it – not that I ever had any doubts.
omg the digital booklet is SO GORGEOUS. Like, I didn’t even think about it but worth the album purchase. The first song is just generally Beyonce, sounds classic and is beautiful. This is where I’ll point out that I’m a terrible music reviewer and don’t really enjoy it, I’m treating this more as a stream-of-consciousness cultural review. I don’t know Beyonce’s music that well, but I think that she is an incredible cultural force, and, as folks pointed out, this album was instantly a HUGE success, despite a complete lack of advertising – and, yes, folks especially pointed this out in light of the crazy-extensive ARTPOP promotions, expected to lose Interscope $25 million, which sold less than a third as many albums in its first week as B did.
I’ve been passively listening and reading about the album, there’s obviously a lot out there to read. There’s such a great range of sounds and songs, but they’re all very Beyonce (though I feel unqualified to use such a descriptor).
Really, each song has such a wide range of sounds and influences, but all walks well into the zone of innovation – taking influences and going further. The songs blend together (I’m not watching the tracks change over on iTunes, but will keep a more watchful eye for the videos) such that I miss the break between each but very clearly notice each song. I want to say that a lot of the album, specific beats and styles, are unlike music I’ve really heard before – but to be honest, I’m REALLY unaware of the modern hip-hop/dance/pop/etc world. I’m sure there are a lot of wonderful artists doing things like Beyonce, but I haven’t really noticed them, they haven’t been thrust into view. There’s a wide variety of reasons for this, but I’m sure none of them are very good reasons.
Also, I have counted now, she is the first-listed writer on three songs on the album, and second-listed on seven, which is neat.
I’m through a few of the videos and oh mannnn they’re so gorgeous, really incredible filming and hair and makeup and styling, totally complete and diverse scenes and moods, oh man. Especially since I read somewhere that most of the filming was done while they were on the Mrs. Carter tour, there are some bits filmed on a beach in Brazil I guess? This way each of the songs is a lot more separate, I was thinking while listening to the audio set that the transitions are really incredible and the album is really, truly, an ALBUM. One of the effects of the surprise release, I guess, is that there were no singles ahead of time, so, while a few were technically released as singles, the effect of the complete album is really different. Viewing the visual version is pretty different to me, though, the stories seem more separate. Mostly they’re just gorgeous.
I know that I read it on the internet beforehand, but really, it feels so good to finally watch Bey skating around an apparent roller disco in a wonderwoman shirt singing about cunnilingus. This is a good direction for music and music videos of the future. It’s not one of my favorite songs, frankly, but def a contender for favorite video.
Okay, honestly, I forgot that this would be a really long endeavor, like over an hour of just the videos, so I got kinda distracted and started playing candy crush, so I have less detailed notes and I was really tired. Next time I want to do a full watch-through, I will need to mentally prepare for it. Anyway, the videos kept having really varied storylines and were gorgeous, I looooved Yonce, though, like I was hoping there would be some Diva equivalent, and it’s not really, but definitely an evolution – a really interesting different kind of sexy, I like that there was just a little bit of queer hot thrown in there even though it was def still male-gaze oriented.
There are a lot of self-referential lines and images and it’s really interesting, really great that she’s at that point and has done so well. And it really does interest me, the way that she has gone to such stardom, I idolize her all the time and it’s probably not a good thing, and I know she’s really great but don’t actually know that much about her life and music, and that’s just a part of pop culture, and it has a LOT of repercussions, probably plenty of bad ones. I was also really impressed how her and Jay-Z kept Blue Ivy’s life really private, it took months for the first footage of her to get out, and even then her face wasn’t shown. Now in this album she’s quite featured and out there, but it’s rare to have such control over your exposure, Bey seems to be among the few to reach musical stardom that seems to be really in control of her life in this world and culture.
Summary: I need to keep watching and listening to it, and will likely host a viewing or two once we’re back at LU – I suggest you come. She’s done incredible, her stardom and position are totally unique and very intertwined with the state of the music world and social world. I’m pretty surprised there’s only one result under her name in google scholar.
And here’s a little extra content! Happy New Year, folks.
Tera Melos, one of my all-time favorite bands, will soon be releasing their 3rd-ish full-length album, X’ed Out on April 16. Guitarist and vocalist Nick Reinhart took the time to answer some occasionally music-related questions.
AG: Say something new and interesting about Disco Stu.
NR: i can’t honestly think of one interesting thing to say about Disco Stu, and i think the whole band feels that way. actually, i guess the truly interesting thing about him is how anyone thinks he’s funny, or how the writers/creators of the show could possibly think he’s remotely as great as every other character on the show. i went and referenced a couple disco stu vids on youtube just now to make absolutely sure that this is how i felt. confirmed. he just randomly walks into a scene, does a butt wiggle, then says “disco stu.” he’s a dud, not a stud.
AG: What is the composition process like for the band? Is it largely one or two people writing material themselves and then bringing it to the rest of the group, or is it a collaborative jamming process from the start, or what? Has it changed over the years, in relation to styles/formats of the band/all that? I’m assuming material for the demo, for example, was written fairly differently than how Patagonian Rats was written, which is different from how X’ed Out was written.
NR: the genesis of a song generally starts in my bedroom, just playing guitar. i’ll start to hear some interesting things, figure out ways to transition a couple of ideas, come up with a few variations, roughly paste it all together and then record it. when we first started we would “jam” in the practice spot. maybe someone would come up with an idea on the spot, or bring a few solid guitar or drum parts in, then we would spend up to months refining things (well, as refined as we could physically get them, which sometimes wasn’t very much so, haha). we don’t really do that anymore.
i’ve found that i write/discover my favorite material after playing by myself for long periods of time. by the time nate or john even hear one second of guitar demos, i’ve already put hours and hours into making it not sound like garbage. whereas when you’re all together in a room playing you’re basically throwing piles and piles of shit against a wall and hoping that something will stick. it gets frustrating when you drive 40 miles to the practice spot for 4 days a week and don’t see tangible results. then multiply that by months and months. so i come up with ideas, bedroom style, then send out these rough outlines and everyone can play to them on their own time and throw as much shit at the wall as they see fit,.then we can get together and modify everything we’ve worked on, individually, and get it sounding like a tera melos song.
i think those guys have a really good level of trust in me and the musical stuff i bring to table. i can’t think of too many times where either john or nate have said, “yea, uhhh that’s really not that good.” it’s likely because i’m my own biggest critic and had already told myself, “jesus, that sounds awful, back to the drawing board” many times before i’ve emailed any songs.
AG: I’m gonna quote back to you something that has been quoted back to you before, hopefully in a new context: “this is the first fully realized, focused record we have made. everything sounds intentional and the way we wanted it to sound. there are no cringe moments for us. in a lot of ways we look at it like it’s our first album. it is 100% honest and not catered towards anyone. it’s tricky making a record that way, it’s even trickier structuring a band that way.” That was about Patagonian Rats, your last record. How does X’ed Out feel to the band? Now that you’ve already made the album you’ve been wanting to make for a long time, what new feelings have been motivating the creation of this new album?
NR: well in addition to patagonian rats being the record that we’d wanted to make for a long time, it was also the way we wanted to make a record for a long time. so we applied the same process to this album. it’s probably just a matter of knowing what we want and choosing the right paths to accomplish that. it took us a long time to get to this point where we’re happy with how we sound and perform. everyone that’s been in the band made it their top priority and focus. it took years of hammering out ideas and playing nearly 1,000 shows to get this to where we can fall asleep at night without obsessing over how to make everything fit. i think we’re all really happy with our current state.
AG: You’re big pop music fans. Do you consider your music essentially similar in nature to the more straight-ahead pop stuff out there? Do you consider the more “straight ahead” music you listen to “exceptional,” in any stylistic way? What, if anything, unites Tera Melos and Madonna?
NR: hm, i mean we just like all types of music. i don’t think straight forward music is in any way more exceptional. not at all. it’s all just personal preference. i think when we were younger and discovered non “straight ahead” music it was really fascinating and new and fresh. now i don’t get the same exclusive rush listening to it that i did when i was 22. now i can get that rush from lots of different types of sounds. it’s funny you mention madonna, because i can get goose bumps listening to old madonna songs. the production, the melodies, the vocals etc. in fact, just yesterday i was playing drums along to a madonna playlist on my ipod.
i think it’s just a musical growth thing. like when you’re young and discover punk music- it’s this big revelation and takes over your mind. then we came across more technical, outside the box music and it was the same feeling. now that we’re adults and have further developed our brains we can appreciate all types of music and not feel limited.
AG: Where is that tour documentary, people? Those are such great trailers that have been kicking around for a while now.
the truth is that the documentary was finished, we saw it and weren’t happy with it. it was no one’s fault, it just didn’t have the right content for what we were hoping for. we don’t feel comfortable releasing something that we don’t stand by 100%. so we brought another friend along for a few more tours to gather more footage to eventually put something together that we were all stoked on. it will definitely get finished. as a side note, i literally- LITERALLY -as i was writing that last sentence just got a text message from our friend spencer at Sargent House saying they just got the hard drive with all the tour footage and want to get together to start re-editing. so that’s good news.
we’re really glad that people are that interested in our band to want to see the doc finished. even though we try to be really interactive with people and work towards dismantling the “wall” between fan and artist, i think a lot of people want to get further inside to see how it all comes together. i have no idea what the vibe will be- could be a fugazi “instrument” type thing or a pantera “home videos” kind of movie. we’ll see.
AG: I think I noticed people stopped describing you guys as “jazz,” once Vince left the band and once John joined. It’s always been a misnomer anyway, but can you relate to that descriptive shift? How do you feel about how you’ve been described, in general?
NR: well vince definitely came from a jazz background. our old guitar player actually met him in a jazz band class at a junior college. he had a very open, fluid approach to how he played drums in the band. when john had joined we were already heading in a bit of a different direction musically, one that jazzier drums might not be completely appropriate for. lucky for us john came from a punk background and brought a very different sound to the band. i think we initially got tagged with the jazz label because there were elements present for sure- weird timing, syncopation, ride cymbal twiddles and lots of 7th chords. i never really agreed with it, but it sounded cool. seems like people generally have a difficult time describing our music, which i think is a really good thing.
AG: What about improvisation live? On some old blog posts I remember you saying how much you liked it when bands change up their live sound, when they make mistakes, when surprising moments happen (yes, I remember those blog posts). It seems you consciously cater your live sound to that type of surprising experience. Is that about right? What motivates a very technical band like yours to take the risks involved in improvising every night?
NR: the improvisation is a result of a few things- wanting to have fun with songs and make them feel fresh to us, making mistakes and rolling with the punches and probably just a sever case of musical a.d.d. so for instance, if i had a photo of a dog and wanted to do 100 separate paintings of it, each one would be a little different. i’m sure after about ten very similar pup paintings i’d probably want to switch it up and make the dog’s eyes melting or something. naturally i’m sure there would be subtle differences in each one. then, because i’m not a super accurate, professionally skilled painter, i’d probably accidentally drip a fat blob of yellow paint onto the dog’s face. so i’d have to figure out some way to work around that. in the end, there would be 100 similar, yet fairly different paintings of a dog. that just seems natural to me. i don’t see why you’d do it any other way.
AG: Also, listening back on some of the bootleg recordings you posted on that old blog, it seems like you’ve been sitting on some material for a while – Kelly, specifically, which is titled “kelly, phone ya” Live From Atlas Clothing. Is it often that you’ll sit on material for a while, and wait for the right spot in an album to open up for it? Are we going to see some more “old” material popping up on X’ed Out?
NR: a lot of times there are just songs from the past that never got recorded, or didn’t come out the way we wanted, or that we just simply really liked and wanted to rerecord for fun. there’s a couple older pieces of material that pop up on this record. “melody nine” is a redone version of a song from our split with by the end of tonight. the original version was electronic based. we’ve been playing a live version of it for a couple years now. then the main riff for “sunburn” is one that i’ve used in a few songs that never really got a fair shot at being developed into a real part. i think i’d used that riff in 3 or 4 songs previously. that’s actually kind of neat. i not ashamed to admit that i’ve pirated my own guitar part, haha.
AG: Can you give us an interesting road anecdote? Something that characterizes Tera Melos’ interaction with audiences around the world?
NR: there’s this guy we know, he goes by “panda.” don’t know his real name. he lurks around the atlanta area. he’s this really far out, bizarre, awesome, critter dude that brings us bags and bags of random stuff everytime we come through town- broken guitar pedals, hats, tea, bags of pubic hair, cassette tapes, action figures, sidewalk chalk, video, furbies etc etc. you name it and he’s probably brought it to us. very odd. i think we have given him this music that’s very important to him and helps him out through life, so he just wants to give something back to us and contribute to our world. i know for a long time he didn’t know how to pronounce our name properly either. so that was funny. we’re misunderstood by even those that understand us the most. haha, deep.
AG: At a few points you had some somewhat eloquent things to say about pirating music. What are your current thoughts on this trend? Does a wide audience satisfy you more than money with which to scrape by? Or is music being widely distributed an investment on people showing up to shows later, or some other rationalizing logic? Is bandcamp solving the problem posed by music piracy?
NR: shoot i don’t really know. look, we want as many people to hear and enjoy our music as the universe will allow. but we’re also all pretty much 30 and would like this to be a sustainable source of income. so the question is where do we draw the line on how people hear/enjoy our music. if we’re playing a show that costs $10 and there are 5 people outside that don’t have $10, then without question we would want for them to be able to come in and watch us play. but then at what number of people without $10 do we say, “i don’t think so.” i mean, honestly, if there were 100 people that couldn’t afford the show, i’d want them all to come in for free or whatever they can afford. i think a lot of our fans know our vibe and that we’re not making fistfuls of cash playing in this band. if someone pirates a record then chances are they’re gonna buy a shirt. which i’m fine with. but actually, why not just buy the album and the shirt?? i don’t know, i get trapped thinking about this stuff. a solution to that particular situation would be- dude downloads record for free from a torrent, comes to the show, buys a shirt AND a vinyl, which comes with a download card anyways- then all is right in the world.
we also do the barter system- if someone can’t afford to pay for a show then they can bring us something cool and we’ll put them on our guest list. we’ve gotten cool music gear, razor scooters, video games, simpsons stuff and lots of other cool goodies that were probably just sitting around collecting dust in someone’s closet.
we just want lots of people to like what we’re doing and come to shows and help us afford to keep doing this. i don’t know how to make all of that fit. bandcamp definitely helps for sure. it puts the artist in control and let’s fans have a lot of access to music. buy music if you can, if you can’t- then take it, but you owe us one!
AG: How do you see yourself in the music world? Do you consider yourselves an active part of a very specific music scene (*cough* math rock *cough*), as much of the coverage of your band would like to portray? Or are you just a handful of dudes playing some weird music that happens to be similar to other handfuls of dudes playing some roughly similarly weird music?
NR: i’ve definitely given a lot of thought to our position in the music world, but i don’t think i ever come up with anything that satisfies me. i think it’s best for us to not think about that sort of stuff. we just create music that we enjoy and hopefully the rest of it all works out.
i know we’ve been pretty outspoken about the math rock thing and how we don’t prefer it. i think it’s mostly because we generally don’t really care for stuff that falls under that particular genre and most of it feels unrelatable to what we’re trying to accomplish. in 2001 we were all still in punk bands. fugazi had already started to shift some of our musical perceptions, but it was all still very much a “punk” context for us. then we discover bands like hella, dillinger escape plan and king crimson. those were all very big deals to us. once that switch is flipped there’s no really going back. then we start this new band. drummer shows us how to play in odd time signatures. everyone has fun. and that’s that. i do remember hearing the term math rock thrown around once or twice, but it was likely just in passing.
i guess it also seems like the current quality of math rock is definitely not what it was 10 years ago. it used to be a real musical subculture with deep roots, and now it’s just commonplace. feels like it’s been diluted, big time. when we saw bands like hella, the locust, botch or dillinger for the first time it was jaw dropping. like, shocking. it’s a bummer that the generation after us didn’t really get to witness such massive shifts in the music world like the ones we saw. i really don’t mean for that to sound pretentious. it just seems like the bar has been lowered for that kind of stuff. so maybe the internal problem i have with being labeled a math rock band has something to do with a fear of being a band playing under the “bar” that, for me, was set so high and blasted my mind open. we want to keep our band fresh and exciting. i still LOVE the idea of a community of bands that exist on the fringe and is working to move music forward. that’s what i want to be a part of.
AG: I’m now beginning to realize (being an oblivious east-coaster), that Tera Melos formed in a very interesting music scene. Can you wax poetic on your local scene of yesteryear? Are you considered the group that made it big from among them? What bands did you wish you were still playing shows with? How important was that scene to the band you are today?
NR: when we were younger nate and i were in punk bands that played around sacramento. there were some pretty crazy musical things happening (unbeknownst to us) up in grass valley/nevada city (about an hour north east of sacramento). bands like legs on earth (zach hill/spencer seim’s first band) were starting to play and freak people out. but it seemed pretty insulated and didn’t really trickle down into the sacramento punk scene. not that i remember at least. so in high school it was pretty much strictly punk and hardcore shows that we found ourselves hanging out at. at one point, in 2001, a friend of mine wanted to go see a band called chrime in choir. they were sort of this keyboard based, live electronic band. i think that’s how they were described to me. my friend told me they had this crazy drummer that could play drums like no one we’d seen before. i was really skeptical about that because there were a lot of great punk/hardcore drummers that we were really into. so we drove to a coffee shop in placerville (about 45 minutes outside sacramento) to see chrime in choir. turns out they had to cancel for some reason and instead a different band that shared the same drummer was going play. the band was hella (which would be zach and spencer’s second band after legs on earth). they played and just totally destroyed. from that point pretty much everyone in sacramento was shaken up. you’d even hear the crustiest of the punkers talking about these weird ripper guys from nevada city. there wasn’t really a local scene for that stuff yet. so hella played with punks bands, hip hop groups, hardcore bands etc. it was really trippy.
i don’t think we’d be the same band had we not come out of punk music. having that foundation was important in developing into an interesting band and how we allow it to breathe and exist. one of my all time favorite bands was this local band called diseptikons. they were a really fast hardcore punk/thrash band. they had this black flag/dri/early metallica vibe that was just paramount. incredible musicianship and great lyrics about the morals and ethics involved within the underground music scene. miss them for sure.
AG: Any parting words?
NR: “a noble spirit embiggens the smallest man” -jebediah springfield
Well spoken. Check out X’ed Out from Sargent House, out on April 16th. Preorder and listen to some tracks here: at Tera Melos’s bandcamp, and just generally scope them out on Facebook.
In my eighteen years of life, I’ve been exposed to many different types of music. My dad introduced me to Bruce Springsteen at a very young age, and my mom liked to talk about the Beatles as I grew up. I used to fall asleep in my dad’s arms as he danced me around to Chris Isaak and Frank Sinatra. On road trips we always turn on Little Steven’s Underground Garage, jamming to the most random yet awesome selection of songs ranging from Tracey Ullman’s old school They Don’t Know to The Dollyrots’ hit Because I’m Awesome. I’ve got a huge appreciation for older music of all kinds as well as newer hits found on stations like Little Steven’s, but I also find myself taking a look at the Top 100 every so often and trying to find some type of actual talent because, let’s face it, I can’t sit there and tell you that a song like Stupid Hoe gives me hope for humankind. Despite my lack of interest in music such as that, I still do my best to keep an open mind upon hearing something new, and I don’t let popularity of an artist (or lack of popularity) get in the way of my opinion. Whether 13 year old girls or the elderly are into a specific artist, I base my thoughts around what I have come to know about good music and I look at many different aspects of the overall song, album, or artist at hand.
Recently, I decided to take a look at an artist who I had been curious to learn more about for quite a while: Lana Del Rey. I was shocked to discover that what reeled me in at first was her vocal resemblance to Stevie Nicks, although Lana’s voice is much more pure. Her voice also has an interesting range, making her sound like an entirely different person at times. It’s debatable, though, whether her talent is used in a productive way or not. I came across a link on this site about her debut album, Born To Die (http://www.tinymixtapes.com/music-review/lana-del-rey-born-die), and discovered that Lana has implied that she just desires fame because she doesn’t want to be alone. For some reason, people think this (as well as her beauty) makes her a goddess when really she just seems to outright admit she isn’t really doing this for a respectable purpose. If I’m reading into it too much, let me know. I just think all forms of art should be very personal and meaningful to the artist and while that may be how Lana feels when writing, she doesn’t really help herself out when she acts like that doesn’t play a big role in her desire to release her work.
While I didn’t like a good chunk of Born To Die and agree with those who say it’s incredibly depressing as a whole, I was looking forward to the release of Paradise because the single she put out earlier, Ride, gave me a really good feeling about what would come next from the singer. While the music video for the song was all-around strange due to the dialogue and just added to my impression that Lana only craves a few things in life (fame, sex, getting high, much older men, sex, being reckless, party dresses, and sex), the song itself showed off her talent in a way I appreciated and I thought “hey, maybe this album will have less fluff and more quality”. This song makes me feel really good about her overall, because I see that she has the ability to showcase her voice beautifully. It’s still a bit depressing, that’s undeniable, but the chorus picks up and just makes you feel…good. It’s a freeing song. It’s nice. Because of this, I had high hopes for the second track on the newly-released Paradise, titled American. I’ll be honest, I can’t really tell where Lana is going with this song. However, I do think it shows off her vocals in a very flattering way much like Ride does, and she hooked me in when she complimented Springsteen by calling him “the king” (which is ironic considering she talks about Elvis in the second verse). Considering Springsteen is my favorite artist of all time, I was happy she could recognize good music and my heart felt all fuzzy inside and I thought “I knew this would be a great album! I knew it!”, which may have been a bit naive but I’m a sucker for Springsteen compliments. The track ended and my hopes were higher than ever as I eagerly awaited hearing the beginning line of the next song…
“My pussy tastes like Pepsi-Cola…”
YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME.
THIS is what it has come down to?! My literal thought was “WTF?!” Needless to say, I was pretty disappointed. I can’t say I’m surprised because after all, it’s Lana Del Rey! But I really thought I was getting something different with this album, and she had led me on for two whole tracks. She’s also apparently trying to get the current man in her life (one of many) to cheat on his wife because his wife “wouldn’t mind”. She follows this up a bit later with “I pledge allegiance to my dad for teaching me everything he knows”. All I know is, if I was Lana’s dad, I would either be pissed at her for saying such a thing…or I’d be upset with my life choices because it would appear that I did something very very wrong.
Alright, next track: Body Electric. A track giving off false family history (close relations to both Elvis and Marilyn Monroe) and sharing Lana’s partying experiences with Jesus, who is her “bestest friend”. Enough said.
Up next we have Blue Velvet, which is nothing special but it’s a nice, calming song that I could probably pass out listening to if I wanted. It is followed by a song called Gods & Monsters, about how Lana wants to be “fucked hard” and how she’s just an “angel” living in a “garden of evil”. Literally the entire song is about how she wants it to be given to her…hard. It’s “innocence lost” despite how many other times she’s sung about her sex cravings and experiences. But my favorite part is the part where she goes “Like a groupie incognito posing as a real singer. Life imitates art.” Again, I might be reading into her quotes too deeply but it doesn’t get any more blunt than that. This is why “I’ve got a war in my mind” too, Lana. I can’t tell if I hate what you stand for because you have an amazing voice. They don’t exactly go hand in hand, but I can’t bring myself away from your music even though some of it makes me mad. The next track has a type of beauty to it; Yayo is suggestive but at least we don’t have to hear anything in-depth about her personal…er, flavor. Bel Air is what we end with, another track that isn’t so bad. Nothing about either track really stuck out to me besides Yayo having some impressive vocal range.
Overall, I can’t say I love this album. I expected it to be ten times better than what it is, but I’m also not surprised with the result. I guess that’s what you get with Lana Del Ray. I’m starting to wonder if she does this on purpose, how she mixes the really intense, weird stuff right in between some lighter, nicer tunes. What I can respect is that she supposedly writes every word she releases. I don’t know what to believe since I’ve read otherwise, but I’ve seen quotes from her about how she is the sole creator of every line. If she truly comes up with it all, that’s great, and in that way she isn’t putting her voice to waste. That almost makes up for the ridiculous path to which some of her lyrics travel. I will say, though, that if any of her crazier songs get to be the more popular singles that I hear on the radio, I’ll be pretty upset with whoever voted for them over something like Ride. I know that crazy things have become more of the norm, but why? Why do such ridiculous songs become so popular? If they were well-known because they are outright ridiculous, that’d make sense and I wouldn’t think twice about it. I get the whole “release it for shock-value” thing. Sure, go right ahead. It’ll give you fifteen minutes of fame and you can be on your way. But the idea that songs that have absolutely no point, are degrading, and have artists with absolutely no talent and that don’t put any work into the music…the idea that these songs are thoroughly enjoyed by the general public is what makes me sick. (Clearly I’m talking about things beyond the likes of Lana Del Rey at this point.) When I say “artists with absolutely no talent and that don’t put any work into the music” I do really like to put those two together because an artist with no strong vocal abilities can still manage to put out something great, especially in genres like rock n roll, punk, and metal. It’s an acquired taste, sure, but at least those artists still stand for something and get their points across the table. All I’m sayin’ is I’d like to see someone with a voice like Lana’s get recognition for the things she’s doing right rather than wrong.
Before this turns into any more of a semi-irrelevant rant on the modern-day music industry, I’ll conclude my review on this young lady by saying that I will probably purchase the Born To Die: Paradise Edition bundle simply because I do enjoy listening to her good work. I’m a person that likes having physical copies of CDs, so I’d rather buy the whole thing than just a few songs I REALLY like, because her other work is decent even though some of it is just weird. If I was her (even though I’d choose being Taylor Dodson over her any day), I would have just released the following lineup as ONE CD, maybe self titled or just called Born To Die or Paradise, whatever the hell sounds best:
1. Born To Die
2. Video Games
3. Dark Paradise
4. Million Dollar Man
5. Summertime Sadness
Naturally, her other work would have a setlist like this:
1. Off To The Races
2. Blue Jeans
3. Diet Mountain Dew
4. National Anthem
7. This Is What Makes Us Girls
8. Without You
10. Lucky Ones
12. Body Electric
13. Blue Velvet
14. Gods & Monsters
15. Bel Air
With the advent of Animal Collective’s ninth studio album (in addition to a number of EPs, videos albums, art installations, and God knows what else), one might be better off describing the record as not the ninth of Animal Collective, but the first of a new incarnation of the band – that could probably be said for every album they come out with. It’s frustrating as a fan to never be able to peg Animal Collective: one second you’re given the acoustic inclined Sung Tongs, then the heavier rock-centric Feels, then the plummeting electro-rock feeling Strawberry Jam, then the almost all sample-based electronic Merriweather Post Pavilion – and now here’s Centipede Hz, which, well, you can’t exactly put into any category at all. People are calling it dense, and dense is a good word to describe it nicely, because on first listen it comes off as almost unbearable. Picking out melodies and song structures and even basic instruments seems like a chore more than anything else, and that’s why true AC fans will have to give the album several listens before finally being able to appreciate its glory. Because, after all, it is pretty glorious.
Surprisingly, Centipede Hz finds itself being the album of the year that you really want to not like (last year’s: Chad VanGaalen’s Diaper Island). The album art is awful, as is the title, and so is the website where you can stream the album – most of this is thanks to Avey Tare’s sister, Abby Portner, who designed the aesthetics behind the album – but she’s probably right in the end to put this art with the album. Centipede Hz, following the success of Merriweather, was probably a struggle for the band, and it was better managed on 2010’s EP Fall Be Kind, which I’d consider just as good if not better than Merriweather. Centipede, however, isn’t better or equal to either of those – it’s something completely different. And with that said, it almost makes you kind of sad. If you’re a lifelong Animal Collective fan, you’re being thrown through a loop again – I’d say that Strawberry Jam is there best (controversial, I know), but Merriweather was their swan song – so what is Centipede Hz? Well, it’s probably best described as a group of guys who’ve known each other for ten years and have gotten together to make a record. And we at least owe them the decency of listening in.
It probably takes three or four listens to finally pick out songs on the album that you might actually enjoy, considering the opening “Moonjock” is so jolting compared to “In The Flowers” that you pretty much just want to turn off the record right away. Maybe it feels a little bit more like “Peacebone,” but probably more epic – it swerves and turns and doesn’t really let you get a hand onto it until you’ve listened to it enough to let it be. For me, it was really the second half of the album that grabbed me – after digging into “New Town Burnout,” and hearing Panda Bear’s melodic voice again, I found myself pleased by “Monkey Riches,” “Mercury Man,” and eventually “Amanita.” But pleased is really the best way to put it, because there’s no immediate draw here like “Brother Sport,” or “My Girls,” or even the older “Fireworks” or “Who Could Win A Rabbit?” Those songs present something automatically interesting, whereas Centipede Hz gives you none of that. “Today’s Supernatural,” the albums first single, even feels like a stretch – maybe like something coming from a jam session more than anything else. So it’s not surprising that that’s what it is: Centipede Hz was essentially comprised of fourteen hours of these dudes fooling around and picking out things that sounded good to them. Which I suppose is alright for guys who have been making music for so long, but for an audience that’s come to want something immediate from them, it’s disappointing.
There have been comparisons to older, psychedelic records when listening to this new one, but those are unwarranted: any likeness to Pink Floyd or other bands is completely ridiculous – Centipede Hz is its own thing, and unlike anything else produced by Animal Collective or any other band. It’s about as frustrating and upsetting as it can be. You won’t find me putting it on in my room and reading to it. You won’t find me listening to it from start to finish with my eyes closed. You probably won’t even find me jamming out to a song on it. But the real question is: is Centipede Hz good? Well, yes, it’s fantastic. Animal Collective have outdone themselves again, and put together a record that albeit a chore, is one that you enjoy doing – it’s a homework assignment that you pull apart until you find more and more layers to delight you. Sure, Merriweather and others made you feel something, but Centipede makes you want to feel something. And when it comes down to it, every song has something spectacular to offer, and is just as listenable as anything else the band has produced. It’s a disappointment only in the sense that it’s not what we wanted, but that doesn’t make it not amazing. I suppose the only real decision a listener has to make is if it’s worth their time; for my money, it most certainly is.
I first got turned on to Why I Must Be Careful through their Kickstarter project (video found below), and have been hooked on what little the internet has to say about them since. Both for my own personal geeking out, and to put a little more information out into the world about this band, Seth Brown and John Niekrasz graciously put together this interview with me. Check out their website – http://whyimustbecareful.com/ for information on and an excerpt from their upcoming album, Honeycomb (which is excellent!), how to order, upcoming shows, and a death lottery.
AG: Can you give me an origin story of the band? Brief personal histories, how you found one another, and what the adventures have been like so far?
WIMBC: We met in Montana in 1998. Inspired by the presence of a 300lbs church organ, we began playing at John’s house in early 2001. Early songs were based on Ravi Shankar riffs and modern dance magnates. We traded a VCR for a Hammond organ to use at our first shows. Since those early days, John got a master’s degree, moved to Portland and became a board member of the Creative Music Guild. Seth also moved to Portland and developed a fascination for player pianos. He has recently acquired an Oregon Arts Council Grant to compose player piano roll music. We also have studied music abroad in recent years. John in India, Seth in Indonesia. We are currently working on our audition for the Norwegian Academy of Music. Our “adventures” together include a 24-hour performance as part of the 2009 Riverwest-24 Bike Race in Milwaukee, WI, performances at Portland Jazz Fest, DIY venues, and guerilla shows around the country.
AG: While Honeycomb is your first release, it sounds like you’ve been producing music for a good while longer than a newcomer might guess. Does Honeycomb represent a second or third “era” of the band, with the previous eras having gone undocumented? Do you have more material lying around that has yet to be recorded and released? Vague plans for further releases?
WIMBC: 11 years ago, we were writing complex, melodic, somewhat mathy songs. After a few years apart, we reassembled and spent lots of time improvising and performing very loose, free-form sets. Our current music draws from this history and catapults us forward like a magnet gun to new incarnations. We are working on a piece of musical theater composed with the hope of entering it in Edinborough’s Fringe festival. There are some earlier recordings out there if you can find them. We have very detailed plans for future releases and we look forward to touring abroad, especially Europe, Japan, & Korea.
AG: I get a strong sense of Zappa and Beefheart from your music. Am I assuming correctly? Are there some bands/musicians that have major influences on you that might be surprising, considering the type of music you’re making? Springsteen? Stravinsky? Jurassic 5?
WIMBC: John and I adore music and generate little ditties constantly whenever we’re together. But we don’t listen to very much music these days. We don’t care much for or know much Zappa or Beefheart. If anything we keep looking back to the music that originally inspired us to want to play.
Yeah, major influences are musicians from the 1990’s Chicago punk scene (including Assembly Line People Program, Cap’n Jazz, US Maple, Trenchmouth, etc.), John Cage, Conlon Nancarrow, Noam Chomsky, late Coltrane, John Zorn, Balinese Gamelan, classical Hindustani, and more recently Bik Bent Braam, Carson McWhirter, Hamid Drake, Paper Mice, & Sun Ra. We look to iconoclast and revolutionary thinkers for inspiration. Our people, other art forms, and nature are more influential to us than other musical acts. Although seeing a lousy touring band has always been an inspiration for us. We would often leave shows saying, well, we’d better play out more because we have something more rigorous to offer.
AG: This is quite the question, but what is your songwriting process like? Am I right in understanding that there’s a lot of influence taken from speech sounds and rhythms in crafting your songs?
WIMBC: In addition to more standard compositional approaches, we do rely upon an idiosyncratic notation system we call Syllabic Composition. Written or spoken text provides the complex rhythmic underpinning upon which melodic passages are built and transformed. We find patterns in the scansion of stressed and unstressed syllables and then leave the words behind as a kind of scaffolding or lost wax. We hope to construct powerful, intricately-wrought melodies and rhythms which have the familiarity of speech but the vast emotional valences of music. Sometimes, we do present the verbal scaffolding as sung compositions. We’re not tied-down to any one way of composing. Being playful and innovative about seeking new paths to music that feels legitimate to us and staying open-minded about the process has proven crucial to our creativity.
AG: (If this goes unanswered in the previous question): Can you talk about the Braille booklet you include with the release? Are the “lyrical structures and notations” inspiration for the complex rhythms throughout Honeycomb, or simply a description thereof?
WIMBC: The Braille booklet is the notated score for the Honeycomb album and is a continuation of a pointillist theme we began with shotgunned band t-shirts. We are not interested in just making band “merch” and instead see an opportunity to additionally engage ourselves and others. We shot t-shirts with Seth’s shotgun leaving a tattered shot pattern over the words, Why I Must Be Careful. In contrast, we also made a WIMBC kevlar “bulletproof” t-shirt. We hand-loaded and have available WIMBC shotgun shells with lead-free safety glass. We have handmade WIMBC bricks that are accompanied by a 50-page list of all banks receiving money from the TARP Bailout. We like to think of each WIMBC brick thrown through the window of a corporate bank as an individual dot in the pointillist canvas of impending corporate financial ruin. Which lead us to create Why I Must Be Careful Stock Certificates. The value of each share fluctuates according to real wealth as measured by certain specific criteria. Both of us raise animals and grow food and so are interested in the ideas and actualities of function and waste.
AG: There are a lot of little things happening on the record that take an interesting stance on what form a recorded piece of music should take. I’m even talking strictly in terms of the audio, here, and not even the very cool packaging and Braille booklet that comes along with the album. Is there a uniting idea behind the presentation of your work? As the first generation of listeners who will have heard your music before seeing the band live is waiting in the wings, is this your way of maintaining control over the “performance?”
WIMBC: Even after 11 years of making music together, we’re still figuring out what the purpose of a recorded album is for a band like us. We love performing live and find it very difficult to capture the energy and spontaneity of the live show in the recording studio. Our approach to the music and art of this record was certainly very intentional. We feel a duty to be activists in certain respects. We’re not pop musicians and we’re seeking something other than fame. The best we can do is interact with others and try to fend off the nihilism.
AG: I’ve got this fascination with bands put together by a few stray instrumentalists (like WIMBC) and comparing them to academic avant-garde music (which I get pretty well exposed to, attending Lawrence University, with its very own Lawrence Conservatory). Honeycomb feels to me that, if this had been written down on a score and presented as a “Symphony for Piano and Percussion,” it would feel not at all out of place in that world of academia. But you’re a band, and as a result are presenting the music in the tradition of the rock album, essentially. I love that both worlds have (some sort of) an audience, and are essentially grappling with the same issues in music, and creating music that challenges listeners in a very similar way. Do thoughts like these consciously cross your mind? I see this music as uniting the kids in Black Flag shirts and the middle-aged Zappa-Dad English Professors. Have you gotten that sense from the response to your music? Is that a secondary goal of yours?
WIMBC: We have no real idea who would like this music. The music we love challenges its listeners and we don’t know any other way than to follow that lead. We don’t consider the demographic of our audience when we compose but the variety of people who respond to Why I Must Be Careful is surprisingly wide.
Rock is often trying to be popular, academia might be trying to be smart, whereas bebop was about rawness and expression and alienation. Seth saw a good wheatpaste about it in the Lloyd District.
AG: Speaking of academia, do either of you have degrees in music?
WIMBC: No. We feel like outsiders. Seth is self taught and John tries to act like he were. We have consistently been writing music much too difficult for us and progressing in technique only because of the needs of the music.
AG: How much is improvised on the record? I’m guessing not a whole lot of Side A. Those solos on Side B seem to be improvised, but what about the crazier, perhaps noisy stuff on Side B?
AG: Why the decision to make just two tracks on the album? I’m assuming the music wasn’t written – and seems not to be performed – in the two long-form tracks you present on the record.
WIMBC: In keeping with our live show, we don’t stop very often; we’re not playing discrete 4-minute songs; we tend push out a single, high-energy, long-form structured improvisation.
AG: Do you improvise live?
WIMBC: Yes. Purely improvised parts erupt all over the place. We often perform knowing we will touch upon a dozen or so compositions, but not knowing the order in which they will arise. The improvisational connective tissue between more set parts keeps things interesting for us.
AG: How much do you owe your sound to the simple fact that you are a two-piece band? It seems songs crafted with your level of precision can only be the result of a very small band, if not a one-person project. AU, Planets, Hella, Cheval de Frise, and, say, Colin Stetson, (an odd assortment, I’ll grant you) all achieve an impressive level of composed complexity that feels out of the reach of even a three-piece band – simply coordinating all three members would prove too much at the levels of complexity these groups work with. Do you agree? Was it a conscious choice to form the lean two-piece outfit that you are?
WIMBC: We suffer from Horror vacui. It’s both satisfying and detrimental in some ways. It’s a good battle. We remain a two piece for both aesthetic and practical reasons. But there are many examples of three piece or larger groups playing music with highly intricate levels of precision: Zs, Everybody, Realization Orchestra, Moisture Throne, etc. For us, the directness and immediacy of a good two-piece band is more satisfying than larger groups.
Thanks Addy Goldberg for your time and interest. It’s very flattering.
5eth & ]ohn
Seriously Shabazz Palaces. Who do you think you are?
I should preface this review by saying I don’t feel compelled to write a review of every show that I see now that we have this handy-dandy website that I can write show reviews on. But I can’t not say something about the Shabazz show. It was too good. Wayyyy too good. I knew it would be good, but even I wasn’t prepared.
I’ll start at the end. “Thanks for coming and checking us out,” were the last words spoken by frontman (I admit, this title is debatable, but for lack of a better word I’ll call him a frontman) Ishmael Butler aka “Palaceer Lazaro,” after their hour-long, non-step set. “You’d be stupid not to!” Was the response from some seemingly star-struck fan in the crowd. I won’t name any names (Jake Fisher), but seriously, you’d be stupid not to.
Back to the beginning. They came out of nowhere. I’m not even sure if they entered from backstage or crept up from the side or what…I literally don’t even remember. They were just there. Lazaro and partner Tendai ‘Baba’ Maraire filled the stage immediately with a presence that obviates all eloquence — in speech, and in writing. These guys are badass. There is no other word. Profanity is a necessity.
There are comparisons, though. Lazaro’s entire look seemed to be drawn from the ’80s (think: updated MC Hammer), while Maraire looked slightly reminiscent of Bob Marley. When they started to play, they immediately busted out into synchronized, choreographed dancing (think: updated Morris Day and the Time) that could have easily strayed into the realm of campy, except that it didn’t. Not even a little bit. That’s the thing about these guys, is that they were just dripping with references to the past, and yet nothing about them was unoriginal. And it’s because when that first bass drum hit filled the room you were immediately transported away from the venue, away from past, away from the present, even, and into another universe. Shabazz Palaces didn’t emerge from any genre, really. They emerged from a spacecraft and swiftly converted their extraterrestrial powers into an unearthly noise we humans can only meekly describe as hip-hop.
And, I guess it was a hip-hop show, at its bare bones. The opener was a hip-hop act, the DJs doing sets between acts played hip-hop, I even danced like I would dance to hip-hop. But I’m just not sure. Their ambiguity was obvious to me early on, with their album Black Up. Besides the fact that is signed to Sub Pop, a predominantly white, girly, indie label, there are certain production choices that seem to place it in another realm. At first I wanted to label this as inexperience, or immaturity. I thought, these guys really have something going for them, they just need to refine it a little bit. Kind of like I think Janelle Monae is a genius but some of her lyrical content is a little bit immature. Seeing Shabazz live totally changed my mind. I don’t think they’re going for hip-hop, which is why some of their production choices seem a little bit strange. I also think some of the things they do don’t really translate into album at all. There’s too much going on. Lazaro was playing a drum machine, laptop, sampler, and using a vocoder all at the same time. Maraire, aptly described as a “multi-instrumentalist” by Wikipedia, was playing bongos, a tom-tom, a drum machine, a shaker thing, no, wait, multiple shaker things, another noisy thing, so many things! And that thing that’s so infamously used in “An echo…” (speaking of which, they kind of played that song, but not really, they just played around with that sample that sounds like a choir of babies and used the “thing” — God, what is that thing???). He was also vocoding his voice. See what I’m saying? There’s a lot going on. You have to see it live to get what it all means, and why they’re not just a hip-hop act. They give the word “Sub Pop” a whole new meaning. Yeah, it’s a sub-category of Pop. Not Pop, not hip-hop, just…something.
And even calling them an “act” feels wrong. I could say that Maraire and Lazaro are incredible performers, but they’re not. Performing implies that some kind of charade is being put on, that something could go wrong, that you’re not being yourself entirely. No, these guys weren’t performing. They were abducting. Abducting us into their alien noise. Everyone in the audience got taken to planet Shabazz that night (any coincidence that they were playing at Mad Planet? PS, if you haven’t seen a show there, do it). They did everything right. They played what we wanted to hear, and they played stuff we hadn’t heard ever before but now we’re eager to hear it again. They were obviously quite comfortable playing material from Black Up but they never strayed into boredom or looked like they were doing something routine, and the new stuff they played looked like they had been doing it for years. I was very much absorbed in the world they created up on stage. Their attention to the music was never broken and neither was mine. I felt a kind of strange awe that I was allowed to view them, and I still kind of feel it. Maybe Wilmer and I got abducted into a parallel universe that just looks like earth but we’re not really back on earth yet at all. (I didn’t make this connection last night, but Wilmer and I saw a shooting star on our drive home…”You think I’m selfish, exist only to wish on stars….” Too weird.)
I had an art history professor tell my class that the average person today doesn’t know what the avant-garde is. And now I know why. It’s because it comes from another planet, and occasionally lands on earth to play shows. Shabazz’s tour schedule says they’re off to Chicago next…I think we all know that’s a lie. You can’t hide from the humans now that we’ve seen you. Now that we know who you are….
Shane Perlowin, the guitarist behind Ahleuchatistas, Doom Ribbons, Mind Vs. Target! and various solo recordings – the latest of which, Shaking the Phantom Limb, was perhaps my favorite album of last year – gave me the chance to shoot him some questions. Here is what he shot back.
AG: What are your major artistic influences outside of music?
SP: Movies and books. I’m a big fan of both. But, since I have been a full time musician, over five years now, the time I have to sit around and watch movies and read books has diminished tremendously because I am constantly working on music. Though, I do keep some books going always, and I rent a DVD now and then. I just recently watched Citizen Kane for the first time and was blown away by its style and story, about a man who was denied his childhood and the love that we all need. So he surrounds himself with things he thinks he wants, but ultimately he’s empty and it all comes crashing down. It’s an amazing portrait of a nervous breakdown and wonderful to see depicted a winner of capitalism coming face to face with his failure at living. I recently finished Orlando by Virginia Woolf, a book that made me literally say “wow” out loud while I was reading it on several occasions. The manic flights of the mind that she describes buzz off the pages like electricity. I will try to read everything she has written before I die, but like I said I am not as voracious a consumer of literature as I once was because I deal in the direct conveyance of feelings that is music. But life offers enough waiting rooms, standing in lines, visits to the toilet, and sleepy evenings that it might be possible. Currently I am more than halfway through Don Quixote by Cervantes, and will have to agree with the consensus that it is one of the greatest books ever written. Chivalry was the last culture of goddess worship, and is sorely and unknowingly missed by the miserable world of men.
AG: Do you draw much influence from other forms of artistic expression?
SP: Yes. I get a tingly feeling when I connect with someone’s work in any medium, and it fires up my imagination, puts me in an alpha state of pure receptivity, out of which arises new and better ideas all the time. I am always ready to receive. I wasn’t always so open, but it is something that has developed in me over time as I was more and more exposed to different peoples lives and artistic expressions. I have always wanted to keep moving forward, so I stay hungry, and keep feeding the fire that fuels creativity. That way I can just turn it on like a faucet and ideas flow.
AG: It sounds like you grew up with some pretty different music than one might guess from listening to Ahleuchatistas. What do you admire about the music that makes up your musical background, and what about it do you let shape your music, if not its style?
SP: Yeah, I grew up on a little of this and a little of that. I was mainly into the rock and roll music as a kid, Jimi Hendrix, Blue Oyster Cult, Queen… Though, I think the first cassette tape I bought was Run DMC’s “Raising Hell”. I loved that tape, I would play it on the bus on the way to school on my little tape player and the other kids would tell me to turn it up. At some point Iron Maiden made a big impact on me, like when I was 10 years old or so. I discovered them when I was raiding through my cousin’s record collection while he was away at college. Fugazi is definitely one of the most important bands to inspire me, not only musically, but politically and ethically. I saw them three times in concert. I got way into Pink Floyd during my psychedelic years around age 16. Around that time Bob Dylan blew my mind with his lyrics and delivery. I became an obsessive fan of whatever I was into and get all the albums from an artist. I got turned onto Frank Zappa when I was 16 or 17 and
I really absorbed his conceptual universe, though was always turned off by his sexism. I got into prog rock, and bought all the King Crimson CDs, and Bob Fripp really opened me up. A really huge change came when I was 17 and bought my first jazz CD, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps. This opened up a whole new world and I fell in love with Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, and Billie Holiday, and the guitarists Charlie Christian, Wes Montgomery, and Django Reinhardt. I got inspired to become technically proficient at the guitar and to write music that was exciting and interesting and would hopefully blow people’s minds. That was the goal. But, I was also interested in moving people emotionally, beyond just being an impressive technician. I always shied away from the really slick and cheesy fusion stuff. Of course those players were really technical musicians, but the music lacked an edge, the emotional connection of deep folk and pop songs, and the dirtiness I love from free jazz and punk rock. This sort of summarizes my early musical listening experience. I consider myself a late bloomer, however. I started playing guitar when I was 14 and never had lessons, I just started to compose songs and come up with riffs. I was never a kid who learned to play complete songs by the bands I was into. Though, I do go back and do that sometimes now when I am teaching a student who really wants to learn the guitar solo from Comfortably Numb, for instance. So, it wasn’t until my mid 20’s that I really started to learn to read music and got any good at playing jazz, something I still work at and improve at because of the gigs I regularly play which help pay the bills… and I love the music. Jazz is a means to understanding other musics and learning things quickly, as well as writing unexpected parts that work because of its sophisticated harmonic conception, so there are more musical choices. Classical guitar and American fingerstyle tradition are very important to me right now as I play catch up with my right hand technique and develop my solo acoustic music. Of course, I continue expanding my palette, and have really come to love hip-hop more than just about any other music in the
world. No, I am not being ironic.
AG: There is a sense of fullness of sound that I’ve noticed you try to obtain in all of the Ahleuchatistas-related projects. As a trio, duo, and in your solo work, there is a sense of a distinct rhythmic element, a distinct bassy or background element, and then a lead voice happening on top. As a trio this was pretty clear and not much to notice, but as you’ve been moving towards more stripped down formats, you definitely maintain all three elements, even in the solo work. Has it been a conscious decision to maintain this balance? Where might this come from, if it isn’t a conscious decision?
SP: As a guitarist I spent many years focusing on the melodic aspect of music. I am not so much a multi-instrumentalist, and have only in recent years begun to train myself as a percussionist, bassist, and keyboardist. But, since all of my work is on guitar, and since the guitar is so multi-faceted, it still consumes 99% of my time. But, I have started to listen much closer to other aspects of songs, mainly focusing on the bass and drums. So, whereas in the past I would start writing something with a riff or a melodic statement, I am more often now beginning with a bassline or a rhythm. I think this is very important. I don’t know how I miss things like this, but I think my narrow focus has somehow helped me to develop my own voice as a writer
and player. Things that are obvious I just ignored, and this has le to some originality. But, to answer your question, yes! I am very much aware of completeness and strive for that in recordings and performances. Completeness can be very sparse, but it is what is just right, and I hope to achieve that to draw the listener in so they may have an experience.
AG: I think of your songs sometimes as really extraordinary experiments in form. Is that a large part of the goal of the band?
SP: In the earlier music, one thing led to another, one part got strung to another, and these songs with abnormal forms emerged. Looking back it is easy to see/hear that. My awareness of form at all was largely developed in my mid-20s when I went to school and got a philosophy degree. I wasn’t so comfortable with abstract thinking before that. So, the music was part-part-part-part…etc. Studying abstract systems called my attention to underlying forms. Of course, even if you string a series of unrelated events together, our minds will construct a form out of what emerges, or at least will try to. Nowadays, I definitely consider our music as forms which generate fresh performances every time we play. Ahleuchatistas, now more than
ever, straddles the boundaries between composition and improvisation. There are underlying forms and then degrees of composition, from a handful of elements to rigorously scored passages. This approach allows for there to be freshness at every gig, and that feeling of newness is something that is strongly transmitted to an audience, whether they are aware of exactly what it is or not.
AG: What are your thoughts on recording a song and playing that song live? Is the recording limited by what you can produce live? It seems you are been becoming more and more comfortable with producing records whose songs will likely take a different form live.
SP: Earlier recordings were deliberately stripped down to the limitations of a live performance. They were minimal in their production and I was also militantly anti-FX for a good number of years. When I was 17 years old it dawned on me at my practice space that I was surrounded by foot pedals that made all kinds of trippy sounds, but I did not have a handle on the guitar itself. So, I got rid of them all right away. By the time I was 24 and forming Ahleuchatistas, I was just plugging straight into the amp and not even using reverb at all. I wanted to create sounds with uncommon chords and unusual techniques, instead of stomping on a pedal to change my tone. This was one signature of the early Ahleuchatistas sound. I am nowadays not so limited in my use of accessories. I also have come to see the studio product as its own entity and am not so concerned with what can be duplicated live. I want the album experience and the show experience to be equally powerful, but in their own way.
AG: Here’s an almost generic, possibly annoying question. What do you think of the term “math-rock?” Genre names in general?
SP: I let people own their genre names. I personally don’t call anything I’ve done math rock, I don’t know what that means exactly. But, people can call it that if it helps them identify it as something they love or hate or whatever. I think math rock started in the 90’s, but I am not familiar with any of the bands that coined the term. I should really check it out, though, because I keep seeing that term. I explained the history of my background in the third question of this interview and it doesn’t include anything from the math rock tradition to my knowledge, though I think King Crimson and Dave Brubeck used odd time signatures, which involves the numbers 3, 5, 7, 9, 11, 13, etc.
AG: To get maybe too broad here, what about describing music at all? I always think it’s a sign I’ve come across some great music when I have a whole lot of trouble explaining it.
SP: I love hearing people describe their experiences of music. It is my favorite thing to talk about. I am not an elitist at all, so I believe any interest in music is good and that people are affected by it whether they are active listeners or not. Hearing young kids describe music is remarkable, they are wide open and totally candid. Some people describe feelings, others see images in their head. Feelings and images excite me. And then, of course, there is the technical breakdown of any given music. But, feelings and images are where it’s at for the human experience.
AG: Do you have a favorite album or period of the band? If the answer is “this one” and “right now,” which is the sense I’m getting, and probably the best state of affairs, can I bug you to tell me your second favorite album/period? I ask because I find myself often getting introduced to a band through an album that people seem to discard as “non-canon” or something. I can see someone coming up to you after a show and saying “Man, I love what you’re doing right now, but Culture Industry absolutely cannot be topped.” What would your thoughts be? How do you find yourself looking back at your work that now is almost a decade old?
SP: I think we are on the cutting edge at this moment and doing our best and most interesting work now. That said, I think our second album, “The Same and the Other”, recorded in 2004, is a moment that I am very happy to have captured. It was recorded in 4 hours and is a complete, raw and militant statement. Courtney Chappell’s cover art is iconic and impacting. Some people are all about the third album, “What you Will”, which features the same trio, with Derek Poteat on bass and Sean Dail on drums, still in top form. I honestly don’t listen to my own music once it is finished. Although, recently, I have listened to a track here and there on youtube, like “Lacerate” or “Imperceptibility”, and was pleased that the music has withstood the test of time very well. It seems to improve with age, which is very special. I think that is true of all of the music from our catalog, even though it is disheveled much of the time and not as polished as it could be. That’s part of the character. The harmonic palette, the simple melodic originality, and the idiosyncrasies of the players set it apart it to my ears. And I know there are fans who feel that way and really connect with where we are coming from, even as we have evolved and changed members over the years. The fact that someone might say an earlier album, such as “On the Culture Industry” is their favorite is very flattering and humbling. I know I have my favorites of a particular artist and don’t appreciate everything they have done on an equal level. I am grateful that anyone is interested at all.
AG: As a follow up to that, I am noticing that maybe musicians more than any other type of artist is reminded of/expected to produce stuff similar to their previous works. Do you think this is good or bad? Or is that largely reflecting the fan’s perspective, and its not really a thought you are forced to deal with all that often?
SP: That is something I was afraid of when the band switched drummers from Sean Dail to Ryan Oslance in 2008 and again when we became a duo in 2009. But, I have found that people are open to the changes and even have become more enthusiastic as we have pushed forward. It makes sense that our audience would be open minded and ready to move forward always, and also that it would continue to grow as long as we put out high quality work. I am not interested in repeating myself over and over again. Our interests have shifted and grown, along with our technique and concepts. The experiences of the last two years have really given me confidence that we can do anything we want that is true to who we are and people will respond to it. So, I don’t care to meet anybody’s expectations except for the expectations of quality, honesty, and evolution. It is a very liberating feeling, and allows us to work in a total creative flow.
AG: Here is my big, personal question that I’ve had since I heard Shaking the Phantom Limb. I’m a guitarist, writing very similar music (I think, at least), to what appeared on Limb, and I’m writing that music because I heard bands like Ahleuchatistas, Tera Melos and Planets, who have amazing instrumentalists and ways of thinking about how a song can be put together, but stylistically have a very difficult sound to get into, for most people. It’s jagged and driving and messy. That is a large part of what I love about it, but I think many people who would be able to appreciate the music’s intricacies get turned away because of it. By taking the lessons learned from these bands and distilling it into the world of the solo acoustic guitar, you expose these really valuable bits of musical innovation. That’s how I think of what is happening, anyway. Is that at least part of the idea of writing for the solo acoustic guitar? Is there an acoustics album of Ahleuchatistas songs that could be in the works, with drums and acoustic guitar and few effects for this same reason?
SP: The solo acoustic work came about because I am constantly playing. My whole life is centered around music: playing, teaching, listening. And oftentimes I find myself alone. You can definitely expect more of this music to come out in the future, and very likely there will at some point be an acoustic Ahleuchatistas situation. I am still growing as a solo acoustic guitarist, so it may be some time, but it is an area that I spend most of my time developing these days, even when I am composing for other musicians. I think one effect of this format is that it makes some of the more complex composition strategies more listenable to most people, which I am not against. Music is a form of communication, so I want people to be able to receive it. Some of the music that I write for solo acoustic guitar ends up in other arrangements with different musicians. I no longer write music for exclusively one project or another. My music is shared between my solo efforts, Ahleuchatistas, Doom Ribbons, and whatever else I am involved with. This gives the music life and helps build a community of players. The big point here is that I am a devotee of the instrument and am interested in all its aspects and styles of application. So, noisy, layered, heavily processed soundscapes are fair game and so is an unplugged steel string played with a thumb pick in Open G tuning.
AG: Thanks again for doing this; I really enjoyed reading your responses. Thank you for taking the time to put together this type of an interview.
SP: Thanks for the opportunity. It was fun to put some thought into the past decade and more, and give a thoughtful and thorough overview.
As the newest, youngest, and most innocent employee at the great WLFM, I – Peter Raffel, of On Patrol, Mondays 7-9 PM CT, decided to introduce myself to those who seem me as merely a question-mark-cog in the machine that is our amazing station. And in order to do so in a manner that will help my fellow music snobs trust my judgement in deciding what is good and what is bad (with not as much dilemma as Rachele seems to be having), I’ve decided to give you all a brief list of ten albums that have changed my life over the course of my broad nineteen years. Note the difference between “favorite” and “life-changing” here (for example: I’d argue that Ciara’s Goodies changed my life, but wouldn’t include it on a top 1000 list). And so, without further ado, I give you ten albums that brought me to the humble abode that is WLFM:
Abbey Road, The Beatles – It’s an obvious favorite album of all people with ears and a brain in their head, but Abbey Road was my first foray into the ideology that an album could be more than simply a handful of songs. Beautifully crafted, and amazingly executed (as well as being the Beatles best album – that’s right, the BEST), Abbey Road taught me about great music, great struggle, and great love during the course of its forty-seven minute majesty. At the ripe age of five, I was already on the road to what would eventually bring me to where I am – telling people that what they like is terrible and what I like is awesome.
The Wall, Pink Floyd – Although I would consider Animals to be the greatest Floyd album, my dissection of The Wall had escaped me until this year when I brushed the dust off of its placid cover and plunged into its depths once again. The utterly desolate and incredibly exquisite double album is the quintessential concept record, that drains the listener more and more with each listen. I was memorizing the ideas of loneliness at the young age of eight, and learning that great music needs to be full of great emotion.
Speakerboxx/The Love Below, OutKast – I could obviously go on and on about Outkast for years, but Speakerboxx/The Love Below was the defining point in which my music career switched from 70s Rock ‘n Roll to everything else – because, essentially, Outkast’s two-solo-albums-in-one can’t really be categorized into one genre, and it’s what makes Andre 3000 in particular one of the few geniuses of our generation. Taking concepts that feel repeated constantly on modern rap albums, OutKast turned them into something tangible, vulnerable, and most of all, sexy as all hell.
Illinoise, Sufjan Stevens – Perhaps it’s a bit of a cliche to put Stevens’ best-known album on a list like this, but I probably picked apart this album more than any I ever had. I’d listen to it endlessly in middle school, trying to decipher what was Stevens and what was fiction – and I never really got the answers, which is part of the genius of Stevens as a musician and an artist. History, emotion, love, loss, all encompassed within one album – when you look at it this way, it makes a lot more sense that he never completed the 50 States Project, because he completed it with Illinoise, particularly the harrowing “John Wayne Gacy Jr.,” which combines the sickness of mankind with the softness of humanity.
Late Registration, Kanye West – During an era in which rap was essentially minimalistic beeps-and-boops (see: D4L) or ambitious insanity projects (see: Missy Elliott), West brought it back to the classic with his follow-up to The College Dropout, and this album was essentially the road the paved the way for what he is today. Great beats, mixed with great rhymes, West took a page out of OutKast’s book by tearing song structure apart and teaching a white seventh grader that being into rap was cool as long as you knew that Gil-Scott Heron was being sampled on “My Way Home.”
Skelliconnection, Chad VanGaalen – Probably one of the most underrated singer-songwriters of our generation, VanGaalen’s Skelliconnection is his masterpiece, which combines his harrowing voice with a variety of musical styles, from acoustic pieces to explosive jams (especially the opener, “Flower Gardens”). It was a time in which the eeriness of the world could be matched with “Wing Finger,” the sadness matched with “Sing Me 2 Sleep,” and the amazement matched with “Dead Ends.” And maybe it was because I was graduating middle school, and because Harry Potter was ending, but something about VanGaalen stuck, and this album has been on repeat ever since.
Microcastle, Deerhunter – Bradford Cox and company have had a bizarre roller coaster of a musical career, but the beauty that is Microcastle essentially wraps up what they’re all about in a tight album – there’s no real arc or beginning or end, and in the final moments of “Twilight at Carbon Lake,” one knows that no matter how many times they listen to the album, they’re going to be listening again. And in the times before I was able to drive where I wanted to go, it made the most sense to plug in to “Agrophobia” and simply become one with the album that knew me better than I knew myself.
Person Pitch, Panda Bear – I’ve considered on countless occasions that Person Pitch may be my favorite album of all time, despite the varying levels of my enjoyment based on track (I used to go by Strawberry Jam as my favorite and “Bros” as my favorite song, but that changed (more on that later)), and I think it’s very telling that I’ve chosen this album as the one that stays with me no matter where I end up. The amazing comfortability of “Take Pills” (no pun intended i.e. “Comfy in Nautica”) on early morning bike rides, and the insanity that is “Bros” and “Good Girl/Carrots” is a constantly changing beast no matter how many listens, and Panda Bear is at the center of it: one man with a vision, a heart, and a place in a teenager’s mind as a hero.
This Is It…, Marnie Stern – Although Marnie Stern’s music tends to ride the fine line between utterly wild and utterly wholesome, I probably listened to This Is It… more than any album in 2008 strictly because of how catchy the songs were, matched with the awe I felt for her as a guitarist – and Zach Hill as a drummer, who I still can’t even believe is a person. I’d do Art History homework for hours on end listening to the album over and over again, and I immediately fell in love with Stern (probably for real). And although it isn’t nearly as personal of an album as her self-titled 2010 effort, it sinks into you the more you listen to it – and considering how much I listened to it, I’d say it stuck.
Public Strain, Women – As with growing up, Women’s Public Strain has taken on a different face over time, so much so that I cannot explain its grasp on me. I’ve listened to it countless times and yet it always seems new – it’s been changing my life from the day it came out until now (I’d call “Eyesore” my favorite song of all time – there, I said it). It’s an album full of hopelessness, but more hope than anything else, and something about the way these guys weave their guitars together, as well as their poetry-esque lyrics, makes me feel like there’s hope for music overall. And even if there isn’t, we’ll always have Public Strain, an ode to everything that is great about music and will continue to be great.
Well, there it is. I hope I gained your trust at least a little bit. Now I’m going to go cry after thinking about all of these beautiful albums. And, for the record, yes, Goodies did change my life. I mean, how could it not?
I’m sitting in the WLFM office right now, rocking out to Meshuggah. As I’ve been doing this for the past hour now, I came to a realization: Meshuggah has been the only metal band I’ve been listening to for a while. Like nonstop. I can’t help it! They’re too good. I’ve been trying to figure out how to put this into words. All that usually comes out is something like, “They’re just…ahhh!” I don’t know. So let’s see if I can make something happen by telling you a little bit about the men who I think make up maybe the most metal band out there right now…Okay, maybe not as metal as Slayer. I mean, who is more metal than Slayer?
Meshuggah came to be in 1987 in the town of Umea, Sweden (the “a” in Umea has some sort of symbol that I don’t know how to pronounce. Just imagine it’s there). Still consisting of two of it’s original members, vocalist Jens Kidman and guitarist Fredrik Thordendal, Meshuggah has grown into a powerhouse in the metal genre. Known for their extremely complex poly-rhythms and sound that hits you so hard you go blind, Meshuggah has released six full-length albums with their follow-up to 2008’s ObZen due out on March 27th of this year. By the way, ObZen is fucking fantastic and you should give it a try. It’s hard to sit through and by the time you finish it, you probably won’t want to listen to anything for the rest of the day. But it’s an unbelievable album.
This is really hard, you guys. I have no idea where to go from here. Their sound is an immense juggernaut. Just an unstoppable for that continues to pummel you into submission but keeps you wanting more. I’m clearly not going anywhere special with this right now. So here is a video while I regain my thoughts.
But seriously, Bleed is a perfect example at what Meshuggah is capable of doing. You don’t need the video to know that Meshuggah is scary. Scary good, too. The precision in Bleed is unbelievable as well as incredibly difficult to do. Pick up a guitar and try playing that rhythm. You can’t. Okay, so their using 8-string guitars. But that’s besides the point. You still won’t be able to play that shit even if you did have 8-string. It’s a monstrous riff that is not easy to pull off on any of the instruments used by Meshuggah. And that’s something that sets them apart from the rest of metal. Heavy Metal is a genre that is centered around dexterity and accuracy, which culminates in the technicality of what makes the music so enticing. But Meshuggah’s music has so many complexities to it that they sound like no other band around.
Shit, my shift is almost up and now I’m listening to Cee-Lo and Clipse. Listen to Meshuggah. Just not for too long. I keep finding myself taking Advil after about an hour because their music provokes my brain to explode out of sheer awesomeness. Look for their new album Koloss, dropping March 27th, 2012. Koloss has been highly anticipated and according to Meshuggah’s website, it will “pulverize your being”. So if you’re like me and you get excited about music that will apparently obliterate your very existence, let’s hang out on march 27th and get pulverized into oblivion.
This morning, the swallowing of peanut butter and toast triggered more than just digestive juices in me. Thanks peanut butter and toast, how quaintly you relate to my argument.
I’m not just rambling about toast here because I love peanut butter (even though ohmygod I love peanut butter more than most things). I’m actually rambling about music and movies and life and stuff. I swear.
I’ve been noticing a trend in music and movies and life and stuff lately…or really, I should I say I noticed the trend over toast this morning. I was reading an article about Bjork’s new album, “Biophilia,” in the New York Times which I found to be quite helpful, as I often completely miss the point of albums until I have listened to them ten or twenty times. I wouldn’t totally call “Biophilia” a concept album, but it is definitely an album with a concept. In this case the concept is the universe. And viruses. And the body. (Yeah, yeah, I know it’s called biophilia. Like I said, I’m slow). More importantly the album is about how the self is just a reaction and interconnection to and within these larger forces. She sings about the planets in a way that make it seem as if they are human bodies with as many feelings as you or me or anybody. She talks about viruses as if she is crooning about love and flowers. Maybe it is because Bjork is from Iceland, which has always seemed like another planet to me. It’s a country where there are still volcanoes and glaciers, and yet, you have to walk out your door everyday and find meaning to life amongst untamed nature. Pretty intense shit.
I have also seen this theme in a 2011 album by Jenny Hval entitled, “Viscera.” Please do yourself a favor and listen to this album. It’s like Lush infused with Laura Marling and a smutty 13-year old’s diary. It’s incredible. But it’s uncannily similar to Bjork’s album in the way that it makes everyday bodily functions seem like the most monumental events. It’s a bit more blatant than “Biophilia.” You can easily pick out the word “erection” at least four times within the first three tracks, and the first track sounds like it could be a passage from Cosmo magazine with all of its scandalous talk of clitorises (clitori?) and electric toothbrushes. But it’s just so EPIC. The third track, “Portrait of the Young Girl As An Artist,” explodes with a Bark Psychosis-like energy that gets me every time. I don’t know how you transition from boners to epicness. Or maybe, I just never though of it before. Hval teaches us to celebrate our human qualities. They’re not gross, they’re beautiful.
Last but certainly not least (or, idk, maybe it’s just as irrelevant as everything else in the whole universe) is “The Tree of Life,” 2011. I watched this movie way too late. And by that I mean I should have watched it everyday since I’ve been born. It would have saved me so much hell through high school and hormones and so many other equally tragic events. Terrence Malick succeeds in telling a pretty normal story about a boy’s life in the context of the whole universe, and all of creation. Scenes of growing up are juxtaposed with scenes of dinosaurs. Science. Biology. Puberty. The Big Bang. Texas. At the same time that we feel like everything is insignificant we also feel like our whole existence should be celebrated. Who the fuck can do that? I don’t think the Bible could even achieve that.
I think I have to stop. It’s 9:30 in the morning and I have Spanish in 20 minutes. I could go on. I could talk about the book I recently read called “The Unbearable Lightness of Being” by Milan Kundera where the characters have urges to empty their bowels in the midst of sexual interactions. But, I think you get the point (and I guess I’m only technically supposed to write about music on here). I don’t know why it took me so long to realize this theme was a trend and why it is important. I know it isn’t really a new theme either…I think “Unbearable Lightness” was written in the ’80s (that date could be really wrong). From taking tons of art history I know that there is usually also a social or political context for most recurring themes in art. I’m not sure I know the context this time. The world is fucked up? Sure. The point is I’ve been seeing this theme a lot lately, and I need to see it. We all do. Just remember: your life is important. So is the universe, and so is your strep throat. But in the end, none of it’s that important.