Saturday, July 9, 2011

Ngibalale inkhukhu

RMH - 7/9/2011

I have blood on my hands. Literally. As many of you know I have been a vegetarian for the past five years of my life. Some of you know the story as to why I made this decision like the back of your hand. I can recall your eyes rolling as I would re-hash it over and over again at parties, dinners and other social events in response to the inevitable question of why I became a vegetarian. The question of why I became a vegetarian is much less exciting than why I stopped being a vegetarian.

One of the reasons why I stopped being a vegetarian was completely logistical. I couldn’t imagine explaining to my host-family in my extremely limited SiSwati that in my country we have the luxury of choosing our diets and what soy/gluten based alternatives to use to supplement the existential longing of having a protein as part of a full and balanced diet. I just didn’t feel like full integration meant opting out of a very important part of Swazi culture. Seriously important, livestock is a direct expression of livelihood and status among Swazis.

The main philosophical/spiritual/political/environmental thrust behind the decision to eat meat comes from the fact that (I thought) eating meat in Swaziland would not come with the same philosophical/spiritual/political/environmental baggage that eating meat in the States brings with it. For the most part I was right, most of the meat is raised locally on the homestead, and if not on the homestead at least 200 or so miles from the purchase point.

I believe deeply that every creature on earth is a sentient being worthy of our acknowledgement and respect. The act of taking another life for your own sustenance has long been viewed as a one-to-one transferal from life to life that came along with the appropriate reverence and respect for that transaction. Most indigenous peoples have built communal and spiritual practices built on this reverence for life. My unique sect of Christianity teaches a similar doctrine, that every life is sacred and that meat should only be eaten in moderation (in times of famine or winter specifically, a sadly overlooked tenant) and with thanksgiving. With the advent of industrialized agriculture in Western culture, we have seen that one-for-one transference eroded to a commodity-based transaction where the life of an animal is reduced to how cheap you can get it at the super market. Not only does this harm our overall spiritual worldview, but also it has consolidated mass amounts of capitol in the hands of the few corporations whose only objective is to acquire more capitol. This drive for the bottom line has introduced horrendous, institutionalized and wholesale disregard for the life and well being of the animal as well as a mind-boggling amount of chemicals, steroids and antibiotics required to keep an animal alive in such squalid and hellish conditions. The environmental considerations of converting most of our pasturelands to feed lots, most of our nation’s corn harvest to feed and shipping meat from slaughterhouses in Ohio to Whole Foods in California are staggering to say the least.

This separation from the process of growing, feeding and slaughter to brightly wrapped, pink meat-product in your chain grocer’s “butcher” section allows us to eat meat without even considering the animal it came from (in some products like hot dogs this rings even more true). So, that is why I felt like I had to kill a chicken. If I am going to continue eating meat I needed to know what it felt like to take a life. And so I did.

MDuduzi and I selected a chicken that was old, no chicks and past egg laying age. He held it by its feet and wings. It lay prone and motionless. I said a little prayer of thanksgiving, audibly thanked the Chicken for its life and then took a knife to its trachea and with about 30 seconds of sawing I cut through its neck. It flapped its wings for a few seconds, and then with all its life expelled in a glinting flash of red, it was over.

It was over. I didn’t feel any sort of sorrow or regret. I was nervous, but that eventually gave way to focus on the task at hand. I really didn’t feel anything. Comfortably numb is a good way to describe it. If you have ever carved a turkey it is not much of a different experience.

Killing something (or witnessing something being killed) and then eating it is a necessary experience if you are comfortable making the decision to eat meat. If the process horrifies you, or fills you with an overwhelming amount of pathos, maybe you should reconsider your decision to eat meat. Industrialized agriculture is ubiquitously evil, but there is a better way. Look for ways to buy and eat locally from local farmers and ranchers. Farmers markets and food co-ops are great places to start. If these are not available to you, remember, you can always opt out entirely. It is incredibly easy.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The TOME Has Moved!


Hi everyone - just a quick note to let you all know that Tome to the Weather Machine has moved! You can now find us at:


Please update your bookmarks accordingly, and holler at yr friends!

See you there!



Friday, August 20, 2010

Rickolus



Youngster (Circle into Square, 07.2010)

For: Paper Airplanes, Modest Mouse, Son, Ambulance

Byline: Jacksonville native, and frequent Ben Cooper collaborator, pens a touching and instrumentally grand ode to childhood.

Youngster, if you haven't already guessed is an album about childhood. Thematically, Youngster, doesn't tackle the topic of childhood as a tangible object per se, but childhood as a memory filtered through the perception of a young man awkwardly lurching into adulthood. I certainly can relate. Youngster succeeds is making Richard Colado's (aka Rickolus) personal recollections of specific childhood events universally applicable everykid activities. Rickolus does this by embedding simple, childlike melodies into the backbone his songs, relaying a sense of playfulness and innocence at the structural level. Lyrics tackle childhood (obviously), growing up, and nostalgic pangs for the freedom lost with early onset adult responsibilities. Ultimately, Youngster is about moving on.

It is easy to imagine someone like Colado putting out a record like this. The well-made video for "Photograph" depict Rickolus dancing like a kid two sizes too big for his body. His arms flail aimlessly without any relation to the rest of his body, his coordination just a little off of the syncopation of the music. And on one hand, this image of a kid trapped inside of an adult's body serves the album well. It helps us pass off songs like the pirate-lullaby "Grog" as a youthful indescretion. The pre-teen, lovelorn Colado on "The Story of Love" we can chalk up to the same. But time and time again Rickolus demonstrates an incredibly deep emotional awareness on songs like "Kid" and "Photograph" in which his sentiments are very much those of an emotionally attached adult. It should be stated here that Colado plays and performs every instrument on Youngster. That is saying quite a bit. Youngster's orchestral swells, intricate back-up singing, and all together fantastic production is very, very grown up. While the core of his songs, usually performed on an acoustic guitar or piano are deceptively simple, his instrumental flourishes are steeped in complex, layered, moves. In fact, many songs rival Paper Airplane's 2007 ode to childhood and Arcade Fire-esque ballads, Boyhood, for one of the most immediate, cathartic and nostalgia filled concept albums.

Leaving for work this morning I threw this on my i pod and got half-way down the block when I realized the irony of the situation, here I was trudging, joylessly to work while listening to an album extoling the virtue of exploring and taking risks that we all did without hesitation when children. Had I really turned into one of "those" adults? I turned around, grabbed my skateboard and skated to work like I was back in middle school. Well done, Ryan.


Ryan H.




Rickolus - Photographs from Circle Into Square on Vimeo.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Markus Mehr


Lava (06.2010, Hidden Shoal)

For: Fennesz, Tim Hecker, Kevin Greenspon

Byline: Blissed out tones and buzzing guitar drones define this album by German ambient-drone musician Markus Mehr.

The Pace is Glacial was both the title of Seam's 1998 album and an obvious in-joke describing nineties slowcore band's propensity for writing meandering, molasses paced songs. Markus Mehr's aptly titled Lava is cut from the same cloth, an apt title as well as a transparent jab at his wandering, ambient compositions. Mehr builds monoliths out of buzzing, oscillating swells of metered noise cutting deep crevices across the porous surface of cooling granite-slab of the mind. Yes, it is that kind of thing. Mehr's compositions are submerged beneath a tumultuous sea of swirling guitar tones that ride the biting edge of gorgeous and foreboding. The whole listening experience is spent in anticipation of the moment when that menacing snarl hijacks the pretty subtones, and reversed-jet engine propulsion and turns it back on itself creating head-exploding blast-beats and reverse time-lapsed nuclear explosions. None of that really happens though, Mehr keeps riding that knife edge deep-sea diving into yawning abysses of ghost-like skeletal guitar drones and no-input noise feeds. It would be easy to classify this solely as music for the mind, the incandescent sustained tones of "Hubble" and rhythmic pulse of droning static of "Costeau" certainly suggest this, but the most maligned track "Up Sturz" has the most tangible relation to the earthbound. "Up Sturz" tracks Mehr's homemade recording aesthetic closest to its source. Comprised of ear-splitting dial tones pitch-shifted to the brink of listenability, Mehr filters these harsh tones into a rhythmic ebb and flow of menacing, cracked industrial beats that reach a cacophonous climax that eventually wind itself down into a magma-like death crawl to the end of the track. As the album title predicts, Lava takes its time getting to places. The off-axis drift is felt more than a steadily canter towards some sort of definable goal. In this blissful wanderlust Mehr succeeds in spades creating a completely engrossing, engaging and all together reliable album full of the most powerful ambient-drone tracks this year.

Ryan H.

Markus Mehr and visual artist Stephanie Sext

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Koes Plus


Dheg Dheg Plas & Volume 2 (Sublime Frequencies, re. 2010)

For: The Beatles, Os Mutantes, The Kinks

Byline: The Brits invaded Indonesia, too. And holy wow, am I glad they did.


Koes Plus, Indonesia's most beloved pop music treasure, has an incredibly interesting history. Aside from the fact that this is a 70's Indonesian band unmistakably influenced by the British Invasion and that they were successful and popular enough to record over 40 albums during the 70s alone and spawn dozens of tribute bands over the years while remaining largely unknown throughout the rest of the world (peaked your interest yet?), the group's tale is somewhat legendary. Politics, rebellion, arrests, destroyed recordings, plane crashes… it's all very well documented in the liner notes to this smart package from Sublime Frequencies that collects the band's first two records (1969's Dheg Dheg Plas and 1970's Volume 2) following its reformation from the ashes of the all-brother Koes Bersaudara band. But as interesting as all that stuff is, it's really not the point of Koes Plus. The point is that this record is a damned good time.

The first half ("Dheg Dheg Plas") features a straight-ahead early Beatles approach. Songs like "Kelelewar" and "Awan Hitam" are stone-hits complete with snappy, highly danceable/sampleable backbeats and delicious four-part vocal harmonies. But even when the band is at its easiest to draw the Beatles comparison, the group adds its own little eccentricities… something just a little bit off, slightly obscured with the fusion of traditional Indonesian melodies and forms, not to mention the band's native language in the lyrics. In this way, the legacy of Koes Plus seems not unlike Caetano Veloso and the Tropic├ília movement during same time period in Brazil. Sometimes these eccentricities are just bizarre, like the completely random drum solo during the slow and sweet "Tiba Tiba Aku Menangis" (seriously, when's the last time you heard a drum solo during a ballad?). "Volume 2" showcases the Koes Plus as a different beast altogether, incorporating a multitude of different styles from ska rhythms to raucous punk and even a hint of Sabbath that comes as a hilarious and awesome surprise. The playful, Ray Davies-like nature of the songwriting makes this second half a little better, if also a lot weirder...

...This window into the wondrous world of Koes Plus shows the band was so much more than a mere carbon copy of Western influences, taking brave chances in experimenting with different styles and instruments within its geographical heritage to subsequently have a massive impact on what the indigenous music of Indonesia would become. They were also often just a brilliant band of completely talented musicians and gifted songwriters. The whole super-intriguing ethnomusicology thing is the icing on the cake.

Crawf

This review originally published at Foxy Digitalis. Used by permission from Digitalis Industries, Inc. Read the full review here.

Sublime Frequencies Website

Woah... these guys brought it live too. YEOWW!!!





Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Books


The Way Out (Temporary Residence, 07.2010)

For: Okapi, Dth, Sam Amidon

Byline: A steady return by the NYC collage duo. I promise the album is a lot more exciting than this byline.

You know that old question: If you were stranded on a desert island what album would you bring? I have given this ridiculous question some thought as of late. By no small feat I chose The Books' 2003 release Lemon of the Pink. That album more than anything in their collection balances the buzzing hive of sampled and manipulated human voices that range from hilarious to heart-breaking in a single song when placed inside of, above and beneath an equally manipulated ace guitar/bass/cello/electronic work. I never feel lonely when I listen to that record, even though the vocal samples are ripped out of their context and placed at the mercy of two pranksters/deeply sentimental humanists. You would basically have the whole range of human interactions before you every time you put on your headphones. They would become friends by the time you are rescued or your batteries run out.

With that said The Books fourth full-length album and first on Temporary Residence (what strange bedfellows) follows in a similar trajectory as their equally experimental predecessors. Per capita The Way Out has much more song-songs than the cut-paste collage experiments of their past work. These songs showcase Nick Zammuto's relentlessly clever songwriting and newfound vocal confidence. His voice ranges from creaky frontporch folk on "Free Translator", to commanding band-leader indie swoon on "All You Need is a Wall". These two songs rank as career highs for the duo's musicianship with Zammuto taking the lead with clunky, percussive gutitar lines and Paul De Jong filling in the corners with pathos-filled bowed cello lines and electronic manipulation of recorded brass instruments and sound effects. These songs speak to their delicate interplay as musicians more than any of the electronically produced scattershot of disco/funk/house styles that support their collage tracks.

"A Beautiful World" is in a league all of its own. A hymn to an irregular number disguised as a proto-disco track but with huge, rafter shaking canto-like multi-tracked vocals that owe more to Gregorian chant than to the languid back beat and instrumental flourishes. Incredible in every aspect.

The collage work. Yes, the Books are "that" band. And for the most part these tracks are solid, funny, sad, etc...Everything you would expect from The Books. A majority of the album pulls its best belly-laughs and thoughtful ruminations from self-help hypnotists and new-age gurus. But, The Way Out hits its biggest returns when it pulls from sources that are uncomfortably close. It is easy to externalize the yogis, and self-help masters as members of a sub-culture beyond ourselves. But when we hear the pathetic, and all too recognizable, longing swelling up beneath the message left on "Thirty Incoming" we realize that could be any of us at our most needy, or most nostalgic. The sincerity is too personal to be mocked, we end up feeling the phantom pangs instead, wishing we could fill that own void in our own lives. "Cold, Freezin' Night" is a classic Books song that showcases their deft interplay between the duo's acoustic instrumentation and perfectly edited sound effects and electronic production. The violent revenge fantasies of the young boy and girl, probably recorded in a fit of silliness, defy the subject matter by sounding like innocent little solipsisms spurred on by the thrill that the object of their hate may find and hear it someday. They probably didn't count on a (modestly) huge audience listening in. You are so grounded.

But that is how it goes when you commit your thoughts to tape, paper, film, whatever. They are no longer your property. Your lack of physical prescence disallows any context outside of the one the listener decided to place it in. Since it is no longer yours it remains safely in the hands of the public (isn't that right Gertrude Stein) or as a wav form on The Books hardrive just waiting to be used for their fifth full length.

Ryan H.


Friday, August 13, 2010

*e*


You Are A Brilliant Flower That Ever Blooms (???, 2009)

For: Robin Walker, Grimes, Neutral Milk Hotel

Byline: Acoustic, bedroom lo-fi gold from an unknown talent... insight, plz?

I'm what you call a hoarder. I keep shit. All of it. I recently realized this (or, perhaps I just finally admitted it) during my last move, which took forever and caused me great pain and grief. I have so many old clothes (a shirt that says "I ♥ Tater Tots" is among the worst..), old essays and articles from school years ago, little trinkets picked up here and there, countless posters... oof, and for some reason I still have all of it. A lot of it I keep for sentimental reasons—items that were given to me by someone special or maybe marked a momentous occasion in my life. But some of this crap (well, not crap) is puzzling. Where did this little green glass ball I have on my dresser come from? What is this furry little seal figurine on my nightstand? There's a plastic elephant picture above my bedroom door... why?

Well, my iTunes library is no different. It is officially out of control. So much music, and most of it I have a pretty decent idea of where it came from. But if you're like me, surfing around, checking other blogs (see right for a neat and tidy list of the ones we at the TOME frequent), on Facebook a lot checking out what other folks are sharing... you just start clicking. Well, I finally got around to hitting play on this album by an artist simply known as *e*. I don't know where it came from, who gave it to me, why I thought it might be a good idea to download it, how it magically had the awesome artwork with it... WHO. Who, I ask, gave me this gorgeous nugget of acoustic, lo-fi gold? More importantly still: WHO. Just who, may I ask, are you, *e*?


I'm not sure I'll get an answer here—*e* is a name that is basically impossible to Google. A search for this album's title yielded one blog post that offers little in the way of information, other than the fact that *e*'s real name is likely *e*-lizabeth Hill. MySpace, Facebook, Bandcamp... nothin'. So if anyone out there has any ideas on this for me, I'm all ears. For now... a quick review:


*e*'s music is as mysterious as to the reasons I've stumbled across her path. Acoutic guitar-based folk songs that are sometimes stark, sometimes quite full—of noise, rumblings, drums, synths, bass, stray voices, flutes, clitter-clatter, mallet instruments... The effect is one of weirdness in your general freak-folk-weird sort of way. But *e* doesn't really push away the way others in the freak-folk arena have been known to. *e*'s songs often begin with beautiful chords and hummable Jeff Magnum-like tunes, and then let the creepies set in to eventually overcome them altogether. But mostly, *e* chooses to let these songs get overwhelmed with beauty rather than ugly, stacking oddities and outlying sounds and effects that find supple harmonies within themselves and resonate deep.


This album is quite clearly DIY—tape hiss, static, slightly skipping glitchy digital info, "testing"'s, etc. "Phantom O' The Opera" is a bit excruciating, though the organ is quite nice. Same goes for closer "pretty kitties .deux," which is a gorgeous song, rudely chopped in spinning static. There are probably a handful of actual copies in existence, and one of those was miraculously uploaded to the throughs of the worldwide web from a scratchy CD-R. But like most treasure, this can also be beautiful because of its blemishes. You Are A Brilliant Flower sounds old and weathered, though the metadata from the mp3 files reveals this came out only last year. Like an old photograph, its the image that's what is important: an imaginative voice and one of the more creative songsmiths I've heard in months (and I've heard a lot of good ones) that is unmistakeable, if a little fuzzy. I'm sad to say that I have no idea why I even have this wonderful album. But like most of the piles of old stuff I've been going through in the past week, I'll find a dusty trunk to wrap this up in a blanket and gently tuck away somewhere inside my brain, in some deep corner of my subconscious. It's already there, waiting for me to open it up and remember... that time I forgot. Thanks, *e*. Whoever you are.


Crawf


Download You Are A Brilliant Flower That Ever Blooms here.


Derek Rogers / Sparkling Wide Pressure


Minor Phase Patterns (Kimberly Dawn, 2010)

For: Evan Caminiti, Sean McCann, Pop-era Gas

Byline: A beautiful ambient painting on the canvas of a 3" CD-R. Don't have a CD spindle? Get one.

I feel a little guilty reviewing this, as the release from the 3" CD-r label Kimberly Dawn Recordings is (perhaps unsurprisingly and indeed unfortunately) already sold out of its limited run of 50 copies, and the only place I've been able to track down that has even but a five-minute excerpt from the piece is a YouTube video that's embedded into Kim Dawn's blog. So it's troubling to me that many who read this may never get the chance to hear this work in full, as Frank Baugh (aka Sparkling Wide Pressure) and Derek Rogers' ambient effort is quite the treasure. Minor Phase Patterns layers long, slender guitar and synth tones against one another, allowing individual voices to kind of massage themselves together. It creates a homogeneously smooth and creamy hum with flashes of fleeting melodies you almost create for yourself subconsciously. Beats and rhythmic devices are sacrificed in favor of very slowly developing chord progressions, tonally fluid and morphing with the waxing and waning of textures so soft and slight (much like the works of composers like Wolfgang Voigt or William Basinski), changes barely go noticed. The music does follow a trajectory, though, a remarkable feat for a sound that remains so consistently firm in volume and overall girth—it's never fat or lean, starving or engorged—simply full. Elements breathe for themselves and are independent, but they work in a delicate tandem to operate like an organism, all singularly participatory in contributing to a common, well-rounded and balanced whole...


...I have to admit, most of my music these days is either downloaded, loaded into my slot-fed laptop, or, you know, I'm always partial to vinyl. So it was a task for me to find a way to hear Minor Phase Patterns. But interestingly, I was also immediately drawn to this little gem. These 3" discs are hip artifacts—folkloric vessels in a way, transporting music to an emerging subculture through a stylized material format. They empower ritual in art, emphasizing specifically planned, exclusive sorts of listening practices, encouraging more interpersonal moments of sharing that the internet age might be guilty of destroying. These CDs can be a pain in the ass to enjoy for those of you with nary a tray nor spindle, but they're also a beautiful pain in the ass, completely worth the effort whatever you have to do to hear them.


Crawf


This review originally published at Foxy Digitalis. Used by permission from Digitalis Industries, Inc. Read the full review here.


Kimberly Dawn Blogspot (Lots of great stuff here - and these sell out quick. Get on it!)


An excerpt from Minor Phase Patterns for your listening enjoyment:


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Heinali and Matt Finney


Lemonade EP (Self-Released, 07.2010)

For: Jesu, Gary Soto, Charles Bukowski

Byline: A huge, but bleak, statement of addiction and loss from the southern spoken-word artist Matt Finney and Ukrainian musician Heinali.

Matt Finney, who made up one half of this years most startling discoveries Finneyerkes, is back with another bout of spoken word from the economically, spiritually and emotionally crushed everyman. This time, however, he is paired with Ukrainian musician/soundscapist Heinali. The dramatically heavier and ominous tones of Heinali's electronically manipulated industrial/post-rock replaces Randy Yerkes' skeletal passages and underscores the equally dramatic (but not so surprising) turn in Matt Finney's utterly bleak spoken word/poetry passages. This turn towards the ugly side of human nature isn't something that Finney shied away from on past releases. On the anachronously titled Lemonade, however, Finney narrates tales of addicts and drunks with violent pasts and even more violent dreams and fantasies. Men (and only men in this collection) who abuse themselves and the ones who depend on them through substance and emotional abuse aren't let off the hook here. There is little hope (narratively at least) and no redemption for these men and those who are caught in their downward spiral of self-hatred and self-destruction. The survivors turn to the same coping mechanisms to erase their memories and cover their own pain at realizing they have become the monsters they once hated. While Finney may at times lean heavily on tired references like "houses on fire", and "waking up with your own blood in the sink" he also delivers some lines that rank among his best.

This isn't a complaint. I work with homeless youth in Salt Lake City. The familiar tropes of a never ending spiral caused by an undeservedly shitty childhood are not lost on me. While I was more than fortunate in my upbringing I see the effects of drug use, neglect, and instability in those formative years manifest themselves in the risky (and sometimes outright irresponsible) choices of kids I work with every day. After an especially emotionally high strung day I listened to Lemonade on repeat. The emotional catharsis was immediate. Somewhere between Finney's honest portraits of a stagnant southern existence and the nihilism of his characters I began to see patterns forming between the behaviors of his characters and the all too real examples I had before me. Suddenly the cycle made sense. Sometimes there is no redemption. Thats just how it is. Kids O.D from a drug they have been using since 11. Nomadic adolescents running away from affluent but abusive families fall under the wheels of the freight train carrying them across the country to the freedom of a Northern California summer. Bad things happen to good people. Some get past it. Some don't.

I realize this review has been way too personal. Heinali's musical underpinning works for the most part. Heinali often comes as overbearing in his use of industrial beats and stultified chugging-guitar riffs that can't seem to move past post-rock 101. But, when he is on, and he is most of the time, he is really on. "Lemonade" begins with a glowing, shimmering swell of sustained guitar tones, a signal to a final crack of daylight through Finney's bleak prose, only to be shot down by another of Finney's deadpan recital of all things dreary. "After the flood comes .... drought." Damn ... Really thought we had something going there there.

On a more positive note, Finney's contributions seem a little better integrated than they did in the Finneyerkes project. Instead of coming in via a clicked on tape recorder, Finney's contributions are edited into the songs themselves. Slipped in unexpectedly, sometimes put through a filter or some sort of sound manipulation. The result is a more seamless contribution.

Lemonade isn't a suicide note. Not yet. While it may walk exclusively with its head down on the shady side of the street, at least it is going somewhere. Finney dwells on these negative emotions to take ownership of them, embody them for a time, and then moves past them, culminating in one of the more emotionally devastating, yet, cathartic statements of the year.

Ryan H.

Download/Buy Lemonade Here.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Patrick Porter


Bachelor Pad Blue; Bent Pants & Stray Cats (Unreleased, 2009/10)

For: Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Giant Sand, Little Fyodor

Byline: Greyday rejected this? ... wtf?

Patrick Porter is one of those rare artists. He's a brilliant poet, a published writer, accomplished painter (word is that the drummer from Slipknot bought a ton of his work... which makes little sense to me. Even more perplexing is Porter's claim that he threw bananas at the band during the transaction), and a great songwriter. He's also incredibly prolific at all of this while somehow being something of a vagrant. He tours on Greyhound buses, holes up in vans or tiny studios, and manages to always keep his wandering mind focused on recording his memories in one way or another. Sometimes those are beautiful memories, sometimes ugly, nightmarish even, hilarious or sometimes they're just plain weird. All in all, Porter tells the stories of himself, and if you can bet one thing when you get a Patrick Porter disc spinning in your CD player, it's that it will be something honest. Whatever happened to him, what he was going through, if he's angry or uncomfortable where he is, even if it's unreasonable, he'll let you know.

His last extended stint (during which time these tunes were laid to tape) brought him back to Colorado where he slept in the extra room of an old friend's apartment, frequently played gigs at places like Wax Trax Records and the Skylark Bar for meager audiences quietly admiring his commanding (if also modest) presence at relating the world as he sees it unfolding all around him. I knew Mr. Porter during this period, and I found him to be remarkably friendly, incredibly interesting, highly intelligent, very funny, but, indeed as this record indicates, there was something a little off about him, too. He would hang around Gabor's Bar a lot back then, his A Swan at Smiley's LP was in the jukebox there, and we had some great times over games of rummy and bouts of Miles Davis, but I never really saw the loneliness his record harps on... which is a little sad to think about now, actually. I wonder how well I really knew him. But then you hear this record, and it's a window into who Patrick Porter really was on a much more total level at this specific time in his life.

And the record doesn't sound all that sad all the time, either, so don't worry, I think Patrick's doing alright. Opener "Hello" tricks you into thinking Porter's shifted gears to some kind of folk-ambient sound before blasting into a ho-down of an introduction, screaming and yelping "HELLO!"s to anyone who'll hear his story. And with a following spoken-word welcome, explanation of the record, an extended dedication, and a tip of the hat to Denver, I think Porter right off the bat wants to make sure he tells folks that no matter what happened during this "very feverish time... a time of great strife and complexity" (as he says), he wasn't taking any of it too seriously.

Still, lines like "Make my next meal a loaded gun" are delivered cold enough to shake you to your core. There's plenty of sadness and a lot of frustration to be found in tunes like the toe-tappin' "Big Frowny Face," which is something of an assault on an ex-girlfriend. "Zero" and "No One's Ever Gonna Love Me" are pity parties that Porter's pitching to no one but himself through country balladry twinged with the sting of stark lonliness and ghostly backing vox. Sometimes doubled vocals are off-tune just enough to grate the nerves, which might mirror Porter's own internal, ugly demons. Another plus is that Porter's tales are well adaptable to a range of styles from prettier, hazy ballads to more uptempo banjo or guitar-based riffs. Then there's a healthy share of stone-gorgeous moments that make it all worth it. "Fogelburg" is a simply wonderful light-rock tune, and "Lizzy Turtle Laylo," aside from being about a turtle that actually lived in my apartment for a few months, might just be the purtiest piece of music I've heard all year.

Sorry for the lengthy post here, we usually try to keep them below 500 words.. I don't owe Porter anything, and he doesn't owe me nothin' neither, so maybe it's a little odd that I had this much to say. I guess this record just resonates a little more deeply on a personal level. And the best part is I have a feeling it will do the same for a lot more pairs of ears if they're willing to put up with the guy... many have tried and failed (even his own record label, Greyday—they rejected this album). I don't think Patrick wants any of us to feel sorry for him. But it's a pretty interesting thing to hear him being sorry for himself for some reason. Plus, it's usually positively beautiful, even when he's at his weirdest.

Crawf

Patrick Porter Official Bandcamp (stream/buy this here)

p.s. Dear Patrick, plz come back to Denver.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Julian Lynch


Mare (Olde English Spelling Bee, 06.2010)

For: Real Estate, Ducktails, Green Gerry, Sufjan Stevens

Byline: An unexpected mini-miracle album full of hazy drones, horns, and delicate compositional flourishes from the second best musician from New Jersey. Queen Latifah being the first, duh.

Mare, although we are a month late on it, feels like a mid-summer nights birthday party; a celebration, a gift, an often overlooked cultural event. The native New Jersy-ian (and bffs with Real Estate, Ducktails, etc..) and current ethnomusicology grad student at the University of Wisconson-Madison has created an astute bedroom-pop album fixated on ambience and texture but with its feet planted firmly on steady ground of airtight song structure. Mare is a glorious pastiche of pop hooks underneath a chemical bath of lo-fi haziness and restrained washes of omnipresent guitar drone. Lynch is at his peak of perfection when he extends his laid back breeziness into his meandering bass lines, buried percussion, and left-field spontaneous instrumentation. While Lynch sinks his voice beneath the fidelity level of most of the instruments on this album it is still pretty easy to call this a pop record. But where most drone-pop luminaries choose to let their fragile compositions falter beneath the pall of guitar fuzz, Lynch's delicate instrumentation is clear, discernible and remarkably deep.

Take title-track "Mare" for example, the drumming in that track, while not too far removed from a quasi-ethnic raga, thud and pop like distant fireworks. Exploding behind, underneath, and over the top of all the hazy drones encircling the track providing a unique three-dimensional listening experience. The saxophone, trumpet and a bevy of woodwind instruments, especially on tracks like "A Day at the Racetack" and "Ruth, My Sister" have the tendency to steal the show. The non traditional instrumentation doesn't call attention to itself like a reflexive-song-and-dance-in-the-middle-of-a-heady-drama type thing (like 10 word hyphenated beast in the middle of a sentence does), but punctuates, garnishes, and deepens the already bottomless track. Oh, and the guitar solo on "Ears". Totally kills it dead.

With Lynch's degree in ethnomusicology it comes as no surprise to hear some less than obvious influences crop up on just about every track. "Interlude", for example, starts out with a vaguely raggae/soul-sounding dub template before some slack guitars and a grooving bassline tie the whole thing back to a mid-seventies Bronx jumble of intertwining tropical and American influences. Equal parts "The Harder They Come" era Jimmy Cliff and David Gates

Above everything, Mare is polite. An unobtrusive, dreamy little mid-summer gem of a record. Something that has been a companion through countless, stupid SEO articles and provided more goosebump raising, smile inducing, deep listening moments per capita than perhaps any other record this year. Totally worth your time and attention. Did I mention the guitar solo on "Ears" slays it? Phew.

Ryan H.


JULIAN LYNCH "IN NEW JERSEY" from OLDE ENGLISH SPELLING BEE on Vimeo.

Stream/Buy Mare Here

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Menomena


Mines (Barsuk, 07.2010)

Byline: Menomena's most mature post-DEELER album.

For: The National, The Walkmen, The Shins

Menomena make music for diminished men. If I Am The Fun Blame Monster was about being scared as hell about embracing adulthood with any sort of openness that didn't bifurcate experience into the two camps of lovely or terrifying, Mines feels like a resignation letter to the better competitors in life and a manifesto of being content with just existing. Sorry ladies, this a mans record. Not that you wouldn't like it. In fact you should listen to it. But there is something about being an object rather than the subject in your own story that men need to hear. Lyrical allusions to being "not the most cocksure guy" and being scared to death of a female counterpart who doesn't weigh more than 100 lbs, to wanting nothing more than "to go home" when we are expected to be brave, witty, and strong, speak to a deep masculine insecurity that Menomena explore brilliantly throughout the bulk of this album.

With that said, Mines is by far Menomena's lushest, grandest, and most mature album to date. No qualifiers on that, this isn't lush, grand, or mature in the way Friend and Foe was in Menomena's own weird way. This is straight up High Violet pretty. In fact, forget you ever heard The National. This is your new NPR, hip-thirty year old, critically lauded album. This makes sense in a way. Pre-Mines side projects of Brent Knopf's Ramona Falls and Danny Seim's Lackthereof, hinted towards an individual sense of compositional maturity at the expense of actual exciting music (barring of course Seim's incredible cover of "Fake Empire". Listen to that now.) Collectively Mines doesn't have that problem. Songs like "Tithe", "Dirty Cartoons", and "Sleeping Beauty", while restrained, are audibly some of the most interesting things Menomena have ever produced. Gone are the aleatoric moments of the DEELER software days, or the goofy/terrifying emotional transperancy of I am the Fun Blame Monster. Mines embraces the pop song structure without sacrificing the experimental give-and-take of Knopf's gorgeous ascending piano lines, swapping instrumentation, electronic blips-and-bloops, group melodies, and the signature saxophone on almost every track. If High Violet took 6 months to track, I can't even guess how long this took. This onion has layers. Just when you think you have got to the bottom of a track you find more vocal harmonies, oddball percussion, and strangely tuned guitars.

Mines disappoints when it comes to the burners. "TAOS" and "BOTE" swap the barely contained rage-cum-fragility of IATFBM with typical muscular rock-band drumming (which is remarkably punchy and huge) and classic rock influenced guitar licks. The most brilliant moment on an album full of downright jaw dropping moments is the album opener "Queen Black Acid". There is so much ground you can cover without a single power chord. Plus, Knopf's near Graceland white-guy vocal scatting fits in a weird way between the distant firework thud of Seim's drumwork and into the open space of the cavernous production.

With as much growing up as Menomena has done in the three years since their last album, they haven't sacrificed their fierce exploration of how much sound they can cram into a single song or between three friends. Mines puts Menomena back on the map of being one of the most innovative and talented bands in the indie-rock landscape.

Ryan H.

Free Download of "Five Little Rooms" (Courtesy of Barsuk Records)