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Monday, January 14, 2013

Overlooked Records From 2012


Some Records From 2012 I Wish We Had Talked About More
by Dale W. Eisinger

(click on album cover to listen/purchase)


JHEREK BISCHOFF
Composed

We can’t be totally sure, but it seems Seattle art-jazz experimental pop lyricists The Dead Science have gone their separate ways, since the release of 2008’s mind-bending Villainaire. Sam Mickens is out in Brooklyn now, tooling around with his new Ecstatic Showband & Revue. And the arrangement lynchpin of the group, the versatile Jherek Bischoff, spent the bulk of his last year touring with Amanda Palmer. But through that came the quiet release of this record -- one that took three years to put to tape in pieces, as Bischoff traveled around the country with a pack full of recording gear, visiting friends and collaborators. Bischoff wrote these songs on ukulele and then arranged them for orchestra and others’ voices. On the record appears David Byrne, Caetano Veloso, Greg Saunier, Zac Pennington, Craig Wedren, Nels Cline, Dawn McCarthy, Mirah, Carla Bozulich, Paris Hurley and so many others. It boggles the mind folks keep fawning over Jens Lenkman and Beirut when this poetic identity struggle found its way into the world. 

Composed is in step with Histoire De Melody Nelson or Ys or most Van Dykes Parks work in its target -- there’s almost no pop instrumentation here, but the record ambles toward that more accessible direction just by reaching out and opening up, covering its vulnerabilities in deep composition. It could be the soundtrack to a filmed musical -- I see Bischoff in a suit, spinning around a lightpost, as the strings swell in the mix. Harps amble over African talking drums, an electric guitar wails over polyrhythms that sound straight from the crescendos of “Rhapsody in Blue,” drum kits swirl with dive-bombing brass, glockenspiels fall over swooning cellos.  It’s ambitious and beautiful and full of grace. “My name escapes you,” Pennington sings on “Young and Lovely.” And in 2012, this seemed particularly true for Bischoff, who spent the bulk of 2012 with his head down in Palmer’s overly contentious band.



BLACKCLOUD
Always Watching/Forever Waiting

“Art is a waste/individuality is a curse/conform for the better/speak out for the worse,” screes vocalist Thomas Wilson on the nauseating, pummeling opener from this self-released LP. Take that as a mission statement and this album becomes... what? A testament? A shield? A mechanism for living? A history? My hunch is it’s a mix of all that. The sound here has as much in common with the groovier Southern Lord bands as it does with the dissonance of Northwest doom (Gaza or Botch much?) matched against the dogmatic approach of Deathwish -- Modern Life Is War comes to mind more than once from the lyrical delivery. 

It’s near-impossible for Boise bands to break out (by reverse chronology: Youth Lagoon, Built to Spill, Paul Revere and the Raiders). It ups the ante when you’re one of the heaviest, loudest groups of gearheads left in the area. I really don’t think these guys give a shit at all, though. This record is simply a testament to reason and to life as it is without compromise -- an immovable jade(ed) artifact in the rubble of aspirant cities. But throughout the length of this beast, there’s a strange tinge of heart. In fact, it’s basically the only human factor BLACKCLOUD has left here, after destroying faith, art and even incredulity. This is pure instinct put to tape.



SOFTSPOT
Enso

I still can’t muster a better description of SoftSpot then when I first discovered them. Their records, including this self-released LP had me “doubling back for a listen in headphones, casting the kind of crafty, symphonic guitar writing that wouldn't be amiss in a Daniel Rosen songbook. Stack that with the best rhythm sections emo left dumped in a Midwestern cornfield, specifically Josh Baruth-era Appleseed Cast or False Cathedrals-era Elliott, and top with a powerful female vocal lead who shies away from the spotlight.” I didn’t see this anywhere, save for our friend Dante’s year-end list. This is an overachieving record that succeeds without distancing itself from the listener, material tinged with the occult and obsessed with the infinite. There’s a presence of loops here that extends to the record as a whole -- it loops back onto itself in the case of “repeat all.” Dark, moody, technical, progressive and worth every second.




MOONS
Bloody Mouth


Zach stacked this 7” in his favorite vinyls of the year. But this single goes far beyond wax for me. From the instrumentation to the production to the sentiment to the hook, “Bloody Mouth” is such a goddamn banger from an odd, young new talent. Patrick Canady is the dude’s name and I have been on edge for something new since this track came out. 2013 has the potential to be a huge year for him, as he’s got plans for more singles and joining a vinyl-only subscription singles club, with the likes of Hot Chip, Air France, Memory Tapes, Saint Etienne, Niki and the Dove, Laetitia Sadier, Levek, Holy Strays, Dreamtrak and NZCA/Lines. If you’re interested, I did Canady’s first interview ever for SUP Magazine. Watch the liquid, tracer-laced choreography for “Bloody Mouth below:”




THE HAND TO MAN BAND
You Are Always On Our Minds

A goddamn super-supergroup featuring Mike Watt (fIREHOSE, Minutemen) Tim Barnes (Silver Jews, Jim O’Rourke, Text of Light) John Dieterich (Deerhoof, Natural Dreamers) and Thollem McDonas (Tsigoti, collaborator with Stefano Scodanibbio, Nels Cline). Is that not enough? This is a wild ride of out-jazz noise and avant-experimental jams made over the course of three days in Austin, Texas. The music is engaging as it is beguiling, landing somewhere between Bitches Brew and Top of the Hill (I swear!) I reviewed the record in longer form at Impose.




CIRCLE OF OUROBORUS
The Lost Entrance Of The Just

You’d be hard pressed to find a band out there as prolific as this Finnish duo. In their eight years making music, they’ve released like a million things in various formats, including this LP. Here, vocalist Antti Klemi and instrumentalist Atvar stepped up the fidelity, revealing a beast that shoegazes, pops, and drones, sidestepping conventions of many genres to create something raw and confounding. It’s a difficult, distant listen. But that goes along with the huge output of this band. And what else is black metal, in part, than making things difficult and mysterious? If the similar patchwork 2012 debut from Rosenkopf was marked by showing its disparate parts too opaquely, Circle of Ouroborus succeeded here by smearing their palette to oblivion.  




SIC ALPS
Sic Alps

Of course it would be difficult to overshadow the scope of the Alps' last double LP, Napa Asylum -- the size of that release speaks to the psychedelic bubble the band recorded themselves in heretofore. But on this self-titled offering, the San Francisco trio stepped out of the basement and into a proper studio, setting their ramshackle lo-fi psychedelia against string quartets and pianos and clear guitars and enough tambourine whacks to occupy Janis Joplin for days. Throughout their debut Drag City LP, the band doesn’t lose its variable warmth, proving it's more than a fluke of a Tascam eight-track and a Shure 315 ribbon mic. There’s a casual grace to the way this record sounds, a backbeat swag that reeks of Ringo’s swing, with intuitive fills jumping to the front, the bass guitar locked like a Cotter pin. This is a dark songwriter’s record, a somber walk through a desecrated Golden Gate Park with the ghost of George Harrison. John Cage would be as happy with the “size” of this record as the Zakary Thaks would with its in-your-face statement of what psychedelia can be. Just listen to “Thylacine Man,” this phase-tinged acoustic stunner, as heart-rending as it is baffling.



LONNIE HOLLEY
Just Before Music

Though Lonnie Holley has made thousands of cassettes full of his glossilla-tinged stream-of-consciousness, he is not widely known in the musical world -- this is his public debut. Rather, for the last few decades he’s been an antagonistic, inspirational presence in Alabama’s visual art world, particularly when he demanded $250,000 from the Birmingham International Airport when its property encroached on his sculpture-strewn tract. The title of the album implies that it’s just not quite music. Which, self-reflexively, speaks to how this was composed: totally improvised with Holley’s lyrics only in his head. This marks his first encounter with a proper studio. 

It’s also a first for the label, Dust-to-Digital, which -- as the name indicates -- usually issues remastered folk, blues, and gospel. Here, Holley’s lyrics sound both prophetic and sadly nostalgic, with a touchstone on all the genres his label puts out. You’d almost believe Kool Keith could make something like this, had he been ranting in the cloud rap era. This is a deep record that goes farther in the heart than the spare synth arrangements would indicate. Standout quarter-hour sprawler “Fifth Child Burning” responds to his sister’s two dead children and the other four young girls who died in the 1963 bombing of the 16th St. Baptist Church, perpetrated by the Ku Klux Klan. "Now what you want for Christmas, baby?” Holley sings. “I'll buy you that new dress for Easter/Say that boyfriend gave you what for Valentine's Day?/Oh those new shoes Grandma sent you .../That box of secret things you got in the closet .../I said why didn't you get rid of those old cell phones?/Oh, you got so much memory in them/I didn’t have money to pay the bill." Essential listening -- my favorite record of the year.


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