Sunsets, pizza, and rotoscoping.
After we ate pizza and before we sat and talked about our video, "Pastel Ice Date", we went up to the roof and saw the sun set.[ Read More ]
Improvisation, instrumental music, and the political function of art.
French bassist, composer, and improviser Joëlle Léandre talks like she plays: with full-on intensity, using the whole range of her voice, offering idea after idea, drawing unusual connections, demanding your attention. She’s a nomad, she’ll tell you, and she’ll take her music where she likes. She’s a bee, she’ll say, gathering inspiration from any appealing blossom. She pays no mind to musical boundaries. Liberty is her hallmark.
When you listen to one of Léandre’s 150-some recordings, you’re struck by the variety of sounds she achieves from the double bass and the number of methods she uses to play not only the strings, but the instrument’s whole body. You don’t like it? That’s OK. As she says in her book Solo, “the object of art is to subvert, to overwhelm, to move to reflection. It’s a celebration of life. The artist is subversive, disturbing.”
This conversation took place over Skype during Léandre’s busy summer touring schedule.[ Read More ]
Snowbound recording with harp and melodica and the fine art of titling songs.
I met harpist Mary Lattimore in January of 2012 when I got the tip off that she needed a roommate, and I wanted to move out of a living room I was sleeping in. During the majority of the time we lived together, Mary was off the road and working on her first LP for Desire Path Recordings. The Withdrawing Room features multi-instrumentalist and recording engineer Jeff Zeigler on the first song, forging the duo that that now appears on the collaborative record, Slant Of Light, out September 23 on Thrill Jockey. I eventually met Jeff at our Fourth of July party, where he was the grill sergeant for most of the evening. Dude can cook. I’ve been lucky enough to see the duo perform a lot from early on (maybe even their first show) to now, and I’ve also toured a bit with the two of them. It’s been a pleasure getting to know both Mary and Jeff. The new album is also a complete pleasure to listen to and I couldn’t be more excited to ask them a few questions.[ Read More ]
The Clean, The Heavy Eights, The Bats, and smoking hash with Alex Chilton.
Robert Scott and David Kilgour are perhaps best known as two-thirds of the influential New Zealand band The Clean. With David's brother Hamish (who currently lives in New York City), the trio released a handful of EPs of shambling, psychedelic, and otherwise unclassifiable pop songs in the early '80s. These records were some of the first to come out of the nascent Dunedin-based New Zealand music scene, centered around the Flying Nun label, and remain among the best to come out of that movement. The band reformed in the late '80s and, since then, have put out another focused, playful, and beautiful record every few years. A compilation of work spanning their entire output, the four-LP Anthology, was recently released by Merge Records.
David's long and equally rich solo career continues with End Times Undone, his new record with longtime band the Heavy Eights. The album, out August 5th on Merge Records, is David and the Heavy Eights's first since 2011's Left by Soft, and is a further exploration of his overlapping interests in compressed pop song-forms and lush, expansive guitar music.
Robert's group The Bats have also been active since the early '80s and have produced a number of astonishingly great pop albums over the years, several of which were recently reissued in the US by Captured Tracks as part of that label's series of Flying Nun Records releases. He also has a solo album, The Green House, out shortly on Flying Nun.
Both David and Robert are also prolific painters whose work frequently doubles as album art. I emailed them a bunch of questions about painting, their solo work, history, and The Clean. The two old friends then sat down and talked them over on tape. Revelations abound.[ Read More ]
Childhood memories, dinosaurs, ghosts, and "other vaguely aquatic forms intermingling."
Graham Lambkin first came to public attention in the 1990s as a member of the band the Shadow Ring. He is also an accomplished visual artist, lending his art to countless record sleeves and maintaining a steady home practice of drawing, painting, and collage. Since 2009, the London-based Penultimate Press has published four books by Lambkin, including the recent Came to Call Mine, a gorgeous book of poems and drawings described by the artist as “a children’s book for adults.” The book’s release coincided with an exhibit of the same name held at Audio Visual Arts in Manhattan, as well as with Lambkin’s first-ever solo musical performances. Twenty years since the release of his first record, we see a host of fresh firsts for the artist.
One gets the sense that Graham Lambkin sees the world through a very peculiar lens. His observations on the mundane are often startling, though rarely far-fetched. William Burroughs said of Denton Welch that Welch “makes the reader aware of the magic that is right under his eyes,” and the same could be said of Lambkin. He looks at an everyday object and sees an ocean of possibility.
The following conversation was held in my living room, spread out on the carpet, nursing a few beers, and enjoying each other’s company.[ Read More ]
Nature, melody, and the primal urge to make music.
Yoshimio joined Yamatsuka Eye in the noise band UFO or Die in 1987, and, the next year, joined Eye as drummer (among many other roles) in the seminal and highly influential Boredoms. Aside from Eye, she is the longest running member of that experimental project. In 1996, she was asked to do a photoshoot for a magazine and asked a few of her girlfriends to join her. They created a fake band called OOIOO for the shoot, but then decided to make it real. Gamel, the band’s eighth album, marks a shift in their sound with the addition two new members who are both trained in the the traditional Indonesian music of gamelan.
Although she was here last year for a few one off performances, including Doug Aitken's Station to Station event last year with Hisham Bharoocha and Ryan Sawyer and a performance at Union Pool with Ikue Mori, it's been seven years since Yoshimio—who recently added the o to her name—and OOIOO have graced American soil. With a seven date tour starting on July 15 in Chicago, Yoshimio and company bring their flowing, organic, and genre-less music to the States in support of their new album.[ Read More ]
The cross-pollination of noise and high-energy improvised music.
The first time I saw the drummer Chris Corsano perform live, it had been out of his usual element. Corsano, a beloved figure in the noise improv music scene, was on stage at Radio City Music Hall as Björk’s live drummer during her Volta tour. It was an unlikely juxtaposition of two master stylists: Corsano is the lion king of improvisational drumming, but there is no room for improvisation in Björk’s music. Somehow, it worked out. Last month, when I caught a live set with him and guitarist Bill Orcutt jamming it up at Baby’s All Right, the bombastic ecstasy of their performance had the audience whooping and hollering.
For Corsano, who has drummed on over one hundred records, it is easier to appear on an album than it is to record something independently. Such a statement is not something to be taken lightly. He has only recorded a small clutch of solo albums, including his grand experimental percussive record, The Young Cricketer (2006), and Blood Pressure (2007) which features no drumming at all. Cut (2012) is his latest.
This conversation took place on a stoop in Brooklyn in June of 2014.[ Read More ]
Short, sweet, and sad (but funny).
The California psychedelic pop duo Skygreen Leopards releases its latest full-length, Family Crimes, on Woodsist on July 8th. Songwriters Glenn Donaldson and Donovan Quinn split their time between a bevy of other musical endeavors—New Bums (among others) for Quinn—that run the gamut from experimental noise to macabre chamber pop. In these two auteurs' universe of bands and side projects, the Leopards are but one planet in the solar system. As a duo, Donaldson and Quinn possess a formidable discography, which dates back to 2001 and represents an aesthetic that owes much to the melodious, hook-heavy songwriting of The Byrds and The Monkees as well as to the eccentricities of groups like Beat Happening or The Go-Betweens.
Family Crimes manages to fit fourteen songs into thirty minutes, and accordingly reads as a leaner body of songwriting when compared to the band's earlier records, which sometimes favored psychedelic atmospherics over pop tune craft. Simple drum beats and persistently strummed rhythm guitars underpin woozy keyboard lines and husky vocal melodies from both Donaldson and Quinn. The production was handled by San Francisco's Jason Quever, and the breathy shimmer that in some ways is his studio signature, exemplified on his own records as Papercuts, is well suited to Family Crimes's overarching theme of sunny, short and sweet songs.[ Read More ]
Multitasking, over thinking and how music is like working out.
Justin Tripp and Brian Close have put together a sort of creative ecosystem. As Georgia, they make music and do video and design work, both for themselves and a range of client-collaborators. Across their prodigious output there remains a sense of continuity—the smaller, more experimental projects counterbalance the high-profile promotional spots, and the whole thing holds itself in orbit, with its own gravity.[ Read More ]
A banjo-playing cab driver and slipping the rug out from under the listener.
For twenty years, Jason Lescalleet has been making electro-acoustic sound work, using all manner of source material to engage listeners in both site and narrative by providing a rich and physical sense of place. In addition to recently completing a trilogy of collaborations with the artist, composer, and performer Graham Lambkin, Lescalleet has been touring his project Trophy Tape, in which each of the thirteen pieces from his 2012 solo release, Songs About Nothing, is paired with videos made by a different artist.
Trophy Tape was presented at Anthology Film Archives in April and will be presented in July as part of Breathing Artifacts in Chattanooga.[ Read More ]
Blues, free improvisation, Portugal, and the abstract truth.
This June marks the relatively high-profile release of four records by the avant-garde guitarist and musician Mike Cooper. Cooper, an under-recognized, though key, figure of the British blues scene of the ‘60s (he was apparently asked to replace Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones at one point), began to explore overlaps between folk and free improvisation in the early ‘70s. He released a series of groundbreaking albums that fuse folk, blues, psych, and avant-garde free jazz. Three of these remarkable records—Trout Steel, Places I Know, and The Machine Gun Co. with Mike Cooper—have just been reissued by the Paradise of Bachelors label. Each of these records presents Cooper’s career in microcosm, shifting fluidly from country blues to psych rock to free improvisation and jazz idioms. Songs like Trout Steel’s eleven-minute “I’ve Got Mine,”—featuring a tenor solo that invokes Pharoah Sanders—to the series of experiments with songwriting styles that make up Places I Know, hint at the directions that Cooper’s work would take in the following decades.
Cantos de Lisboa, a new collaboration with Steve Gunn, out June 24th from RVNG Intl., is an excellent introduction to Cooper’s more recent work and an impressive collection of seamless improvisation from the two guitarists. The record, recorded in Lisbon last year, is part of RVNG’s FRKWYS series, which pairs young musicians with groundbreaking forebearers. Gunn’s recent album, Time Off, (also released on Paradise of Bachelors) was widely named one of the best albums of last year and placed his work very firmly in the experimental tradition exemplified by Cooper’s career.
Like Cooper's, Gunn’s music has a wide scope, encorporating everything from free improv to American Primitive to verse-chorus-verse songwriting to Popol Vuh-like guitar meditations. He’s very busy lately: in addition to near-constant touring, he’s also recently released a collaborative improve record with Mike Gangloff of the group Pelt, and is currently wrapping up another album of more structured songs.
I spoke to Steve and Mike—in Brooklyn and Rome respectively, on the morning of Sun Ra's 100th birthday, appropriately enough.[ Read More ]
Interplanetary folk music, the production tricks behind the Ramones' success, and how to produce a classic song.
In 1981 Craig Leon released an epic, meditative synthesizer record on John Fahey's Takoma label that to this day sounds fresh, crisp, and forward thinking. At the time, the record seemed to be an oddity, with more in common with the kosmiche electronic music of Klaus Shulze than with the NYC punk groups with whom Leon was associated. Nommos and its companion album, Visiting, which was released a few years later, are Leon’s speculative recreation of the music of the Nommos, a mythical alien race who figure in the ancient religion of the Dogon people of Mali. The apparent simplicity of the music gives way, over the course of the records, to a conceptual complexity and compositional rigor that is rare in the synth music of the time. Nommos sounds timeless in its sonics as well as in its imaginary scope.
But to say that Leon was ahead of his time is not completely accurate. His production work with bands like the Ramones, Blondie, and Suicide helped to define a sound of the times. Leon, who is based in London, has since continued working occasionally on pop records—notably, records by the Fall and Blondie, among many others. However, he now works primarily in the contemporary classical world, where he is a highly respected producer. Though you may not have heard the album that most consider to be his masterpiece, if you grew up in the ’70s, ’80s, or ’90s, chances are you've heard the work of Craig Leon.[ Read More ]
A deadly serious joke: bedroom minimalism, play, and the potentials of transgression.
B0DYH1GH's mellow, unsettled ambiance is something of a contrast to the mechanistic, straightforward accessibility of contemporary hype. The band eschews the avatars and branded aesthetics of a relative sea of emergent creatives eager to utilise the rapid gentrification and development of Brooklyn to garnish their media profile. The psychedelia and l33t-tinged defiance of search optimisation in the band's moniker points to a more visceral and unnameable experience, a playspace of the metatextual. Fortified by understated, cryptic vocals, there is a reticence here that is contagious. B0DYH1GH will perform June 14th at Macie Gransion, 87 Rivington St. NYC, to promote the release of their new mixtape, LILDED GILY.[ Read More ]
The desert, dreams, and strange avian events in Paonia, Colorado.
House of Spirits, The Fresh & Onlys’ fifth album for Mexican Summer, is somewhat of a departure for the long-running Tim Cohen-led quartet. Take the blazing first single “Bells of Paonia:” a warm drum machine cascades alongside an effervescent melody that’s as satisfying as it is uneasy. “Paonia” is a risky move for a band that has always thrived on the sound of four friends playing together, and it works all the better for it. Cohen decamped to Arizona to write and demo much of the new material, and the songs sting with the asperity of a high-altitude duststorm.[ Read More ]
Actress's Ghettoville and the marketing of isolation.
The ascendancy of Actress, the rumored ex-anonym of South London producer Darren Cunningham, culminated earlier this year with the release of Ghettoville, a beguiling and vacuous album of meticulous, quasi-isolationist design. Accompanied by an impressive and undeniably effective press blitz (including a Wire Magazine cover story and Dazed Magazine “takeover”, in addition to a lengthy Quietus interview and an Ad Hoc think piece), Ghettoville was at once everywhere and ungraspable. The seemingly deliberate allocation of such lack from an artist poised upon vastly widening exposure seems difficult to reconcile, and begs the glaring question, Why?[ Read More ]
Universal languages, performing in a trance, and the benefits of losing your work.
Helado Negro is the name Roberto Lange has assumed for most of his 10 year-recording career, over the course of which he’s released many tapes and records (many on the Midwestern label Asthmatic Kitty). His songs are firm and confident to the ear. Sometimes they leave me feeling naked and exposed; sometimes, strengthened and emboldened. While listening to the shifting surface of “Pressed,” a song that contains processed and exploded noises, I could understand the metaphor physically. That song, for all its aggression, is an outlier; most of Helado Negro’s poppier songs originate in keyboards and electronics, and many, like “Arboles Atras,” from his new release Island Universe Story Three, require Lange’s rich lyrics as their anchor, whether he’s singing in Spanish or English.[ Read More ]
Matt Popieluch on the honest and exposing nature of his latest album, Role Reversal.
Until now, if you happened to be searching for Big Search—the moniker of Los Angeles songwriter and guitarist Matt Popieluch—or his recordings, you would find 2010's Lay Of The Land LP and a scattering of seven inch releases showcasing Popieluch's studied songcraft that upholds comparisons to the second acts of Lindsey Buckingham and George Harrison. With Role Reversal, out May 20th on Jaunt Records, Popieluch follows their lead, stepping into the singer's spotlight, after gigs as a guitar-slinging tour accomplice to Sky Ferreria, Cass McCombs, Taken by Trees and others. For those who have kept up with Big Search over the years, Role Reversal's eleven songs, recorded over the past four years, are a gratifying vindication of a talent that in some ways has eluded listeners and critics alike. The record, like all of Popieluch’s, is hard to pin to a specific genre, other than maybe “Californian.” Richly layered acoustic guitars and pianos give way to upper register vocals that echo the harmonies of Harry Nilsson at one moment and Beach Boys the next. The confident bass and drum pulse of "Distant Shore" underpins one of the catchiest choruses I’ve heard in a while. Popieluch can just as easily reflect on upheaval and loss (“Soft Tears,” “I'm Gonna Leave You”) as he can pull off road-tripping rockers that stick around in the best possible way. Such a mixture of levity and depth of feeling is rare. I spoke to Popieluch about the making of Role Reversal, memorable gigs as a sideman, and finding musical fulfillment in the audience.[ Read More ]
Dark magi channel heavy jazz, dystopian folk, and experimental cinema.
Drone metal luminaries Oren Ambarchi, Stephen O’Malley, and Randall Dunn traveled to Belgium to score a film set in an apocalyptic future where time is no longer linear. They came away with Shade Themes from Kairos (Drag City, 2014), an album where each of these pioneering musicians push into new territory. This collaboration sprouts from the seedbed of Sunn O))), partaking in such ominous atmospherics but only occasionally in the thrum of wall-to-wall guitar distortion. What’s new on this record is an improvisational exploration of a vast sonic expanse where elements of musique concréte collide with slow-burning free jazz and delicate vocals.[ Read More ]
"Ambient" music, found sound, and valuing process over product.
Since the mid–1970s, electronic composer K. Leimer has produced a rich and vast body of work. It has often, if somewhat hastily, been referred to as ambient—that is, when it has been referred to at all. While some of his albums do exhibit certain tropes of that drifting, sometimes unnerving calm, the more comprehensive truth is more complicated, and more interesting, than that tag might imply.
Leimer's work is content to veer. If stillness is a recurrent theme in his work, so is agitated motion. One can certainly draw links to the golden mid–’70s of German Kosmische (Cluster, in particular), the more tuneful sides of This Heat and Throbbing Gristle, the “Fourth World” explorations of Jon Hassell, and the malfunctioning computer funk of Eno's collaborations with David Byrne as well as Fripp and Eno's tape loop experiments. In his systems–based pieces, a strange collision of sounds and influences hold free reign.[ Read More ]
Folk and sci-fi coexist in Bishi's live performance of Albion Voice.
I met Bishi at a very crowded after-party for the composer Michael Nyman; we were in a hotel basement in London and there was a mood of summery potential hovering in the atmosphere. And suddenly, in walks this creature of extreme glamour and beauty; we’ve been friends since that night. Bishi is obsessive, thorough, and fun—a winning combination. Her interest in pop mediums exists through a fundamental understanding of the experimental, avant-garde, performing arts traditions of many centuries. I live for her.[ Read More ]
Channeling acid-folk, drone, and straight up rock ‘n’ roll on new album Love.
Amen Dunes is the alias of Philadelphia-born, Brooklyn-based Damon McMahon. Over the last five years, McMahon has constructed a body of work that is both diverse and disorienting—at times channeling acid-folk, drone, and straight up rock ‘n’ roll. Throughout his career, McMahon’s signature approach has been to balance unconscious atmospherics and an offbeat, subliminal sense of humor.[ Read More ]
The Verlaines frontman on the groundbreaking Dunedin Double EP and the early days of Flying Nun Records.
Graeme Downes, the songwriter and primary force behind The Verlaines, sat down with Jeff Harford, the drummer for Bored Games, to discuss the early days of Flying Nun Records and the early '80s music scene centered around Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand. Flying Nun’s early records included the first records by Downes’s band, in addition to now-classic records by the Clean, Tall Dwarfs, the Chills and many others. This conversation centered around the Dunedin Double EP, a seminal compilation featuring three or four songs each by The Verlaines, The Sneaky Feelings, The Chills and The Stones. The double twelve-inch, originally released in 1982, has just been reissued by Captured Tracks Records. The Bored Games 1981 EP Who Killed Colonel Mustard—another long out-of-print early and important Flying Nun release—was reissued simultaneously.
— Clinton Krute
I write this in my current office, in a house that has a sight line to almost everywhere within a square mile that I have lived for the vast majority of fifty-two years and where I’ve written a bunch of songs. The town is still 120 K population as it was thirty years ago (with a slightly altered demographic). That anyone would care a damn about what we did thirty-plus years ago is somewhat perplexing. That said, I am orchestrating the Straightjacket Fits' “Down in Splendour" for a gig next year with the local orchestra and it responds pretty well to the new musical environment I am giving it. Something happened here (is happening here) and I vacillate between thinking I know more than anyone what it is/was and knowing the least. 6:58. Time for a shower and off to work.
— Graeme Downes[ Read More ]
Language barriers, meaningless titles, and what it takes to "bake a cake."
Juana Molina is actually a herd of people in one. Anyone familiar with the Argentine singer-songwriter’s music can attest to her many-sided-ness. Her voice is a thin, competing choir; doubling, tripling, quadrupling as a song builds. Her arrangements are busy but carefully measured. There is labor in her music. You get the sense that what fuels her is that old Romantic, artistic intuition tempered by workhorse instinct. It’s these things butting up against one another that allow her work to retain all the nuance her followers have come to expect from her.
Her sixth album, Wed 21 (Crammed Discs), is a departure from 2008’s Un Día and 2006’s Son. The world of Wed 21 is just as whimsical, just as assertive as those previous albums, but there’s a resolve in Molina’s voice and a riskiness to her decision making that feels exciting, or, to use a word she likes, raw.[ Read More ]
Composition for solo guitar and its discontents.
Nashville-based William Tyler is one half slick Music City sideman and one half inheritor of the free-roaming lineage of instrumental guitar luminaries like Sandy Bull and Robbie Basho. But the thirty-four-year-old would likely balk at being defined by those he has backed up (David Berman of Silver Jews and Kurt Wagner of Lambchop) or by the American primitive school of guitar soli that is currently having a moment.
On the heels of 2013's acclaimed LP Impossible Truth, Tyler is set to release the three song EP Lost Colony on April 29 via Merge Records. The expansive release clocks in at around twenty-seven minutes and marks Tyler’s first foray into full electric rock band, a new development after the largely solo guitar arrangements of Impossible Truth and 2010's Behold The Spirit. Backed by bassist Reese Lazurus, drummer Jamin Orrall, and pedal steel player Luke Schneider, Tyler's dexterous electric picking embroiders three rustic yet vaguely prog-inspired tracks including a cover of Neu! founder Michael Rother’ “Karrussell”. The record is a whole new take on New Weird America, locating the common ground between "Terrapin Station" and Krautrock, and yet another document of Tyler’s restless exploration of guitar idioms, American primitive and otherwise.[ Read More ]
The iconoclastic composer discusses his newest opera, the differences between American and European music culture, and space aliens.
Anyone possessing a passing familiarity with Anthony Braxton as a public figure has probably fallen prey to the caricature of him as a bespectacled, musical “mad scientist” in a cardigan sweater. As a caricature it is not far off, but it only addresses the surface trappings of a singular saxophonist, composer, and man of incredible depth and power. From his earliest days as part of Chicago’s AACM to the present third millenium, Braxton has used a saxophone and a pencil to radically define a new, non-genre specific, musical language, making him the persona sui generis of the modern American iconoclast.[ Read More ]