I Was Hoping You'd Pass by Here

Ghost Music, 2018

There's an ongoing debate whether names like indie-rock or punk describe a scene or a sound. Punk icons like Ian McKaye and Calvin Johnson have argued for the former, insisting punk can grow and evolve, even to things that sound nothing like punk today. Others insist we use the term 'punk' describe how something sounds to someone, using shared preconceptions as signposts. At some point, the idea of what punk becomes fixed.

The term indie-rock was coined to describe a particular scene and sound, but naming the genre after bands' affiliation with minor labels has caused no end of confusion as to just what is 'indie'. A wealth of independent labels still ship records in just about every genre imaginable, but there's also a generally accepted classic 'indie-rock' sound.

Ghost Music nail that classic 'indie-rock' sound so well, listening to I Was Hoping You'd Pass by Here the first time through felt like aural comfort food. It was all familiar and lived in—in the best possible way. The strumming jangle, the ragged edges, the peculiar melancholy cool were all exactly where they should be.

It's more of a feat than it, at first, appears. If you remind me of great indie-rock, but actually pale in comparison, I'll be reaching for what you remind me of. You'd have made a record as signpost. I've found myself coming back instead to Hoping You'd Pass by Here, repeatedly. Ghost Music's magnetic attraction for me is the action that speaks louder than other words. 

field report no.021518

LOCATION: Thomas Wolfe Center AVL.NC
SUBJECT: St. Vincent

OBSERVATIONS:
Instant gratification is rarely the sign of a great artist. Annie Clark's albums as St. Vincent often land with an initial, vague sense of disappointment. That feeling, more honestly expressed, is a sense of loss for the most-recent version of St. Vincent, who I'd  started to love, but, with the arrival of this latest missive, is no more. With time, I found myself awestruck by Masseduction—it just took me a while.

Much of Masseduction deals with ideas of product and manipulation (in various forms). Even the title suggests pop's purpose: tapping people's collective neural pathways, evoking lust and desire to make sales. Her live show foregrounded this by filling the stage with Clark, alone, in an outfit somewhere between dominatrix and superhero. Sexuality, as a performance and product.

While I was apprehensive seeing her perform solo, with pre-recorded backing tracks, this show made those concerns obsolete. Her staging and presentation were impeccable and engaging. St. Vincent's presence was outsized and her performance leaned heavily on her powerful voice and an under-appreciated ability to absolutely shred on guitar.

NOTES: St. Vincent; Tuck & Patti
PRESENT: AMS; Angela F; Grant B; Michael J

Sophisticated Giant

Dexter Gordon, 1977

Jazz sort of withered on the vine as the 70s trudged on. Free jazz edged further toward niche periphery while fusion was quickly laying foundations for AM lite radio. This steady decline in relevance set the stage for a revivalist jazz movement, with some pining for the days when jazz was synonymous with popular music. 

Enter Dexter Gordon. He sported heavy bonafides, having come up with Lionel Hampton in the 40s and cut some phenomenal original hard bop sides in the early 60s for Blue Note. He became Our Man in Paris for most of the following decade, recording for European labels and rarely heard in the US. When he returned in the mid-70s, Gordon received a hero's welcome: just the man to champion the new traditionalist movement—having opted out of the 60s advances so many found alienating.

Sophisticated Giant is a curious beast though. The large ensemble gathered here includes some heavy hitters in the free- and post-bop movement: Bobby Hutcherson and Woody Shaw (plus others who'd sat in with the likes of Eric Dolphy, Charles Mingus, and Archie Shepp). The tunes are very nostalgic—tastefully arranged by Slide Hampton—but there's tension in the solos. They have a tendency to stray outside the the sepia-toned confines of the album. Sophisticated Giant ends up an album outside of time, entirely.

Here's Where the Strings Come In / Summer of the Shark / Non-Believers + Staring at Your Hologram

Superchunk, 1995 / Portastatic, 2003 / Mac McCaughan, 2015

Capturing a cultural moment is the sort of feat that requires equal parts skill and luck. Which makes it more amazing that Mac McCaughan has done it three times over. Hell, Superchunk had a such a run, it's fans will disagree about just which album captured the zeitgeist.

For my money, it's Here's Where the Strings Come In. It's where Superchunk transcended their heartfelt pop-punk roots (without forsaking them). In fact, it's one of their more visceral records. What sets Strings apart is its wide-angle scope, giving cinematic more force to Mac's lovelorn musings.

Sometime in the mid-90s, McCaughan began moonlighting as Portastatic. it acted as an outlet for smaller, more experimental work, but it eventually grew to overtake his work within Superchunk. Summer of the Shark is the project's pinnacle. Released in 2003, he perfectly captures the wounded soul of a confused post-9/11 America. There's a couple of indirect acknowledgements of the then-still-recent attacks, but mostly I'm struck by the near-perfect yearning of songs like Hey Salty. Summer of the Shark ranks alongside the best of Superchunk.

More controversially, I would argue that Non-Believers, the first record Mac McCaughan has cut under his own name, ranks alongside the other two. It resonates differently the others: the feelings he's chasing are now more reflective, but not wearier. Non-Believers is synth heavy, marking a major turn in his work, and aligning with the retro-fetish du jour. Non-Believers seems distinct, perhap as it's made by someone who witnessed the synth-pop so many are aping, but wasn't playing it at the time—so it's lived in, from the outside in.

Really though, with all three of these albums, it just comes down to the fucking songs. If I hear one of these albums, I'm humming them for days. These earworm melodies are never tied to trite or half-baked lyrics, so they both delight and fulfill.

(Just for shits and giggles, I also got the limited edition instrumental re-eits of Non-Believers as well. Mac seems like a such an unlikely figure to release a remix album, it was hard to resist.)

field report no.012118

LOCATION: the Orange Peel AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Neko Case

Neko Case at the Orange Peel

OBSERVATIONS:
No writeup of Neko Case fails to mention that voice. It has a presence almost outside herself. A clear, forceful tone: sans vibrato and with only a hint of country twang (not enough to seem put on). Her voice is even more arresting live. It's worth pointing out, though, all her vocal prowess would be wasted if not married to such striking, individualistic songs. There are no shortage of good and powerful vocalists, but few of them possess Case's creative streak.

Neko's development is chartable, since her first couple of albums were mere covers affairs, which in retrospect seem more like clearing her throat than announcing her intent. By the time she released Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, she was a different beast, easily fitting in with then-label-mates Nick Cave or Tom Waits. This songwriting is the heft behind her voice.

Case announced at some point, that this was the deep-album cut tour. In the midst of recording a new LP, this pass through was about performing songs that were rarely aired, live. Luckily, this ended up including many of my personal favorites. 

NOTES: Neko Case; Mt. Joy
PRESENT: AMS

Erosión

Ildefonso Aguilar, 1985

The official history of ambient may already be written but the addenda are rapidly expanding. Continued hipster obsessions like vaporware created a cottage industry for excavating forgotten new age relics. Most of it is mere detritus only interesting in ironic context, but Ildefonso Aguilar's Erosión proves a revelation. It would easily fit into the mid-90s isolationist ambient scene, but was a decade too early. It's dark and cavernous atmosphere is too blurry to be on-the-nose moody, which dooms so many of it's peers. Instead Erosión is more abstractly cinematic, casting everyday moments as ominous.

ZLO

Uon, 2017

In the late 90s, the Basic Channel label rewired electronic dub. Bass drops sunk so deep they were more felt than heard. Rhythms were implied with negative space as much as drum hits. Uon pushes these same concepts further out, so far I have a hard time explaining why I think this ZLO is in a dub record at all. Central elements of these songs seem to be missing, but their outlines are faintly visible in the periphery of what's left. The undertow of this has become a riptide the songs themselves can't escape. This is dub as a subliminal force.

field report no.111717

LOCATION: the Orange Peel AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Slowdive

OBSERVATIONS:
Arriving at the show late from another event down the road, I knew I'd probably missed the opening act—Soccer Mommy—and Slowdive would have just taken the stage. I questioned that assumption when I heard the throbbing pulse coming from inside. While Slowdive has evolved through many sounds—from twee dream-pop to spacious ambient rock—rhythm was never their calling card. They punched up the rhythm on everything from their new, self-titled reunion album (arguably, their heaviest) to Souvlaki classics. I wonder what they sounded like to see back in their early-90s hey-day. Did they provide such a tight, cathartic performance? Or, was it more of the amorphous ambience that I expected? Is this is a trick they've learned in the intervening years, now they're play to be bigger crowds than back then? Regardless, I was pleasantly surprised.

NOTES: Slowdive; Soccer Mommy
PRESENT: AMS

Stairfoot Lane Bunker

Special Request, 2017

Special Request Stairfoot Lane Bunker

It can sometimes be hard, distinguishing between straight revival and subtle update. The are plenty of old skool jungle classicists, tweaking the Amen break like it's still 1996 (god bless 'em). Like garage rock, drum-n-bass seems to always be enjoying a reexamination in some corner of the scene—a truth also making it an easy anchor reference for explorations further afield.

Special Request's EP, Stairfoot Lane Bunker, has moments that could easily pass for vintage 'ardcore, but on closer listen it has a dark ambient heart. As much as the beats might skitter and surge, the sea level of every track is an ominous cloud of drone. It's a neat trick, really: upping the tension in every track, making the beats—when they burst free—truly cathartic.

Giraffe

Simon Fisher Turner, 2017

I pre-ordered Giraffe by Simon Fisher Turner, not knowing what to expect. Sure, there was one song to preview, but there's so little of his music available on vinyl, or readily available at all. If you follow him, a new LP is an absolute event. I've tried before to explain SFT's ineffable output, and Giraffe is no easier to categorize. It moves between somnambulant ambient passages to dark isolationist paranoia, only to be interrupted by field recordings. He shows little or no attempt to make sense of it for you. Even many of the sounds with a naturalistic / recorded feel remain wholly unnamable. Giraffe is not an easy album because Turner invites you listen to sound within his own terms and conditions, and that's exactly why it's worth any minor discomfort.

Oblique Portrait: William Parker

Legendary bassist William Parker is the common denominator for this mix that spans 40+ years and includes the biggest names of the jazz avant garde. If you would like to keep up on future episodes, subscribe to sndlgc podcasts in iTunes or copy this link to subscribe manually.

You don't know the name, William Parker, if you're just starting to dig into jazz, but if you've listen to any free jazz from the last 40 years, you're likely to have heard him. You'll may start to notice how he keeps popping up, over and over in different contexts. Parker is a advanced, modern jazz: a leader, mentor, organizer, writer and a tireless player who has appeared on hundreds of records.

How many artists have sat in with both Derek Bailey and Yo la Tengo? Or Peter Brötzmann and DJ Spooky?

In his now 40+ year career, Parker's not only played with an impressive list of avant garde luminaries, he's is a fixture among their working groups. He played with Cecil Taylor for decades. He and Matthew Shipp were the anchors of David S. Ware's long-running quartet. 

Yet William Parker remains under the radar for many listeners. Maybe it's his instrument. The bass doesn't hog the spotlight like any horn, or even a guitar. Or, perhaps he was just too late: all the biggest names in jazz made their mark in the heydays of the 50s and 60s. Parker came up in the 70s, frequenting the much-discussed-but-rarely-heard loft jazz scene.

It's why I wanted to weave this particular sonic portrait. If you gathered a broad swath of William Parker's work—as a leader, collaborator or sideman—was there a common thread, an overarching theme? Was his presence a defining factor?

To that end, I didn't want to present this mix chronologically. William Parker's palette has expanded with time, so later experiments with vocals, electronics are  interspersed throughout the mix (rather than piling up at the end). I also wanted to Parker's frequent collaborators, making multiple appearances here, from appearing clusters.

Sound-wise, this was a massive undertaking. The 20 tracks included here made up a 5-hour playlist. Despite making drastic cuts to each song, I tried to make each one flow organically, to feel like a complete unit within the mix (while still, of course, showcasing Parker's contributions). Rather than excerpts, these are like 7-inch edits; readers' digest versions.

Maybe, after listening to this mix, you'll see the narrative, the outline of William Parker in all these disparate paths. If so, I hope you check out more of his work. There is a mountain of it to climb, but I would hold out one record in particular. I didn't include it in this mix because, by rights, you ought to own I Plan to Stay a Believer: the Inside Music of Curits Mayfield. It's a raucous free jazz soul party of a double album that never forgets the political edge at the heart of Mayfield's tunes.

Ensemble Muntu: Flight
Billy Bang: Summer Night
William Parker & Hamid Drake: Faces
Wayne Horvitz: Psalm
Frank Lowe: In Trane's Name
William Parker / Raining on the Moon: James Baldwin to the Rescue
Cecil Taylor: Calling it the 8th
Matthew Shipp String Trio: Whole Movement
Bill Dixon: Brothers
Free Zen Society: Majestical
David S. Ware Quartet: Infi-Rhythms
Derek Bailey / John Zorn / William Parker: Noon Harras
Toxic: This Is Beautiful Because We Are Beautiful People
Charles Gayle: Touchin' on Trane
Brötzmann / Parker / Drake: Shake-a-Tear
DJ Spooky: Absentia, Absentia
Yo la Tengo: Let's Be Still
William Parker / In Order to Survive: The Square Sun
Anthony Braxton / William Parker / Milford Graves: Third Meeting
William Parker: Crumbling in the Shadows Is Fraulein Miller's Stale Cake

field report no.110817

LOCATION: Revolve AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Glenn Jones

OBSERVATIONS:
Sitting at the front a gallery listening room, flanked by his collection of guitars and banjos—each in a different tuning—Glenn Jones makes his finger-tangling folk songs feel effortless. Hands down, Jones is my favorite inheritor of John Fahey's American Primitive guitar innovations. His command of dynamics turns his instrumentals into it's own type of storytelling. Songs dip and swell, surge forward or hold back, like breathing things.

Before Fahey's reappraisal in the 90s, the lore of six-string folk was mostly an oral history, so Jones (like many of the apostles of the style) is an encyclopedic storyteller. He wove winding tales introducing each song—each tied to figures he's known. Jones grants you a glimpse of his private lore, tracing the titanic footsteps he knows he's followed, but he never fails to push those traditions further with his own accomplishments.

NOTES: Glenn Jones; House & Land
PRESENT: AMS; Angela F.

Vermont Versions / Häxan Versions

Vermont & Prins Thomas / Dungen & Prins Thomas

My first exposure to Prins Thomas' work was his remix work for other artists. It's no mean feat to rearrange another artist's work, casting it in a different light, yet retaining a recognizable air of the original. I now rank Thomas alongside the likes of Andrew Weatherall, as a top tier remixer.

Both Vermont Versions and Häxan Versions are collections by artists who let Prins Thomas loose on entire albums—a prospect more interesting than either a hodge-podge of different remixers or a collection of different artists remixed by the same producer. The works still hang together as a whole. It's a complete album seen through a singular, new lens.

The origins of these two LPs could hardly be more different. Vermont is an analogue synth band on Kompakt records making an updated kosmische musik. Prins Thomas' cosmic-disco reworks are not a distant reach. Dungen on the other hand is a rock outfit, operating towards the space-rock end of heavy metal. Prins Thomas respect for the original material gives each record a distinct character, but it's his strong voice as a producer that brings the two ends together.

Leave Corners

Aquarelle, 2017

Not too long ago, the underground was in danger of drowning in ambient drone acts. Luckily the herd seems to have been thinned in the recent years. Otherwise, a fine example of string-and-effects driftwork like Aquarelle's Leave Corners would have easily been lost in the flood. Thoughtfully and tastefully created, Leave Corners pits stasis against melody while striking a balance between pristine beauty and distorted grit. The cello at the heart of these songs lends even the most static stretches a tactile warmth. Aquarelle is more tune oriented than the outer reaches of ambient, though. Perhaps it's best viewed as an electronic cousin to ambient-rock: pop-drone. 

field report no.102817

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Hailu Mergia

OBSERVATIONS:
Moving from NYC to Asheville forced me to branch out. In New York, there was always something that fit the bill (as it were), but in Asheville I must, to some degree, take what's on offer. All the listing for Haliu Mergia needed to say was that he was an Ethiopian jazz musician from the 70s—I've devoured enough of the Éthiopiques album series enough to know what was in store.

It's a rare treat, anywhere, to see this form of groovy, traditional music presented by someone who was a part of its creation. Relying on the Fender Rhodes sets Mergia apart, though—most Ethio-jazz relies on tinny, biting organ sounds. The Rhodes' dulcet bell tones set a dreamier mood.  My favorite by far, though, was when Mergia switched to accordion. The pump action of the accordion mimicked the heavy, vibrato voicing I've come to associate with the 'Ethiopian Sound'. Aided by an able rhythm section, Hailu Mergia gave a small crowd in Asheville a master class in Ethio-jazz.

NOTES: Hailu Mergia Band; Lord King
PRESENT: AMS; Angela F.

Freedom of Speech

Phantom Band, 1981

Listening to the solo works of the various members of German legends, Can, you realize the band actually was, quite literally, the sum of its constituent parts. They were just amazing parts. Which is exactly why I love Freedom of Speech, by Phantom Band, because it plays exactly like an early-80s band led by Can's drummer ought to.

Though a drummer famous for devilish complexity, Jaki Liebezeit always played with sparse economy. As an album, Freedom of Speech is minimal in measures equal to his beats. Rhythms, cautiously conceal their craft in strident repetitions, while a keyboard or guitar fills are draped about, here or there, as filigree giving the illusion of song. It might have been a dour LP without vocalist Sheldon Ancel's humor, which never tips into novelty. More than once, I thought of John Lurie's Marvin Pontiac album, Greatest Hits (from 18 years later). Freedom of Speech represents a perfect showcase for the skill, restraint and playfulness that made Jaki Liebezeit's contributions to Can otherwise immeasurable.

field report no.102117

LOCATION: Thomas Wolfe Auditorium AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Asheville Symphony Orchestra

Asheville Symphony Orchestra performs Tchaikovsky 5th Symph

OBSERVATIONS:
As someone who doesn't go out to the symphony all that often, I was inordinately excited to find out that Asheville has its own symphony orchestra. During the 2017-18 season, they are auditioning finalists to be the new conductor and artistic director. Each major concert of the season features a different conductor, curating a set of their choice. Rei Hotoda's lineup caught my eye for including a modern concerto written for tabla and orchestra, by Dinuk Wijeratne, along with some more traditional fare by Dvorák and Tchaikovsky.

The concerto that brought there me ended up a disappointment. Perhaps it was well played, but unfortunately the mix was way off. The mic'd tablas overwhelemed the orchestra. It was all percussion and dimly heard strings. What did make it through, sounded as if the sections of the orchestra were used in rounds, to give the soloist, Sandeep Das, free reign to navigate his circuitous rhythms through it all, but it was hard to tell.

The revelation of the evening, for me, was Tchaikovsky's 5th Symphony. My Tchaikovsky barely extends beyond 1812 and the Nutcracker (the latter of which I've heard the composer himself didn't care for). This was far less cloying. It relied heavily on the underused lower registers of the pit, all contrabasses and low woodwinds. It gave the work and meaty, tactile sonorous quality.

NOTES: Rei Hotoda, conductor; Dvorák; Wijeratne; Sandeep Das, tabla; Tchaikovsky; 
PRESENT: AMS; Angela F.

One Thousand Years of Trouble

Age of Chance, 1987

Long before there was Kid Rock or Rage Against the Machine, their was Age of Chance from Leeds, pioneering rap-rock. I first heard them on the legendary NME C86 compilation, and sometime shortly thereafter, picked up 1000 Years of Trouble, as a cassette. [Quick aside: cassettes may be back in fashion with the ultra-hip, but let's give them one genuine advantage: used cassettes were cheap as shit, and that was kind of awesome to a kid on an allowance.] I can't say I've thought much about Age of Chance since I left for college, but a 30-year anniversary write-up on 1000 Years of Trouble over at the Quietus convinced me to go back and listen again.

With a little time and distance, I have to say Age of Chance aged well. There's something about 80s British rock and rap music. It must not have tasted so forbidden to them, as it did stateside. Maybe rap seemed as much an American innovation, as much as one bound up in race. To a white, suburban kid in America, most hip hop felt like trespassing, but a band like Age of Chance gave me an entrance. In retrospect, 1000 Years of Trouble is more convincing to me than, say, License to Ill. Age of Chance have some real vitriol to vent and enough clattering bombast to back it up. They even were even able to score remixes from hip hop legends like Afrika Bambaataa and the Bomb Squad, which ain't nothin'.

Dance of Magic

Normon Connors, 1974

Years ago, in Chicago, I frequented a pool hall. I didn't play, but they did have an exceptional jukebox. It was one of those CD-varieties, so for a couple of dollars I could cue up all four songs of Herbie Hancock's Headhunters while I drank my beer. It was my first experience with Hancock's work outside of Miles Davis. It didn't take long before I was obsessing about his Sextant-era band, but they only made three (albeit phenomenal) albums. Somehow, it's I only recently realized how much that group, sometimes called the Mwandishi band, did in the small span of a few years in the early 70s. Each of the members had a couple-few solo albums and they appeared in clusters on other, like-minded albums as well, like Dance of Magic, by Norman Connors.

Drummer Connors' debut as a leader is stacked with talent. Featuring none other than Herbie Hancock on keyboards, he brought Eddie Henderson and Billy Hart along, playing trumpet and percussion. Future fusion star Stanley Clarke plays bass, doubling up with Cecil McBee on the first side. While Dance of Magic may not reach for the same depth of abstraction, it does drive in the same advanced, atmospheric grooves the Sextant band pioneered. Connors expands the Mwandishi legacy, adding different shades to my collection. 

field report no.101317

LOCATION: Masonic Temple AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Bill Callahan

OBSERVATIONS:
Even before he traded in Smog for his real name, Bill Callahan was shifting from stylized indie-rock productions to more stripped-back, malleable, folk forms. Live, he handles these simple structures with a bluesman's flair of timing—drawing out bars or speeding them up, to suit the mood or his whimsy. The electric guitarist, brought along as sole accompanist, deftly navigated his tempo shifts, adding color whilst taking care to not push the outside songs' boundaries. Despite their traditional framework, Callahan's songs never feel trite. He avoids relying on tired lyrical tropes of the styles he's donning. The differentiation is writ plainly on his face: where the average troubadour would be earnestly closing their eyes as they sang to covey their sincerity, Callahan stares wide-eyed into the audience, brows arched up as sings, looking charged and  electrified.

I had thought, for such a simple presentation, they had quite an elaborate stage set up, featuring a small forest of cutout trees with a multi-layer scrim painting. That was until Callahan made a comment about the oddity of it all. It must have been some part of a production going on the same stage, but really, it seemed perfect.

NOTES: Bill Callahan
PRESENT: AMS