Blood on the Moon / Kiss to the Brain

Chrome, 1981 / Helios Creed, 1992

Recently I went on a tear, trying to listen to every album related to the infamous industrial act Chrome. This was no small endeavor: the band (under alternating stewardship) has an over 40-year, near-continuous history (not to mention all the solo albums). It seemed the end of that cycle was a good time to discuss the Chrome in my collection.

The demented and drug-addled industrial rock Helios Creed and Damon Edge made sounds completely outside of any scene or time. I don't know of many or any bands coming from California in the early 80s that bear any relation to them whatsoever. Like backwoods meth cooked up in a trailer, this SanFran duo (along with whatever support they could muster up) runs on cheap highs. Blood on the Moon is their fifth full length in as many years and by far the most 'professional' sound they'd achieved—that is to say the recording equipment sounds moderately up to the task of capturing their mania. Edge's voice comes at you in either low, lascivious, demonic tones or high, pinched, cartoon villain angles. Creed's guitar is chained through enough effects to make chord changes irrelevant, while the rhythm section martials on mechanistically. Chrome are like a seriously a bad acid trip (in a good way).

Helios Creed had the more successful post-Chrome career—at least artistically. Damon Edge's subsequent Chrome and solo records slid into lo-fi synth dirges, sorely missing Creed's acidic splatter. Creed's output could be hit or miss as well, but there was usually at least one or two worthwhile burners per LP. In the early 90s he paired up with the Minneapolis label, Amphetamine Reptile (the perfectly named home for a Chrome project), known for their sludgy brand of hard indie-rock. With the return of guitar rock to radio airplay and the rise of Nine Inch Nails and Ministry, there was probably never a better time for Chrome to ascend. Helios did his level best, delivering a trio of blistering industrial barn-stormers—including my pick, Kiss to the Brain. They surely, must have grown the Chrome cult but were still far too oddball to garner wide attention.

Biscuits for… Molasses Movers

My latest in the Biscuits for… series focuses entirely on dance tracks with undanceably low beats-per-minute. If you would like to subscribe to future editions of my podcast, you can search for sndlgc in the app of your choice, or add it manually with this link.

I've been obsessed with slow dance music for years now. Something about the inherent contradiction appeals. To clarify, I mean tracks within a techno dance style that are low BPM, nothing like what would be fitting for raising your would-be girlfriend over your head in a pond in the rain while practicing your routine. The fascination runs so deep, I've tried (and failed) at making a track or two myself. I'm not alone in this fascination. Just check out none other than Andrew Weatherall's recent output, compared to his bangin' techno or skittery drum-n-bass output of the 90s, it's downright lugubrious.

When you tune your ear to a particular concept—something broad but identifiable—how it seems like what you're looking for is suddenly in abundance. I don't flatter myself that I'm spotting a trend. More likely, It's just I'm suddenly tuned into a new frequency and am picking up on what I never noticed before. Whatever the reason, in 2018, I was suddenly stumbling over a wealth of slow motion disco.

Granted it's not all actually slow. Some of these tracks know how to trick your ear into hearing a rhythm slower than what's being played. You probably wouldn't dance to all of it, but each song is firmly from an electronic dance tradition. This ain't early 90s listenin' techno. 

As usual I've chopped it all down to its bare essentials. 30 songs sail by in 80s minutes. True to the Biscuits for series, all these songs are hot off the press—nearly all of them released in 2018, and some just weeks old.

So strap in and get ready to bust a (slow ass) move.

Chloé: Recall (instrumental)
Hi & Saberhägen: Parachute
La Frère: N8TTT
MTV: Snow Ball
Pinklunch: Other Side
Fango: Atena
Commodo: Leeroy
Etch: Defunkt Logic
Novo Line: Triad (33)
Jako Maron: Katangaz
Streetboxxer: Memory Man
Black Zone Myth Chant: Radio Romantica
Krikor Kouchian: Plomo o Plomo
Chromatics: Lady
Suba: Wayang no.8
Move D / Benjamin Brunn: Come In
Marc Romboy: l'Universe Étrange
Overmono: Pom
Heap: Tripper
Low Jack: Brass
Brainwaltzera: Kurzweil Dame (Eva Geist mix)
Masimiliano Pagliara: Small Town Life
Synkro: Automatic Response
Steven Rutter: Memories of You
Sign Libra: Mantodea vs Furcifer Pardalis
Boothroyd: Rinsed
Jonathan Fitoussi / Clemens Hourrière: Ice Tunnel
Happy Meals: Run Round
Dual Action: Cochi Loco
Mønic: Deep Summer (Burial mix)

Heads

Osibisa, 1972

I often shop the new arrivals bin on the Dusty Groove website. From the time I lived in Chicago, they've been veritable resource of discovery—so much more than just a record store. Their sonic niche is not my specialty, so it's always fun to wade through what they have and see what catches my eye. One time, it was Osibisa.

I'd never heard of the band before, but the cover of their third record, Heads, will stop you in your record-flipping tracks. The typography instantly makes you think it's a prog-rock record, with echoes of Yes or Budgie. The warped painting is by Abdul Mati Klarwein, the same artist who gave us Miles Davis' Live Evil. The image is of the sweating, disembodied head of a flying elephant. To make things even weirder, each of the band members faces seem to be emerging from different parts of this demonic-looking Dumbo's face. With exactly that much information to go on, I had to see what Osibisa was all about.

For lack of a better term, they were a funk band. If you try and get beyond that, you end up needing a lot of hyphens. Though based in London most of the band hailed from Ghana, and their progressive-flavored jams shared some DNA with afrobeat. The more psychedelic edges of their tracks remind me of a more percussion-heavy Cymande. They also retain an African feel of call and response—the same one that also informs African American Gospel music. It all ads up to (ahem) a heady brew.

Die Paste, Die Wrong

Gerard Herman, 2016

Gerard Herman Die Paste Die Wrong

It's actually rather rare to buy a record with no information other than the sound. So many things influence us, from what we already know, to criticism and promotion, up to the cover art. I virtually none of that when it came to Gerard Herman's Die Paste, Die Wrong. I knew nothing about Herman, and the Entr'acte label is about as forthcoming as their stark, consecutively numbered covers would imply. I had no information other than what I heard and what I heard were these beguiling electronic miniatures, each built with simple, limited components but each slippery in its construction, hard to pin down.

The Way Out

L.Voag, 1979

Any band that names themselves the Homosexuals, in 1977, is confrontational. Apparently the name-change cost them at least one band member. The Homosexuals were a prolific and squirrelly group, who seemed to form new bands monthly either from desire for obfuscation or perhaps sheer boredom. The box set, Astral Glamour, went a long way to making the bulk of their work as the Homosexuals available again (and more besides) but huge swaths of their other material remains damnably hard to find. Hell, it sometimes feels like you have to be an internet detective just to find out it even exists. Getting the box set digitally also does nothing for sorting out what goes where…

On vinyl, this dilemma is slowly being addressed. The various works of Amos, aka Jim Welton, aka L.Voag have started to see the light of day . Listening to The Way Out is almost a form of archeology. Nobody makes this sort of lo-fi jumble in era of computer-based home studios and auto-tune. It sounds like half these songs were written moments before they were recorded. The magic of it is in how well it works, in all its haphazard glory.

History Sifter :: Concept 96

If you still consider Richie Hawtin a titan of techno, you probably live in Europe and go to electronica festivals. Except as a megastar DJ, he's dropped out of any other conversations of electronic music. There's been precious little new material from the Plastikman camp in the last 15 years and the work he built his reputation on remained unavailable on streaming services for far too long. To any casual techno fan, Richie Hawtin had all but disappeared.

Even though you can finally listen to most of his catalog online, I would argue he left out one of his most striking works, and it still remains absent. In 1996, Hawtin released one 12-inch single, every month, called Concept 1-12. Each was a strident, minimal beat exploration using a purposefully restricted set of gear and sounds. They were suitable for only the bravest and most inventive DJs. Reportedly, he recorded the tracks live, in the studio, and mixed each single at the last minute, giving himself little time to fuss.

I never managed to get ahold of more than a few of the original singles—but for a brief period, his Plus8 label offered a large cross-section of them, collected on CD. The Concept:96 collection remains a touchstone of my aesthetic development. In my very unscientific surveys, the people I've introduced it to—some who have little use for minimal electronica—are unananimously impressed.

It's easy to cite a handful of releases that are clearly influenced by the Concept series. Many of them, like snd's makesndcassette, ended up as landmark records in my personal history, as well. I wish I knew why Richie Hawtin chose to leave Concept:96 in the past, while he was bringing the rest of his catalogue into the present. It's too esoteric to change the written history of techno in the 90s (or even about Hawtin himself) but it's still one of the most daring—and therefore, rewarding—albums of his career.

Strangely, it even seems the (also out-of-print) remix record Thomas Brinkmann made, Re:Concept, is easier to find. These versions were made by simply playing the Concept singles on Brinkmann's vari-speed turntable with a sepearate tone arm for each channel—the same device he'd previously used to make versions of Wolfgang Voigt's Studio 1 releases. Sometimes, I suppose it pays to have a gimmick.

Phantom Studies

Dettmann / Klock, 2017

Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock have maintained an intermittent collaboration for the last 15 years. Phantom Studies is the latest their series of singles, but by dint of being a double 12-inch, it also serves as their not-quite-full length debut. While they are offered more room to stretch out, they keep their rhythms aimed at the floor. True to it's title, Phantom Studies is a darker work than previous ones, with tunnel vision bass gone fuzzy with distortion around the edges, and tracks haunted by echoing, half heard voices.

Hymns

Godflesh, 2001

In its extremity, industrial metal is kind of silly. I think you have to embrace that fact in order to fully accept and appreciate the style: buy into the distorted bellowing and pummeling volume the same as you accept the fairies and gnomes of prog rock. It never ceases to surprise me what a dynamic range such a narrow niche can contain, though. Where Ministry is all treble-drenched, cartoonish aggression, Godflesh is stark and harrowing, plowing an excoriated emotional landscape.

At the time of its release, Hymns was the swansong for Godflesh, as JK Broadrick moved on to other projects. It remains not only my favorite Godflesh LP, but one of my favorite guitar records, full stop. The unique sound of the guitars themselves, across the whole album, is worth the price of entry alone. It's as if they amplified the fretboard—so every pluck, strum and chord change is an event unto itself, as well as the resulting note. This clear meeting of flesh, steel and electricity is epic.

Hymns is distinctive in the Godflesh catalogue. It's one their few records to feature a live drummer. Abandoning their distinctive  machine rhythms may have been controversial among their cult fan base, but it perfectly suits the more human and dynamic sound of this LP. The lyrics on Hymns seem more personal as well. Much of the writing is more introverted and filled with self-examination, rather than simply raging outward.

Broadrick was clearly looking to the horizon: the last song on Hymns is titled Jesu, the same as the new band he would debut a couple years later.  In recent years, Godflesh has reentered the fray. After touring their seminal album, Streetcleaner, for a bit, they've begun releasing all new material. Last year's Post Self ranks among their best work. 

field report no.030718

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Shopping

OBSERVATIONS:
There's an art to making something like a simple rock trio come off as more than just some over-loud pop. There's a performative aspect that, overplayed, will seem just a campy gimmick. Shopping hits the sweet spot. They seem genuinely elated to be on stage, winning and cheering the crowd. Their live dynamic, trading lines in call-and-response, has echoes of the Beastie Boys interplay, hidden in a spiky wrapper of Gang of Four. After the bevy of post-punk-aping bands of the mid 2000s, Shopping's influences may feel familiar, but they have the wherewithal to keep the ball moving forward.

Their frontwoman, Rachel Aggs, is a powerhouse, also leading Trash Kit and Sacred Paws (and previously of Golden Grrrls), and each is a reliable go-to for me. 

NOTES: Shopping; French Vanilla; Konvoi
PRESENT: AMS

The Sound of Silver

LCD Soundsystem, 2007

When LCD Soundsystem is firing on all cylinders, they're straotspheric. Even still, I approach every new missive with skepticism. Any band with that much knowing irony baked in makes it's hard to discern when you're an admiring fan or the butt end of a joke. LCD Soundsystem is practically a musical representation of the early-2000s rise of Brooklyn chic.

I came around to their second album, The Sound of Silver, via the astounding single, All My Friends. Or, rather, the cover of it—by the one and only John Cale—included as a b-side. While LCD, no doubt, wrote an exceptional (and surprisngly affecting) song, John Cale completely hijacks it. When I play All My Friends in my mind, it's Cale's voice I hear. It served it's purpose nonetheless, inspiring me to give the rest of the album a closer listen.

James Murphy & Co. know their craft. There's hardly a modern rock band that can compete with just how fucking well they put tracks together. Every sound in every song on Sound of Silver is in exactly the right, yet somehow unexpected place. They hug every curve, from the storming Us V Them and North American Scum, to the torch song closer of New York I Love You but You're Bringing me Down. The Sound of Silver is one near-perfect prismatic construction after another.  

like imploded pizzas

I was gathering recipes for stuffed tomatoes, looking for a filling, healthy springtime dish. Ultimately, I found myself disappointed by either a bland flavor profile, a lack of substance, or how (not) easy they were to make for a weeknight cook. So I set out to make my own variation, a sort of amalgam of my various failures.  

What I ended up with may not be terribly authentic, but is delicious and efficient. Sure, you could spend the time to make a garlic-basil risotto to fill your 'mats with—if you've got that kind of time on a Tuesday night. In the end, these rich, filling, robust little flavor bombs seemed to me like imploded personal pizzas.

6 whole medium tomatoes
1/2 cup of rice
½ cup of bread crumbs
1 cup of packed basil
1 tbs blanched slivered almonds
3 whole cloves of garlic + 1 more, minced
¼ cup parmesan cut into ¼-inch cubes
juice of ½ a lime
2 tbs olive oil
salt
butter

GREEN
I'd start out by making the pesto. You'll have time while the rice is cooking, but the tomatoes need to be dealt with as well, so… you've got to start somewhere. This part is easy. Wash the basil, throw it in your food processor with 3 whole cloves of garlic, almonds, lime juice, salt and olive oil. Blend until it's pesto. After that's a wrap, preheat the oven to 425˚.

WHITE
The rice is up next: I often start rice by melting a small pat of butter in a saucepan. Once, it's good to go, I'll add a clove of minced garlic and a pinch of salt, simmering until it's fragrant. Then I'll add the rice, stirring it constantly, until there's a light toast on it. Lastly, I'll add twice as much water as I did rice, and a bring it to a boil, reduce the heat, cover the pot—letting it simmer for 15 minutes or so until done.

While the rice is doing it's thing, core the tomatoes, cutting down through the the top in circle, with a paring knife and scooping out the insides with a spoon. (Note: I don't need to tell you to save those tomato innards for stock, do I).

RED
Let the rice cool a wee bit, then combine it with the pesto, parmesan and about ¾ of the bread crumbs, in a bowl. Once you've folded it all together, fill the cored tomatoes with your mixture. Top each tomato with the rest of the breadcrumbs, patting them down just a bit. Line a small casserole pan with parchment paper, arranging the filled tomatoes in it. Place it all in the oven for twenty minutes or so—until heated through and the skin of the tomatoes are crinkling a bit and breadcrumbs are toasty on top. Let them cool (just a tad) and serve warm—I'd provide some steak knives to quarter them easily.

Nippon Guitars

Takeshi Terauchi, 1966-74

I don't own much in the way of classic LPs of surf guitar like Link Wray. It seems a style so thoroughly ingrained in the American collective consciousness—now, repeatedly reinforced by film and TV—that owning any often seems ancillary. When I find myself drawn to surf rock, it's the oddities, like the punked up version peddled by Man, or Astroman?.

Nippon Guitars collects recordings by Japanese guitar guru, Takeshi Tarauchi. The appeal—beyond the impressive fretwork—amounts to cultural re-appropriation. On the cover, Tarauchi and band are in samurai garb in front of a stylized set piece, fit for kabuki. They are hamming it up. On record, a few of the tracks even throw in 'far Eastern' scales—but it's more in the vein of a Martin Denny variation. So are they playing to our expectations, merely playing a part, or are they reframing the representation and hijacking the most American rock-n-roll sound for good measure?

field report no.022318

LOCATION: the Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Jonathan Richman

OBSERVATIONS:
Jonathan Richman is a bundle of contradictions. He exudes a studied naiveté. His songs appear simple but his performances are filled with subtle dynamics. He plays the everyman while singing in no less than four languages. His music is humorous, filled with grinning turns of phrase or out-and-out punchlines, but he never seems less than sincere. In fact, many of his goofy tunes are, by turns, heartwarming and heartbreaking.

Richman's music endures by virtue of its humanity. In person, he's human-scale—no a larger than life icon on stage. While he possesses charisma and force-of-personality to spare, the show itself feels intimate. For one night only, Richman is your own private Cyrano, serenading you with sonnets galore. I've seen him billed as opening for large scale acts, like Wilco, and I have to wonder how his show translates to such a vast crowd—but I shouldn't underestimate Jonathan, he's more cunning than he lets on.

NOTES: Jonathan Richman, featuring Tommy Larkins on drums; Ané Diaz
PRESENT: AMS; Angela F.

The Guillotine

Hey Colossus, 2017

Hey Colossus had been chugging along for a decade before I heard of them. The Guillotine was my first encounter—and it's a stunner. It's something like their twelfth record (depending on how you add it up) so I had some catching up to do. 

Their earlier earlier releases belie why they're lumped in with sludge metal, and (later) noise rock, but Hey Colossus have outgrown such distinctions. There's an hermetic feel to their work—not so much self-referential as ascending out of their past. Their tunes are tightly coiled, and, when they want to be, brutal. The ragged, live edge of the guitar work is miles away from the Helmet model of compressed, percussive blocks of distortion—which is still the template for so much heavy rock today. Instead, Hey Colossus court a sonic murk, always threatens to become too muddy but lending the songs a fathomless depth. They retain just enough clarity to let melodies rise to the surface, when needed.

It all sounds amazing on vinyl, but I fear the rawness of Hey Colossus is the sort that gets diminished by mp3 compression and streaming.

Audio Umami :: Mecca Normal

Pigeon holes are sometimes damnably deep. Mecca Normal, the duo of Jean Smith and David Lester is a fixture of the Pacific Northwest indie-punk scene. They're a major signpost in feminist protest rock; the preeminent proto-riot grrl group. Listening to their mid-90s album, The Eagle and the Poodle, one question kept rattling around my head, though: why are they not a feature in avant rock discussions. Their music frequently experiments in form, texture and expression, more than any of the bands billed as their peers.

Their avant bonafides extend well beyond that. Vocalist Jean Smith had a side project with New Zealand avant-legends, Peter Jefferies and Michael Morley (of This Kind of Punishment and the Dead C, respectively). Sadly, two records they cut together remain out-of-print, even in this digital streaming age. She even has an edgy, (mostly) instrumental solo album to her name—which is nothing to say of what an unconventional vocalist she is.

Why then are Mecca Normal so rarely discussed in those terms?

Again, I'm brought to the conclusion that feminism is like a scarlet letter in criticism. Being a woman who sings about female experience is a frame many can't see beyond. You're forever tossed on the Lilith Fair pile (though Mecca Normal were likely way too outré for that ilk). Which is not to say that Smith shouldn't rightly be proud of her place as a feminist punk icon, but I'd like to leave that aside for a moment and talk about just how experimental her and Mecca Normal's work is.

Let's start with how stark and confrontational Mecca Normal can sound. The precedent for their format—guitar and singer—stretches back to the very beginnings of rock and folk music. It is THE original format. Billy Bragg had already helped forklift the concept into punk rock by the early 80s—but Bragg also had far more ties to traditional melody and songwriting. It's like comparing the Clash to Minor Threat: they're both punk and share significant DNA, but musically they're pursuing different ends.

While David Lester knows his way around a guitar, and isn't afraid of a solid riff, he's equally willing to wallow in dissonance and distortion. The gnarlier aspects of the electric guitar are not just colorations or accents thrown in for decoration, either. He'll linger in them for the duration of an entire song, if need be.

Jean Smith matches him blow by blow. Her phrasing is on time, but she works around the beat, rarely sitting squarely on it. Her tonal range is filled with flat plateaus where she'll draw words out, distending them. I'd like to think it a compliment that the closest antecedent I can find for her delivery is Yoko Ono—even though their styles share little in common.

Of course, here to, I fall prey to my own gripe: I could easily pick a more relevant comparison if I weren't limiting myself to female precedents. Johnny Lydon's haunting warbles across the early PiL albums comes to mind. It's a comparison far closer in time, style and genre—yet I pass it up because we unconsciously limit how we talk about women in music. Hell, when 2 Foot Flame starts really kicking up dust, comparisons to Kieji Haino wouldn't be far off. That would elevate Jean Smith to the same circle as some of the most extreme rock ever made.

Smith, and Mecca Normal, have cemented a place in feminist music history, so let's take a minute to appreciate their other innovations. Let's see about making sure they are mentioned in the annals of avant rock, too. Don't let Smith's words completely overshadow their deeds.

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 'indie-rock' sound.

Ghost Music nail classic 'indie-rock' 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