No Future

Moiré, 2017

Downtempo, like any style striving to remain somewhat unobtrusive, too easily veers into vapidity; becoming ignorable. Moiré avoids this pitfall by infusing blunted beats with acid house tensions. Rich bubbles of analogue bass tip into 303 squelches. In fact, No Future takes most of its cues from minimal techno, which makes it right at home on the Ghostly label, out of Detroit (the minimal techno ground zero). That dichotomy, balancing a head-nodding lope with a simmering pressure from below, rescues No Future from any staid sub-generic boundaries.

field report no.092517

LOCATION: the Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: The Church

OBSERVATIONS:
The Church were as stately as ever. The last time I saw them, they were touring their sophomore album, from 1982, in its entirety. This night they were focused on promoting their new album, Man Woman Life Death Infinity. While they're conscientious to sprinkle in fan favorites from their 35 year career, The Church remain moving forward. They've never simply tread water.  While their sound has progressed and evolved, neither has it radically shifted. Many of the newest developments came when leader Steve Kilbey ceded his bass duties to a roadie, freeing him to deliver more daring vocals for songs, like Undersea, that are unique in their catalog. Submarine pushes their atmospheric psychedelic leanings as far as they've been. Meanwhile, I Don't Know How, I Don't Why is formed in a classic Church mold, and would easily be a highlight from any LP in their last decade.  Speaking of, I don't know why I never noticed the krautrock motorik pulse underneath their 80s single Tantalized, but live, there was no denying it. 

NOTES: The Church; Helio Sequence
PRESENT: AMS

Utonian Automatic / Synesthesia / Mandarin Movie / Stars Have Shapes / Double Demon / Beija Flors Velho e Sujo / Primative Jupiter / Some Jellyfish Live Forever

Isotope 217˚, 1999 / Chicago Underground Duo, 2000 / Mandarin Movie, 2005, / Exploding Star Orchestra, 2010 / Starlicker, 2011 / Sao Paulo Underground, 2013 / Pharoah and the Underground, 2014 / Rob Mazurek & Jeff Parker, 2015

Chicago was my home from 1995 until early 2006. Even accounting for a haze of nostalgia, it was a significant time in the city's history of jazz, marking a period of renewal and rebuilding that saw a number of new voices emerge from the city that would become world-renowned figures in improvised music. It just also happened to be home to my very own epiphanies in jazz. This combination has created my undying loyalty to the Chicago scene—which explains why I have 8 recordes by Rob Mazurek (leading various groups and spanning nearly 20 years).

Out the gate, Mazurek showed little allegiance to jazz orthodoxy. Isotope 217˚, one of his earliest working groups, featured 2 members of tortoise: John Herndon and Dan Bitney. Isotope paved the way to reconstituting 'jazz rock's tarnished name. It seems no small coincidence that this band shares (most) of it's name with a 1970s prog band that once counted Soft Machine bassist Hugh Hopper as a member. He would dig even deeper into this vein with Mandarin Movie, a one-off band that courted genre mash-ups like ambient jazz metal.

Of his more jazz-tinged outfits, the Chicago Underground Duo (sometimes Trio or Quartet) still freely veers into far-flung territories, like ambient electronics. More than any of of his early work, this working group—which always featured drummer Chad Taylor as his principle foil—set the tone for many of his future explorations. There's an emphasis on improvisation that favors abstraction, but never forgets melodic hooks. Meanwhile, the São Paulo Undergeround trio seems another beast entirely, at first. They lean heavily on electronics—often sounding like some particularly outernational downtempo—that balance of abstraction and melody is still the guiding factor.  

Many of Mazurek's larger groups are extensions of the two Underground outfits. The Primative Jupiter LP is a combination of those 2 bands for a set built around legendary saxophonist Pharoah Sanders. Exploding Star Orchestra features many of the same players, pursuing some of Mazurek's most most expansive, sprawling creations to date. Stars Have Shapes is handily one his most satisfying releases yet (admittedly, though, the vinyl version is severely edited down from the CD / download version and loses some of the drifting impact).

Most recently, Mazurek's groups have been contracting, bringing it back to base. Starlicker was another one-off, but this one a small tiro featuring John Herndon (of Tortoise, again) and vibraphone wunderkind Jason Adasiewicz. Even in a more traditional lineup like this, you'd still be hard-pressed to prove there were no electronics involved. The playing is dense and all lines blurred. Rob's even been plying more duo records of late (outside of the Chicago Undergound), but Some Jellyfish Live Forever is exceptional among them, a guitar / cornet duo between Mazurek and guitarist Jeff Parker. They've been sparring on-and-off for over a decade now, and it shows in the harmony of their instrumental visions.

Chicago has produced some of the most hard-working, trend-blind musicians in improvised music in the last twenty years. From the rise of leaders like Ken Vandermark and Rob Mazurek to, now, Tomeka Reid, Jason Adasiewicz and Nicole MItchell, means it is not a trend about to relent. New York may well always be the mecca of jazz, but don't take your eye off Chicago for too long.

The Land of Look Behind

K.Leimer 1982

kLeimer.jpg

Between Laraaji reissues, the vaporware scene, and Colin Stetson namedropping Enya, New Age music is enjoying an hipness it frankly never enjoyed before. Amongst all the audio archeology of 80s synth music, there's bound to a few gems amongst all the lesser duds that just are well forgotten. On that spectrum, The Land of Look Behind is a semi-precious stone, at least (topaz, maybe).

Surprisingly, this proto-ambient-electornica work started life as the soundtrack to a documentary on Bob Marley's funeral. K.Leimer wisely avoided trying to appropriate island styles (nary a skank-beat to be found here), instead letting faint field recordings represent the place itself. The icy keyboard tones mixed with chop-shop drumming calls to mind work Richard H. Kirk's would be doing 10 years later. There's a vari-speed tape warble to his loops that would make Oneohtrix Point Never jealous.

Rarely, do soundtracks actually bring out the best in musicians, but The Land of Look Behind would be hard to beat.

field report no.092217

LOCATION: Revolve AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Daniel Levin

OBSERVATIONS:
I'd only just caught wind of Daniel Levin with the recent Live at Firehouse 12 set. I was busy playing catch-up with his discography (as is my wont) when I saw this show, in an Asheville gallery space, announced. The relative scarcity of high calibre of improvised music in our remote region made it must-see for me and the (maybe) 50-or-so people who could cram into Revolve's listening space this night.

The solo performance we witnessed was in the Tristan Honsinger / Tom Cora tradition: the cello serves as a resonant sounding board to be tapped, scraped and rubbed with any traditional soundings relegated to mere filigree. At times it's a more of a focal point for the activity around it, almost a prop to remind us of the performance's musical origins. Yet, it's hard not to search for the rhythmic pulse at the heart of it all, even as he stomps the earth and flaps crumpled pages of a notebook about, arms outstretched. Such is our minds' visceral need to order sound, no matter how abstract.

NOTES: Daniel Levin, solo; Sonic Parlour & Constance Humphries
PRESENT: AMS

Earrings Off!

Adult Jazz, 2016

The new millennium brought a new breed of art-rock: a hybridized, deeply psychedelic brand of day-glo pop. It's served smothered in dizzying effects and digitally manipulated in the most minute ways, some that weren't possible just a handful of years ago. Operating as collagists, bands like Adult Jazz build intricately constructed vistas spiked with sonic non-sequiturs. It's a maximalist deluge meant to disorient, keeping Earrings Off! unsteady and unpredictable even without that spark of live spontaneity. If the devil is in the details, Adult Jazz is downright demonic.

Polyrock

Polyrock, 1980

On paper, Polyrock seems archetypical NYC Post-Punk. They're all nervous energy with the songwriting wound tight—landing somewhere between Devo and the Cars.  None other than Philip Glass produced and assisted this eponymous debut. Which makes it all the more curious it's such an overlooked obscurity—languishing in the vaults until recently, when RCA saw fit to reissue their two LPs digitally. (We're still waiting on the Above the Fruited Plain EP). Post-Punk suffers from surplus to supply: there's a great bands from the top shelf down to the rails, much of it is bound to get footnoted out of the canonical texts. Polyrock deserves a better fate.

field report no.091117

LOCATION: the Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Shabazz Palaces

OBSERVATIONS:
I've seen more hip hop since moving to Asheville than I saw in all my 10 NYC years. Which is to say, New York just had more on offer for a tangential fan of hip hop. Given that, Shabazz Palaces is much more my speed than any other rap I've seen. You could argue they're more of a continuation of the trip hop tradition, which is a movement I (personally) count as formative. The left field abstraction and sonic u-turns of Shabazz Palaces is more in-line with the likes of Tricky, or even MC 900 Foot Jesus, than Digable Planets (which their leader, Palaceer Lazaro, hails from—as any writeup is obligated to mention).

Shabazz records can veer so oblique, their live show gave heft and punch to tracks that could too often drift by, almost unnoticed on the stereo. The instrumentation was stripped down, with a fitful stop-start pacing to refocus your attention. I'd seen Shabazz once in Brooklyn, but the situation—as a poorly matched opening act in a daylit, open-air amphitheater—was by no means flattering. This time around I left as a convert.  

NOTES: Shabbazz Palaces; Porter Ray
PRESENT: AMS

2017 Recap

Here is my annual recap: a yearbook, rounding up tracks off 25 of my favorite albums from the last year. If you would like to keep up on future episodes, subscribe to sndlgc podcasts in iTunes or copy this link to subscribe manually.

2017 didn't turn out quite how I expected. It was a surprising year of listening. Many albums I hotly anticipated—St. Vincent, LCD Soundsystem, Deerhoof—struck a tad underwhelming. Their albums were good enough, but each had to contend with a mountain of expectation. Just delivering the goods doesn't rank for this lot anymore, they must scale impossible heights. 

There were a few records that outpaced their expectations. Sacred Paws' Strike a Match, was everything I'd hoped for, after their stunner of a 2015 EP. Alvvays' avoided the sophomore slump by improving the writing, execution and production—all without forsaking their central premise. Shackleton continued his hermetic forays into realms previously inhabited only by the likes of Coil.

Mostly though, my head was turned by artists I'd never heard before. Some of these were new artists—Mourning [a] Blkstar, Zen Mother—and others, like Kink Gong and Sarah Davachi, were new-to-me. Those sent me on feverish quests to catch up on what I'd been missing.

At any given point in the last month a number of these records were in contention as my pick as my favorite record of the year. It ultimately came down to a one that is, given my collective history, blatantly obvious—yet at the same time wholly surprising: Mary Halvorson's foray into John Zorn's world, with Paimon.

I've had a decades-long obsession with John Zorn. His multi-faceted Masada project is not just his most popular, but the one that cracked the code of his music, for me. Mary Halvorson is a much newer obsession. Collecting her work and following her career still feels genuinely exciting. Her groups have appeared in my year-end recaps almost every year since I discovered her music in 2012.

Even still, I found Paimon far more engrossing than imagined. John Zorn has released such a cavalcade of music in the last 20 years (since starting the Tzadik label) it's often overwhelming. Halvorson's entry for the Masada, Book of Angels is the 32nd album in that series—and it's only one of Zorn's many ongoing projects. Yet Paimon transcends it's status as just one more John Zorn record.

Mary Halvorson's touch is different from the players Zorn often taps. She's less bombastic and ecstatic. She's noted for creating a nearly impossible amalgam of diametrically-opposed styles, much like Zorn is, but hers is a more integrated, less juxtaposed sound. Halvorson comes from a different tradition—less associated with Ornette Coleman and European Free Improv and more with Anthony Braxton and the AACM. Paimon feels new by virtue of being a happy meeting of these two sound worlds. The writing is pure Masada, but the feel entirely Halvorson.

2017 has been surprising in ways both good and ill. It was definitely a year that a lot of us took refuge in our respective preoccupations. I certainly did, and here are the fruits of my retreat: 25 songs, charting the vagaries of my listening, organized and edited down for you to share. 

 

Cummi Flu / Raz Ohara: Akasak
Acid Pauli: Ayam
Shackleton & Vengeance Tenfold: Spheric Ghost / Fear the Crown
Kaitlyn Aurelia-Smith: I Will Make Room for You
Soundwalk Collective: Xiao Youmei Corridor
Juana Molina: A00 B01
Kink Gong: Saisir l’Aiguille au Fond de la Mer
The Fall: Second House Now
Thurston Moore: Turn On
Mary Halvorson Quartet: Ruhiel
Nate Wooley: Knknighgh 6
Zen Mother: Strange Mother
The Telescopes: Down on Me
Sarah Davachi: For Organ
Phew: Antenna
NHK yx Koyxen: Intention
RE-TROS: At Mosp Here
Mourning [a] Blkstar: Take Two
Arto Lindsay: Uncrossed
Oto Hiax: Eses Mitre
Alvvays: Hey
Sacred Paws: Empty Body
Kristos Rodzevski: Ladybug
United Waters: Shaped like the Sea
Dans les Arbres: Flourescent

Sand

Ragnar Grippe, 1977

Our current era of reissue mania has cross-pollinated with the analogue synth revival to unearth a trove of early proto-electronica. I won't pretend like I knew who these rediscovered artists were, I'm just riding this wave like most everyone else. Ragnar Grippe ranks among those lucky enough to be reassessed, having their music given an opportunity to find a new, wider audience. His album, Sand, is a single piece in two parts that sits in a bermuda triangle somewhere between new age, minimalism, and krautrock. Sand probably can't compete, head-to-head with Manuel Göttsching's E2-E4 (one of its closest relatives) or Brian Eno's ambient milestones. That doesn't mean it isn't an enlightening listen. History is an imperfect sieve, and it's surprising to learn just how sprawling electronic music's first flirtations with popular music was.

field report no.090617

LOCATION: the Orange Peel AVL.NC
SUBJECT: the Mountain Goats

Mountain Goats at the Orange Peel

OBSERVATIONS:
I was surprised upon realizing I hadn't seen the Mountain Goats live since way back in 2006, in NYC, when they were touring their album, Get Lonely. That gap speaks in part to their success: their shows sell out quickly. Now, they're touring Goths, which like Get Lonely is a little more understated in terms of performance—often using what Darnielle has called his 'middle voice'. It also features him on a Fender Rhodes for a number of songs, instead of his usual guitar. The material also throws in some fun instrumental flourishes like the chorus-drenched bass at the end of Shelved, a tip of the hat to the subject at hand.

While they have climbed far from their humble beginnings, The Mountain Goats unlikely ascent to the upper echelons of indie-rock has been fairly linear in artistic growth. The seeds of their original recordings, when the band was really just John Darnielle yelping misanthropic tales into his shitty boombox, are still nestled at the heart of their music. A band has simply grown up around him. Half way through the set, that band took a break while Darnielle dug deep into his back catalogue, giving a glimpse at the still extant core. 

One of my favorite parts of seeing the Mountain Goats, though, amazingly persists decades into their career: they seem so goddamn, genuinely happy to be playing for an audience. No one has ever presented songs with such brazenly brutal subjects with such a giddy grin on their face. 

NOTES: the Mountain Goats; opener
PRESENT: AMS

Natural Information

Joshua Abrams, 2010

Some bands are gateways into something larger than can be contained in a single name. They'll provide new directions either by their inspirations or future influence, or spinning off divergent solo projects.

Pinning down Town & Country, an outfit started in the late 90s, was never an easy proposition. My best shot at pigeon-holing them was creating the sub-genre of back-porch folk minimalism. Their sprawling ideas wouldn't slot into any one category since the band itself was an amalgamation of passions wildly at odds. It becomes more obvious when you compare the respective members' work since the band disbanded.

It would be reductive to say bassist Joshua Abrams was the Town & Country member most steeped in jazz. While one of his previous LPs came out on a stalwart Chicago jazz label, Delmark, that record deployed a small jazz quartet to tackle drones and minimalist miniatures. Rarely did Cipher sound anything like "jazz".

With Natural Information (and, more recently the rotating collective he's dubbed Natural Information Society) Abrams is still trucking in minimalism, just a rhythm-obsessed variety. Abrams has switched from upright bass to guimbri. The north African, 3-stringed, skin covered, bass lute (of sorts) gives the tunes a folksier, worldbeat feel harkens back to Pharoah Sanders' late 60s heyday—now with a krautrock bloody-mindedness replacing the ecstatic crescendoes of free jazz. It shows Joshua Abrams still pursuing the unlikely, in utter disregard of our precious categorizations. 

field report no.090317

LOCATION: the Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Roky Erikson

OBSERVATIONS:
Sometimes you just roll the dice. We hadn't planned on seeing a show, but It was the kind of night where we felt like getting out. I can only claim a passing familiarity with Roky Erickson's music—just the first two 13th Floor Elevators albums, really—but he's a bonafide legend of the original psychedelic rock era. It seemed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That suspicion felt doubly confirmed as Roky didn'tt lot look to be in the best shape. He was in high spirits; obviously elated to be in front of cheering crowd. They had him sat in his chair, arms hanging almost lifelessly at his side, with a guitar he could obviously no longer play given him like a prop or good luck charm.

When the band stuck to his 60s material, it was like returning to the source. We were hearing an anachronistic, oft-copied sound from one of its original innovators. His 70s material, which veered toward substandard, AC / DC knockoffs best suited for biker bars… well, let's say we spent part of the show on the patio, chatting. Honestly, it's rare when I'll go to a show I'm not terribly invested in. It was a bit liberating to feel free to just walk away for a spell. It was an odd dichotomy of being wowed and non-plussed every few songs.

NOTES: Roky Erikson and band; Death Valley Girls
PRESENT: AMS; Angela F.

Motore Immobile

Giusto Pio, 1979

Reissue culture's constant search for untouched veins to mine has redrawn the lines of the avant garde's borders as well as it's audience. Giusto Pio's little heard work Motore Immobile, is a fine example of a recently unearthed work that sits in no man's land between minimalism, new age and new wave. It's based (as the title might imply) around organ drones, but lacks the sterility of the academia. The edges are softened by a pillowy drift, but Pio's work isn't cloying enough to be New Age, nor does it's easy musicality make it poppy. The definitions process music with are near useless for this sort of thing, especially when it dates from as far back as 1979.

Lately there's been a clutch of new music interested in just this same sort of genre-envelope pushing. It ends up a sort of chicken-and-egg question: are we interested in reissuing records like Motore Immobile because they're more suited for our times than their own, or is the reissuing of so many records like Pio's informing a new generation of artists?

Calculated / Kill My Blues / Invitation

Heavens to Betsy, 1994 / Corin Tucker Band, 2012 / Filthy Friends, 2017

In another world, Corin Tucker would be world-renowned. Instead in ours, she's sort-of-indie-world-legendary. Make no mistake, Sleater-Kinney were a force to be reckoned with: a band regularly discussed as seminal and shortlisted right behind Nirvana as defining the cultural moment that was the 90s (or at least, the suburban, white American 90s). Even within Sleater-Kinney, Corin Tucker doesn't get nearly the attention or deference paid bandmate Carrie Brownstein. Looking at Tucker's work outside of Sleater-Kinney helps triangulate her better. 

Heavens to Betsy, Tucker's short-lived, pre-Sleater-Kinney band was an opening savlo in the riot grrrl movement, in all its awkward glory. My love for Calculated is a heady mix of nostalgia and cultural artifact. The album plays like the working copy of a future masterwork, a demo for a revolution. It's easy to look past the rugged recording and nuance-free lyrics, to witness an artist of power.

The intervening 20 years saw Tucker realize her potential in full. Sleater-Kinney seemed to grow progressively more incisive, becoming subtler in approaching their thorny subjects, all while writing ever catchier songs. I think Corin's legacy was in fact hurt by being the first out the gate with a post-Sleater-Kinney project. The Corin Tucker Band's first album, 1,000 Years, was unfairly panned. It was no misstep, just not what the collective fan-base wanted or expected.

Perhaps those fans were more ready to move on a couple of years later when Tucker delivered Kill My Blues. Of course, Blues was also a substantive improvement. I would readily file it with the best of Sleater-Kinney's work, which is to say among the best rock music of the last 20 years. It's also an album very much of it's moment: charting the shift that many of her era's leaders made—from Sonic Youth to Superchunk—reconfiguring their brand of punk rock into anthemic classic rock. 

If ever there were a telltale rock radio hallmark, it is the supergroup, which is exactly what Filthy Friends were. Taking a break from the Sleater-Kinney reunion and work with her own band, Corin Tucker joined forces with Peter Buck of REM (along with some lesser known—but well established—figures from bands like the Minus 5 and Young Fresh Fellows). Their record, Invitation, merges so many vintage styles, from Byrds-ian jangle to Ramones-esque chug, it easily insinuates itself into your conscious.

Nothing about Invitation seems forced, though. This isn't Corin Tucker putting on classic rock airs, this is an established torch-bearer of a true rock-n-roll tradition, taking rightful her seat at the table.

Biscuits for… Drunken Bogglers

A collection of seasick bass music, lurching and loping into Fall. If you'd like to subscribe to future episodes of this podcast (and check out the back catalog of mixes) you can find sndlgc podcast editions in the iTunes store, or copy this link, to subscribe manually.

Why is Fall is so disorienting? Even in more temperate climes, it arrives abruptly. One day you abruptly have to bring your fragile plants inside while the trees explode into a fireworks display of foliage, almost overnight. It's dark before dinner without you noticing night's approach. You may try and fight it—refusing to believe winter is around the bend—but what felt like a steady climb in temperature since February has now tumbled over an apex into rapid descent. 

This seasonal whiplash made these tracks hang together as a whole to my ear. As Fall approached, I found myself drawn to bass-heavy productions with a lurch in their step. As if some part of the rhythm is drunk. Not just tipsy, either, we're talking embarrass-yourself-kind-of-drunk.

Sticking with the timely theme of the Biscuits for… series, I focused on brand new music. The vast majority of these songs were released in just the last 3-6 months. Hell, most of the artists are new to me, as well.

Once I have it in my ear what I'm searching for, I sift through new releases, mining for gems with the just right kind of unstable bass. With such a tangible sonic element, the resulting mix whipped up can be relatively style-agnostic. It pledges no fealty to any one sub-genre.

The loosed rhythms give the songs a gloomier demeanor. When some element in a track runs rampant and free, it's subconsciously unnerving, a touch menacing. Even when these tracks make to celebrate, they rejoice with a shadow of doubt. 

A dark mood perfectly suits this mix built for the darkening days. So, get ready to set your clocks back and stumble forward, unsteadily, with Biscuits for… Drunken Bogglers.

Powell: The Bust
FYI Chris: Captain's Patilla
Coki meets Trixx: Elevate
Nomine: Slip
Grey Branches: Bevel
Ossia: Tumult (Lurka mix)
Irazu: Shtamm (Regis remix)
Thomas Xu: Alottochewon
Shit & Shine: Deva-State Nineteen 3000
Herva: Afro-Sweep
Nídia Minaj: Biotheke
DJ Osom: Glued
Lanark Artefax: Hyphen to Splice
Bandshell: Polarizing Haircut
Beastie Respond: The Truth that Hides that There Is None
Orogon Pit: Osmic Frqncy
Mumdance & Logos: FFS
DJ Krush: No One Knows
Clouds: Rush In 2 Orbit (Skinnergate)
Spatial: Spin One Over Two
Pan Daijing: A Season in Hell
Palmbomen II: Disappointment Island
Golden Oriole: Approaching of the Disco Void
Bill Converse: Threshold
Echoplekz: Acrid Acid
Zuli: Foam Home
Ismael: Cross System
Sim Hutchins: Some Men (You) Just Want to Watch the World Burn
Nene Hatun: Altruism
Perc: Wax Apple

Rex

S ND Y P RL RS, 2012

It's tempting to file Rex, by S  ND Y P RL  RS (read: Sunday Parlours), in the same pile of the post-SunnO))) experimental drone-metal that's proliferated in the last decade. Something in my brain objects, though. Yes, all the hallmarks are here: guitars distorted and distended into fields of aural gravel; chords that change with the patience of a (Satanic) saint. Rex feels heavy, but without feeling heavy metal. There's a dearth of Iommic riffage. In it's place they've conjured a yearning quality—a mournfulness that evokes the blues, but nothing like Zepplin's stomping, early swagger. This is a blues as an abstract feeling, similar to Loren Connors' more obfuscated missives, like St. Vincent's Newsboy Home. Where Rex ought to rage and quake, it shudders and aches.

field report no.080917

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Lætitia Sadier Source Ensemble

OBSERVATIONS:
Somewhere around Emperor Tomato Ketchup, Stereolab's output veered studio savvy. Since then Lætitia Sadier's music has been exquisitely constructed, perhaps at the expense of a certain visceral impact. For this same reason, ABC Music—a collection of Peel Session and other live(ish) BBC recordings—remains one of my all time favorite Stereolab records. Those performances revitalize the a human impact the band. This isn't necessarily meant as a criticism of Sædier's work—I'm a firm believer that the live performances and studio recordings living as separate entities. My most damning review of a performance is perhaps "it sounded like the album, only louder".

Sadier's new working outfit, the Source Ensemble continues this tradition. They may not court the rockist outbursts of Stereolab, but their live set still belies the entirely human, endearingly flawed aspects of a music that was originally documented in a slick veneer. The album they were touring, Find Me Finding You (her fourth, post-Lab), is a high-water mark—even given her storied history. Anyone, who carries a torch for the heydays of Stereolab, owes it to themselves to catch up with Sadier.

NOTES: Lætitia Sadier Source Ensemble; Art Feynman
PRESENT: AMS; Angela F.

Ain't It Funky / Doing It to Death / Us

James Brown, 1970 / the JB's, 1973 / Maceo, 1974

While I have a number of records documenting the James Brown legacy, I somehow ended up with only instrumental-(ish) ones. I have platters by the JB's and Maceo Parker, but even my Brown album proper is an instrumental oddity. This gives the impression I have some sort of problem with James Brown as a singer, which isn't true. In fact, I couldn't help but wonder how I ended up in this predicament.

The James Brown LP first called out to me. When an artist has such a vast catalog, I'm instinctively drawn to their curios. All those albums that are just not like the others. Then our reissue culture kicked into high gear and soon enough, the other ones found their way to me. They're all killer albums, cut in the early 70s, when Brown and company were firing on all cylinders with plenty of gas left in the tank.

Chronologically,  Ain't It Funky comes first, credited to 'James Brown and the James Brown Band' (since there weren't any recordings under the JB's name, just yet). The title track kicks it off with the a new vocal single to lure in the record buying public. But like the silhouette on the cover, James fades into the background after that intro, as the band begins to take longer, throatier solos. Ironically, it's the most purely instrumental record of the batch. Even if Brown's name is absent from covers, he's not missing by any stretch.

All three records were all produced as a part of his expanding empire of funk and no one was allowed forget who reigned there. Each has it's own flavor, though. Drummer Clyde Stubblefield dominates Ain't It Funky, not so much in solo time, but there's no denying the entire band marches to his beat. Maceo's Us strikes a jazzer, harmonic tone—more swinging, and less of that emphatic snap. The JB's kept things the most democratic on Doing It to Death (it was before Fred Wesley's name was on their marquee). It comes off like someone hit record at a party in the studio, after the wrapping up one of the boss' records.

Inevitably, if I spin one of these records, the rest are pulled out to follow in line. It's like my own private instrumental funk festival.

and i still miss you

"All the things I hate in this fucking world haven't gone away"

I'm not much of a lyrics guy. I say that like it's some kind of hard and fast rule, but every rule has exceptions. It holds (for the most part). Sure, I own the giant tome compiling all of Bob Dylan's lyrics, but my favorite Dylan songs still depend on his superb lyrics being delivered with a great performance, too. The biggest exception is J Church, the bay-area pop-punk that could.

J Church were never innovators, and were no kind of virtuosos. They were never famous or even up-and-coming, yet they persevered for 15 years. They could afford passable production only about half the time (I'd say only two of their albums sound 'professional'). They had a revolving door membership, singer and guitarist Lance Hahn was the only constant. What endeared them to me was what Lance had to say.

Jawbreaker—by far the most beloved band of the era—were highly persona; proto-emo. Green Day—by far the most successful—were candied confections singing about… well, nothing really. J Churh were a thinking working man's band. Underneath a handful of bar chords and plain spoken words lurked huge ideas.

Like Fugazi, J Church's politics were inherently personal. Unlike them, nothing was so certain in Lance's world. Their views were human, often muddled and always striving. Lance Hahn dealt more in self-examination than in strident edicts. One of his most overt statements, Part of the Problem, simply refuses to be chastised for abstaining from protest demonstrations. His personal songs would seamlessly veer political. Racked might amount to an unrequited love song, but he views it through a drunken, conflicted feminism, citing 'Dionysian polemics' along the way—all in a song less than 2 minutes long.

10 years ago today, I found out Lance Hahn had died. Luckily, I was on a visit home, sitting with a dear friend who could understand the profound sense of loss I felt at that moment. I'm old enough to have seen many artists I grew up with (or otherwise loved) pass. My relationship to them doesn't much change—whatever it was when they died seems fixed in amber. J Church, though, continues to resonate as a living force with me.

J Church seemed to always grow with me. Albums would arrive, grappling with new issues and conceptual nuance at levels I just happened to be ready for. There are some songs, though, that I've found reserved—left like time capsules that have only made sense in my future. He wrote a farewell letter to San Francisco, Satanists Convene, that resonated with me recently, when I was leaving NYC for good. So many of those sentiments rang true. What I loved about the city were memories, whether I'd stayed or left—New York (or I) had moved on already.

I distinctly remember when fellow bay area punks, Green Day found their righteousness—making American Idiot as a commentary on the invasion of Iraq staged by the GW.Bush administration. It was chock full of overly long songs with positions so vague either side of the issue could get gleefully sing along. The same year, J Church released Society Is a Carnivorous Flower. It featured an unprecedented (for them) sidelong, multi-part, epic title track. It was, at heart, an examination of the 1968 Situationist riots in France. Esoteric, for sure, but it didn't feel dated. Lance discussed it with an eye to examining our current world, gaining a palpable sense of presence by toggling between second- and third-person narrative. I'm still unpacking its meanings and references.

I can honestly say I'm a better person for listening to J Church. Sometimes it felt like Lance would articulate what I felt better than I could for myself. Other times, he forced me to look inwards and challenge what I found there. I may have a more profound love for other bands, or I'm more fascinated or inspired by others, but I don't think I'll miss any band more than J Church.

"Tomorrow, if I haven't lost my mind,
I'll beg to borrow all the words I can't define"