history sifter :: come night

I don't claim to know the ins-and-outs of the record industry. Even still, I'm baffled to find records out-of-print. It feels as though we’re living through the era of peak-discography. Streaming services make vast amounts of recorded history available. Of course, when you look at all that's actually missing, you realize only swaths of popular music are available. There's certainly plenty of experimentalism to be found on spotify, but it feels nowhere near comprehensive. There's also an entire cottage industry of unearthing and reissuing rare gems on vinyl—which captures at least a small portion of what streaming services overlook.

This, though, is my OOP! WTF?! subset of the History Sifter series, wherein I make a direct plea to that those who reissue music and keep it in circulation: if you are listening, rectify this situation; quickly, please.

Recorded long before Loren (née Mazzacane) Connors' mid-to-late-90s rediscovery as an avant blues legend, Come Night was a small group record—something that's still a rarity in his oeuvre. He usually appears in a duo, at most. There’s a couple of records by group Haunted House (also with Langille). Come Night is more closely related to Hoffman Estates—the sole record by the Loren Connors / Alan Licht Ensemble, featuring a wealth of guest turns by Chicago jazzmen like Rob Mazurek and Ken Vandermark. Hoffman Estates was entirely instrumental, though. The result on Come Night is amorphous. It’s not blues, jazz, ambient or rock, but it’s not-not-those either. There are few records that mine this same terrain of abstract, patient, distended songcraft—Chris Connelly’s Everyoned or The Episodes come to mind. (And yes, it does feel weird to put Loren Connors on the same shelf as a record by the former frontman of Revolting Cocks.)

Loren Connors work has always felt desperately solitary. It’s unmoored from timekeeping, spacious and unpredictable. His partner, Susan Langille has long been his perfect foil, her husky, hippy intonations meshing perfectly with his bent strings and amplifier hiss. Come Night expands outward without spoiling the chemistry. The supporting cast acts more like a makeshift lean-to, partially protecting them from the elements.

The Blue Room

The Orb, 1992

I've heard it said that in 1992—arguably the Orb's heyday—they got the BBC radio to broadcast the full-length version of the Blue Room (forty minutes long!) at least once, on air in its entirety. This 12-inch EP doesn't include that version, but it does have their brightest early moment: Assassin.

This track gurgles along on bubbling synths, rising and bursting. Syncopated beats drop in and out of the mix in a style equal parts from King Tubby and countless nights spent DJing. Assassin is highly textured and obliquely melodic, filled with red herrings and asides. At fifteen minutes long, it feels half as long as it actually is.

field report no.110219

LOCATION: Thomas Wolfe Auditorium AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan in Asheville

OBSERVATIONS:
Going to see Bob Dylan in 2018, you ought to have a pretty good idea of what you’re in for. Such a concert-goer is likely well-versed in his catalog—certainly the classics and probably some of the newer, late renaissance work as well—and his live performances have been consistent for years now. I knew I was going to see a pale shadow of what I was too young to ever see, but it was my first and possibly last chance to see the one and only Bob Dylan.

Nowadays, his voice is a more of a husky rasp, halfways to between the Dylan of the 80s and Tom Waits. He still wields immense interpretative power. Having released no new original material in years, and coming off . a complete lyrics book and the Nobel Prize, he seemed more willing to engage with his storied past than I expected—but it was still strictly on his own terms. Even songs burned into my memory didn’t register as familiar until a few lines in—classics were reimagined with entirely new melodies or phrasing.

The only real drawback is his backing band. I guess they’re reliable, but in the blandest way possible. It felt like watching a legend sit in with the 90s-era Saturday Night Live band.

NOTES: Bob Dylan and band
PRESENT: AMS

Punks in the Post: Return Receipt

My exhaustive series on post-punk dug deep into the original era: late-70s and early-80s. This addendum charts the recent activities of those same artists. If you want to keep up on the latest in this series, you can search for sndlgc in the podcast app of your choice, or you can manually add it by copying this link.

I’ve already produced a 9-volume, 12-hour series investigating the original post-punk era. It was a labor of love as well as a self-taught masters class in a moment of music that was wild, free and inspiring. I started the project in 2006, intending to shine a light on the originators whose sound was suddenly en vogue. This was during the rise of Franz Ferdinand, LCD Soundsystem, et al. Happy as I was to hear these sounds re-aired, I also felt it of more worth to hear who this sound was borrowed from.

This third wave of post-punk artists turned more than just my head. A reissue-obsessed vinyl market began digging up post-punk obscurities by the fistful. All that attention’s knock-on effect meant a surprising number of artists from the original era swung back into action. Even the bands who had toiled away the whole time in relative obscurity were given fresh pairs of ears.

What I’ve collected here, are 32 songs, all from artists that appeared in my original series, who have released new albums within the last 10 years. The biggest names are present and accounted for: PiL, Wire, Gang of Four, the Slits. I was shocked by some of the others either regrouping or still lurking about: Dislocation Dance, Crispy Ambulance, the Wolfhounds. One of the biggest surprises was Stephen Mallinder of Cabaret Voltaire, who hadn’t lent voice to an album since the late 80s. reemerging, as Wrangler,

Interestingly, but not surprisingly, this set is more challenging and diverse than any mix of their imitators would be. It leaves you feeling like they’re still waiting to pass the torch. These songs sound wholly present and modern—not because post-punk is in style again, but each of these artists is still very searching. In all, it’s a 90 minute testament to a vision which has survived beyond the times that birthed them.

In my original Punks in the Post series, one conceit was the only bands appearing on every volume were The Fall and Sonic Youth,. They stood as the keepers of the flame: never stopping working and almost never faltering. But I’ve been building this set up for years, and sadly, by the time I finished, Mark E. Smith had passed and Sonic Youth disbanded (though they are all still very active, individually). More than that, we’ve lost Alan Vega, Ari Up and more besides.

So, I dedicate this to all the originators we’ve lost. I hope, before they shuffled on, they’d finally received some long overdue credit.

Wire: 23 Years too Late
Grinderman featuring Robert Fripp: Super Heathen Child
Crispy Ambulance: End Game
The Fall: Mister Rode
Savage Republic: Sons and Lovers
Mission of Burma: So Fuck It
Kim Gordon: Murdered Out
The Pop Group: St. Outrageous
Edwyn Collins: Glasgow to London
Gang of Four: Paper Thin
New Order: Academic
The Wake: If the Ravens Leave
John Foxx and the Belbury Circle: Empty Avenues and Dark Corners (Pye Corner Audio remix)
MXM.Joy: Ultraviolet
Wrangler: Clockwork
Ana da Silva & Phew: Bom Tempo
Alan Vega: Prayer
Björk: Thunderbolt (Death Grips mix)
Blurt: The Bells
Bauhaus: Mirror Remains
Public Image Ltd.: Terra-Gate
The Slits: Peer Pressure
Arto Lindsay: Unpair
The Red Krayola: Greasy Street
Paul Haig: Round and Round
The Wolfhounds: Divide and Fall
The Ex: From the Top of My Lungs
The Sexual Objects: Bluetime in Fluff ‘82
Viv Albertine: Confessions of a MILF
Dislocation Dance: Life Moves On
Siouxsie Sioux with Brian Reitzell: Love Crime
Alison Statton & Spike: Alone Together

From Untruth

Elder Ones, 2019

When From Untruth was announced, I was downright excited. The Elder Ones’ first album, Holy Science, made a lasting impression. My initial response to the preview single was tad cool, though. Amirtha Kidambi’s voice on the first album felt so integrated and naturalistic, and this had some of the same stilted air that made Mary Halvorson’s Code Girl hard for me to love. Plus, this time around, she was singing in English.

Vocals are a tricky bit: more than any other aspect in music, you are likely to have strong, probably irrational feelings about how a singer sounds. We also tend to have pretty decisive reactions to words themselves. A good lyricist can elevate a mediocre band while bad poetry can sink a great performance.

Then I went to see Elder Ones as a part of the 2019 Big Ears Festival, and it was easily a highlight of the day. I gained a new vantage point on the material—which wasn’t nearly as choral-inflected or as distanced from the music as I first thought. Even though the words are blunt—she introduced Eat the Rich by saying it’s something she ardently believes—it also came across as vibrant protest. Her statements are blatant, but in the era of Trump, we are living in damnably unsubtle time.

In the end, I viewed From Untruth as a continuation of Yoko Ono’s vital work in the mid-70s. I don’t mean to compare their styles. Kidambi is a powerful and versatile, professional singer trained in multiple styles and her band are seasoned, talented improvisors. What I do mean to call out is the plain-spoken, unfussy action of songwriting as tool for truth, for uncovering what is wriggling under the rocks we walk on daily.

That, and sometimes, the album just wails.

field report no.102719

LOCATION: Grey Eagle, AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Deafheaven

OBSERVATIONS:
Interesting crowd. Deafheaven are walking a razor thin line, trying to expand the audience of a very niche genre. Their debut managed to cross over without putting off the core fans, cross-pollinating black metal’s relentless scree with the delirious wall of melodic noise generated by shoegaze. Deafheaven’s newest album, Ordinary Corrupt Human Love, ups the dynamics, punctuating the shroud of guitar with piano led interludes worthy of gothic drama.

Live, there’s something inherently performative inherent in such extreme music, and you must sell it to the audience. When Deafheaven pulls it off, they approach transcendence, their maelstrom sweeping you along. The points where I couldn’t manage a suspension of disbelief, I’d laugh to myself, thinking, “they’re the INXS of black metal”.

Openers, Diiv, were a much-lauded band who disappeared for long enough, they’re having trouble restarting the hype machine. What I saw this night was a band moving from their dream pop influences to embracing a strong Television vibe—which is an admirable choice—but troublesome, as Television are a pervasive influence of modern indie-rock. I need to hear it on record though, as live, the sound was too muddy, not nearly distinct enough in its pointillism.

NOTES: Deafheaven; Diiv
PRSENT: AMS; Jim K.

Loss

Marcus Fischer, 2017

I believe I came to Marcus Fischer via a new-release update sent to me from the venerable 12K label. Loss overcame any feelings of been-there, done-that. While the spacious arrangements and wobbly tape distortions all feel familiar, there’s a stately elegance and sense of pacing to the work that transcends. Those familiar elements are filigree to good compositions and arrangements—atmospheres as opposed to crutches.

Biscuits for… Dubble-Stuffers

This latest collection of piping-hot, fresh new techno focuses on dub—but dub as a technique more than a genre. If you want to keep up on the latest in this series, you can search for sndlgc in the podcast app of your choice, or you can manually add it by copying this link.

While dub was a reggae innovation, it amounted to more of a practice than a genre, or style. Studio engineers trying to wring ever more from already repurposed riddims invented tricks to make the old seem new again. Since the advent of electronic dance music, stretching back to the disco era, dub—as a technique—has gained a life of its own, beyond the genre that invented it.

By extension, dub is written into the fabric of electronica. From the nascent days of techno, the primacy of bass was unquestioned. Echo effects were essential to expanding the inherent minimalism at its heart. These too are key ingredients of dub. Toss in how dub treats the parts of the song merely as building blocks to be re-arranged at will and you have the basic elements of modern electronica.

Biscuits for… Dubble-Stuffers tries to find the dub lurking at the heart in a wide variety of electronic styles. Sometimes it’s in plain sight, like TNT Roots’ Chant Down Babylon. Even though more sublimated, it’s still there in the futuristic throb of Jeff Mills’ Helix Nebula. Some of these tracks are wall (and bowel) shaking floor anthems, while others steer toward gaseous and introspective ambient dub.

I started the Biscuits series explicitly to focus on new electronic music. To that end, almost all these tracks were released in the six months since the last biscuit dropped. It’s all chopped down to the barest essentials—most of the tracks barely stick around for more than two minutes. 36 songs in 80 minutes—double stuffed, indeed! If there’s anything you especially dig, follow the link, there’s plenty more to be had!

For now, turn it up, but mind yr bass bins.

Lowtec: Burnt Toast
Slim Media Player: Moutfeel
TNT Roots: Chant Down Babylon (Verse II)
Floating Points: Shark Chase
Passarani: Minerals
Roza Terenzi: Electronique
Jeff Mills: Helix Nebula
Soluce: Center
Mikron: Imora
Demian Licht & Eomac: Algol
Christoph de Babalon: Endless Inside
Pearson Sound: Earwig
Kleft: Writhe, Squirm, Broken
Dayzero: Sunday on Spaceship
Lamont: XIX
Airhead: Clatter
Lemzly Dale: Go Away
Parris: Puro Rosaceaes (KMOS mix)
Isolée: Ginster
Tilliander: Respect Existence
ST / NE: ME / WE
Klein Zage: She’s Out There (Local Artist Cult mix)
Norman Nodge: Tacit Knowing
Ron Morelli: FXK Ripper
Best Available Technology: Orbitiara
Sabla: Chant 35
Tapes: Ticker Tape
(unknown): (untitled)
Pavel Milyakov: Bolotniy
Claudia Anderson: Momentum
Nekyia: Dream Within a Dream
Positive Centre: Exhibit Structures
Substance: Distance
Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement: Bridgetown Dub
Phase90: Ango (Intrusion Metamorphose)
Not Glass: Ludicrum

Selected Ambient Works, 85-92

Aphex Twin, 1992

Aphex Twin Selected Ambient Works

Richard D. James will always be remembered as some sort of avant-bad-boy of 90s electronica. A masterful producer who single-handedly moved the genre as a whole forward (on multiple occasions), he was also an impish provocateur to have become the face of British electronica. For all his innovative releases, the one I spin most often is his rather unassuming, early collection: Selected Ambient Works 85-92. Essentially, it’s a gentle collection of room temperature synths and lightly pulsating rhythms, but even still, it was years ahead of its peers (even if the dates on the label are a lark). Each track is perfectly balanced between an austere minimalism and an inviting warmth.

In all honesty, this record is a time and place unto itself, for me Listening to it is an emotional mnemonic device that never fails to make me happier.

field report no.102219

LOCATION: the Orange Peel, AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Thee Oh Sees

OBSERVATIONS:
Thee Oh Sees reputation for blistering lives shows precedes them. It’s easy to see why the 2-drummer line-up has endured: the show’s temperature raises significantly whenever they drop in, even when they’re just in lock step with each other. Oh Sees are prolific and reliable band—churning out at least one record a year, since 2006. Within that steady stream. Evolution occurs slowly, making each album on their arc feel a little bit too much like their last (but not so much like the one two before it). Of late, Thee Oh Sees have backed off the throttle, and opened their psychedelic surge to some more progressive elements. Live, that meant they had 3 long ,jammy stretches, but really only enough solo content for just one.

Opening for Oh Sees was Escape-ism, a band true to leader, Ian Svenonious’ ridiculous but not unserious form. It’s the latest stop on his now almost 30 year career of confounding confrontation. The set was a little ragged, as he and his compatriot overstretched themselves, multitasking—but their show might come together over time (if he even wants it to).

NOTES: Thee Oh Sees; Escape-ism
PRESENT: AMS; Jay

Duomo Sounds Ltd.

Various, compiled 2017 (recorded, early 80s)

Given the nature of not only our streaming culture, but also the crate-digging vinyl reissue market, we have access to far more music than any one person would have ever previously imagined. It’s hard enough now, trying to wrap your head around popular music, but now we have every flavor of every style from every corner of the globe at our disposal. It makes dabblers of most us, sampling this or that, but by no means experts in any one thing.

Thank god for collections like Duomo Sounds. They give us a window into, or overview of styles most would otherwise never know. Sure Talking Heads and Paul Simon (and, if we’re honest, the ‘world’ music section at Tower, back in the day) raised the profile of music from the African continent, but a good collection gets us past Simon, even beyond the introductory artists, like Fela Kuti, to a broader picture.

Duomo Sounds sets out to document Nigerian disco, hailing from the 80s. As an American, I always find it interesting to hear how the sounds we’ve exported, come back, after being assimilated into another culture. Doubly so with something like disco, that frankly, I’m not too invested in, domestically. I’m far more enamored with the Nigerian strain than our own—and I hope, at least, it’s not just playing into exoticism.

 

field report no.101619

LOCATION: Revolve AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Thalia Zedek / Chris Brokaw

OBSERVATIONS:
I have a soft spot for the indie rock survivors. Coming of age in the grunge era, I witnessed the post-Nirvana feeding frenzy: bands that would never reach more than cult status, snatched up by labels with outsize expectations of their sales potential. There’s no shortage of bands who were grist for that particular mill. Some of them came out the other end, and thankfully, soldier on to this day. Theirs is a will create one ought to respect.

Thalia Zedek and Chris Brokaw led the harrowing indie rock band, Come: a slowburn indie-punk outfit originating out of the Boston scene. Thalia’s career reaches all the way back to the early 70s, with Dangerous Birds, Uzi, then Live Skull. I’ve followed Zedek ever since hearing Come. Her low, raspy voice is perfectly pitched for excoriating tales that would give bluesman pause. Hers is the voice of hard-won experience.

Come did a short reunion tour a few years back, (that I caught in Brooklyn), but this intimate show in a local art gallery brought the two back together (again). They each did a solo set—flipping a coin to see who would go first—then ended the night with a handful of Come songs. They may have been through the grinder, but I hope they’re proud there’s still an eager audience for songs they wrote over 20 years ago.

Now I just hope Zedek’s new band, E, perhaps adds Asheville to their potential tour schedule, too.

NOTES: Thalia Zedek; Chris Brokaw
PRESENT: AMS

Accelerator

Royal Trux, 1998

There was a point I worried Royal Trux would disappear from history. Sure, Neil Michael Hagerty shared space in gutter punk pioneers, Pussy Galore, but his reputation seems overshadowed by former bandmate Jon Spencer. RT is more hipster aficionado knowledge, whereas Blues Explosion have secured space somewhere in the canon of 90s indie rock.

A quick scan of the critique and you will learn that Accelerator  is the easy contender for their masterpiece. I have to agree; I've never heard anything like it. It's where lo-fi scuzz rock finally gets a production budget, without losing their gnarl. It's a sonic paradox that can easily leave you feeling queasy. Everything about this record smells of excess, and yet it's also exacting and stripped to bare minimalism. Accelerator is what I wanted Exile on Main Street to sound like (after reading the lore of that Stones album).

This is the sound of people, quite successfully, taking drugs to make music to take drugs to.

Old Dreams, New Planet

Stuff. 2017

There’s a cantina somewhere in the universe, and Stuff. is the house band. The ungoogle-able band (period included) peddles a warped mutant funk. All the pieces are there—popping bass and toe-tapping beats—but it plays all wrong (which is why I listen). It’s like a tea pot that’s been dropped and not quite put back together correctly. That they accomplish this without grafting on different styles creates a sort of uncanny effect.

field report no.100419

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Kuzu

OBSERVATIONS:
Dave Rempis is a latter-day free jazz ambassador. A prodigious collaborator, he’s one of the only members of his storied Chicago jazz scene who still regularly tours the country (as if he were some kind of indie-rock band). Which is how Kuzu came to be, the trio of Rempis with the Asheville duo of guitarist Tashi Dorji and Taylor Damon. I’ve seen Dorji often: Asheville has a very small scene. If you’re going to any advanced jazz show, it’s a good bet Dorji’s is a part of one of the warm-up acts.

The Kuzu combination brings more out of Dorji—he’s seems more giving. It’s possible Rempis raises the game or at least provides a fresh sparring partner. Live, Dorji was even more nuanced than on record. Perhaps without Rempis amplified, Dorji dialed it back giving everyone more room to hear. Damon was also impressive—placing bells on his drum heads he evoked gamelan in one sequence, (and still managing to hit some of the drum head as well). Each of the players was pliable and intuitively responsive this night.

NOTES: Kuzu (Dave Rempis, Tashi Dorji, Tyler Damon); Bruce Lamont; Kevin Hufnagel
PRESENT: AMS

Air Lows

Sivlia Kastel, 2017

Silvia Kastel Air Lows

Silvia Kastel is one of a handful of musicians courting synth-pop from a thornier higher ground. She represents half the noise duo, Control Unit, but on this mini-album, she’s concerned keyboard-driven sort of distended song-craft that retains at least some vaguely recognizable forms. Albums like Air Lows lead me to believe we might be living through a real moment in underground electronic music. Techno and dance continues its fragmented reign, but artists like Kastel are shaping an entire network of retro-synth-futurists charting new destinations from old routes. It distinctly feels as if we’re hearing the records, that 15-20 years hence, will be rediscovered by a new generation of obsessive crate diggers, finally prepared to hear it.

field report no.091618

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Actual Cloud Formations

OBSERVATIONS:
I stumbled upon Shane Parish as the opening act for one of the first shows I attended in Asheville. I’ve since found out he’s something of a hometown hero (not mentioning he has a number of records on John Zorn’s Tzadik label). He plays around town often enough, it’s downright negligent of me to have not seen him since. (In my defense, I’ve twice had tickets to see his avant rock band, Ahleuchatistas, but life got in the way.) It finally came together, though, for this show: a record-release show (of sorts) for his new ambient guitar solo tape.

Parish actually opened the show up, solo, playing material from the new tape. Cellist Emmalee Hunnicutt played the middle set, solo. The night ended with Actual Cloud Formations, a sort of improvised folk trio featuring Parish and Hunnicutt alongside Ahleuchatistas, Ryan Oslance, on drums.

After the show I went straight to Cloud Formations bandcamp page to pick up their album. Listening back to it, I’d say they’ve improved by leaps and bounds. The album features Sally Anne Morgan on violin instead of Hunnicutt, and perhaps that’s a switch that has made a substantial impact. It could be Hunnicutt is a better fit, or perhaps the cello doesn’t compete with the guitar as much, tonally. The improvisations this night seemed much more focused—amorphous still, but with a sort of thrust of purpose and logical through-line.

NOTES: Actual Cloud Formations; Emmalee Hunnicutt; Shane Parish
PRESENT: AMS

hibernation listening

Most our tastes are cyclical. Like Seasonal Affectation Disorder, I crave moody music in the depths of winter and, at the first signs of spring, fall hard for some new, bright and shiny pop confection. For example, while I’ve come to absolutely cherish Damon Albarn’s solo LP, Everyday Robots—a glum and dispirited pop album. Not at first, though, it was released at the height of summer and it was months before I rediscovered it, when the weather (and my mood) suited it better.

I’m also keenly aware that I don’t re-listen to many records, at least not the way I used to. I have so much I follow now, it’s a full-time job getting it all in, let alone go back and listen again. This is fed by certain changes in how we, as a streaming society have changed. It’s hard to recall who sang what, or what song is on what album (or from what year).

A few years ago, I created an experimental remedy, though. I became utterly enthralled by Mary Timony’s Mountains—an album which had languished in my collection, only played a handful times before my little epiphany. Determined not to let the moment pass, I opted for a new challenge: I would forge a new bond with Mountains, branding it upon my brain by listening to it every single day for a month.

It’s a tradition I’ve kept up since. This February, I’m spending my time with Field Music’s fourth album, Plumb. It’s actually embarrassing for me to choose this one, since it appeared on my best-of list for 2012 —which begs the question whether I listened to it closely enough (I did, thank you). In the years since, though, it’s simply been overshadowed by Field Music’s turn towards sharper pop (and their epic, Measure, before it).

Listening to Field Music brother, Peter Brewis’ latest project, You Tell Me, I felt compelled to revisit Plumb. Like You Tell Me, it’s more stately and mannered—containing subtler pleasures. Compulsively listening to the new work made me wonder what discoveries were hidden in the older one.

Plumb is populated with small vignettes (15 songs in 35+ minutes). It’s less about individual, standout tracks and more about painting a complete picture with the whole. Within, Field Music paints a nuanced portrait. It ranges from the poppy charge of Who’ll Pay the Bills to an a capella interlude and a handful of chamber ballads. From Hide and Seek to Heartache splits the difference: a melancholy but bouncy number layered in strings and handclaps. All these turns make Plumb come off as one of their proggier dispatches, despite it’s brevity. (The vocalese solo on Sorry Again, Mate is a clear tribute to former Soft Machine drummer, Robert Wyatt.) True to their trademark sound, though, the entire album is rich with hyper-detailed percussion, up front and center.

Plumb is a richly detailed work, worthy of spending more time with (but brief enough to not be a burden), which is exactly what I aim to do.

Remain in Light / Music for the Knee Plays / Remain in Light

Talking Heads, 1980 / David Byrne, 1985 / Angélique Kidjo, 2018

There are mountains of text on Talking Heads—whole books written even on individual albums. They’re a band of truly classic status, loved both very personally by multiple generations. To this day, when David Byrne plays This Must Be the Place, there’s hardly a dry eye in the house ( but each person is crying for individual, associative reasons).

The trio of records Talking Heads made with Brian Eno , More Songs About Buildings and Food, Fear of Music, and Remain in Light are generally accepted as the cornerstone of their canon. Remain overlaps not just my undying love all things Byrne but also my obsession with all things Eno—plus you can throw in my later in life love African musics, which this album under the sway of.

Remain is the height of Talking Heads as ‘big tent.’ They had more support musicians than official members, and trusted Eno enough to give him wide berth, as producer. It’s a dense album, from the outset. Swirls of percussion and guitars, backup singers and effects jostle for your attention. Little wonder Once in a Lifetime was the hit single here: it’s more pared back than anything else on the album.

More than just an album, thought, Remain was a roadmap for future revelations. Brian Eno is a pandora’s box. You could dig into it’s afrobeat influences and discover Fela Kuti. You could follow the guesting lead guitarist, Adrian Belew into the 80s incarnation of King Crimson. Or, alternately, you might just check out more by the Talking Heads, and maybe explore David Byrne’s first forays into solo projects that immediately followed Remain.

What stands as my favorite solo record by David Byrne (Look into the Eyeball) has yet to be released on vinyl. Even if it gets reissue treatment I don’t think I could part with my copy of Music for the Knee Plays. Talking Heads and David Byrne were one of my first musical obsessions, and Knee Plays was, quite literally the first LP I ever bought. At the time I couldn’t find it on any other format—but I was obsessed, and needed to have it all.

The work is a soundtrack (of sorts) written for a Robert Wilson play (or, more accurately, the interludes of a larger play). The album is scored entirely for brass band, with about half the tracks overlain with David Byrne’s clipped speaking voice. He dictates little prose poems that are imminently Byrne-ian. He ruminates on metamorphosizing into someone else (after stealing their groceries). A character agonizes about what to wear for a big occasion. In the Future is a list of often contradictory predictions for what lays ahead. It would be wrong to say Knee Plays is an oddity in Byrne’s catalog, it was just the first one.

Returning to Remain in Light: Angélique Kidjo said she knew it was an African album on first listen. In her hands, it’s a truth made plain. She re-colonizes the songs, but in truth, they don’t sound all too different. What really transforms is her voice: where Byrne is all nerves, Kidjo is gutsy swagger. When she bellows 'Some 'a you people just about missed it!’, she’s more preacher than snake-oil salesman. The force of her presence managed to return Remain in Light to me, as new, despite knowing every nook and cranny of it.

It’s so rare to enjoy a cover of a song or album you already have a deep relationship with. They’re something that fairs better if you like the covering artist more than the covered. She can’t unseat the Talking Heads for me, but she puts up a hell of a fight.

field report no.090618

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Mark Hosler

OBSERVATIONS:
I have to admit, I haven’t heard that much Negativland. While they are an institution, a foundational plunderphonics group—like most people, I became most aware of them while they were waist-deep in a legal tussle with a certain band that rhymes with ‘you, too.’ By the time they extricated themselves from said kerfuffle, I guess my own interests had moved on. In truth, the early 90s—as I just starting to travel the outer limits of electronics with Zoviet*France and John Oswald—would have been the perfect timing. But, like ships in the night, as they say.

I’ve also moved on from New York City (to remote North Carolina) and I don’t get nearly as many opportunities to catch gonzo live sets—especially an artist like Mark Hossler, who, through Negativland, has a 40+ year history in the avant garde.

I was pleasantly surprised to find out it wasn’t just sampledelica—which can be fun but also always strikes me with a whiff of ironic distance or heavy-handed politics (or both). Most of his sounds were far more purely electronic-generated tones + effects and filters. If their origins lay in sampling, they’d been scrubbed clean. Hosler’s rig of devices was interesting, shimmed so his boards were tilted slightly towards the audience, giving us a window into how he was creating what we heard.

NOTES: Mark Hosler; Toybox; Okapi
PRESENT: AMS; Lily M.; Jackson A.