poopsicle greatest shits coverA compilation by the short-lived DIY label started by The Eggnogs, which besides this only ever put out Eggnogs stuff and the Rianisis CD The Binocular Twist as far as I know (Rianisis being the solo recording project of Frodoe bassist Ryan Hutchinson). The title was suggested by my good friend Noel Isley. An interesting slice of late-’90s eastern Iowa rock. Tracks by The Eggnogs, Speed Of Sauce, Rianisis, A Is Jump, Autocrash, Jacob Mathis, WorstCaseScenario, Volumen, Fear Of Falling, The Bassturd, Frodoe, Vernon, Shane & Doug, Lunastar, No Consensus, Polyorchidman, Rusty Metal Primer, and a couple extra bonus bits of fun.

Download that shit!

By the way, here’s some stuff I’ve actually been up to recently, that’s also up on bandcamp. A.J. Herring of Velma And The Happy Campers has a series of free download EPs, by various artists, called Voices Green And Purple. The concept is each EP has to be no more than three minutes in total length, but with no fewer than three tracks. Here’s mine, and I have a second on the way:

And be sure and check out the Voices Green And Purple bandcamp site. There’s stuff by The Cryogenic Strawberries and Thunder Bunny, among others.

And here’s a streamable preview of the new Fetal Pig album:

This thing gets released middle of next month sometime on digital and an edition of 300 150-gram LPs. It’s the first recording I’ve played on ever to be released in a format other than home-dubbed cassettes or computer-dubbed CD-Rs, so it’s a landmark for me. Very excited!

Also, here’s an SK-5 noise piece I made on the occasion of the 40th birthday of Jason Warden, he of Rhonda Is A Dead Bitch. It’s going to be coming out on a 10-minute 5-way split cassette with Igloo Martian and some other people I don’t know of which there will be only 10 copies. I will have 2 of them. I can be persuaded to sell or give away one or both to suitably interested parties. You can also download this .wav file if you like it.

Jason Turns 40 by centipedefarmer

Uploaded a bunch of Bludy Noz and Bwang! to the bandcamp this weekend. Lots of awesome lo-fi improv outsider noise-rock to be heard. The following are the original Bwang! “Sixogy”, conceived as a series of 6 CD-R albums culled from the many hours of tape amassed by Bwang! during its initial burst of activity that then went mostly unreleased and sat-on for several years. Some copies had been made of earlier cassette versions, but not many.

And here’s some later Bwang! material:

Here’s some Bludy Noz stuff:

Things are tough all over the place. The economy sucks and one of the ways it keeps sucking worse and worse is the rising cost of health insurance. It’s squeezing working people everywhere. A couple weeks ago I got a packet in the mail from the company that handles my company’s HR concerns informing me that the insurance company our plans were through was getting out of the business entirely and we had to pick a new plan from the new provider. Every comparable plan on the list both cost more in premiums and had higher deductibles and copays, so we’re paying more on both ends.

But today I’m reminded that I’m lucky to even be able to complain about that. Craig Schumacher, owner-operator-engineer of Waveland Studios, where he engineered the 2nd Why Make Clocks album Midwestern Film, and has worked with tons of musicians beloved by myself and many others, has a cancer situation:

Craig Schumacher is a wonderful engineer and needs some help. He is the owner/operator of WaveLab Studios in Tucson where, among many others, he has recorded; Neko Case, Calexico, DeVotchKa, Animal Collective and Iron and Wine.

Earlier this year Craig was diagnosed with head and neck cancer. His doctors believe that with the proper treatments (which have already begun), he stands a good chance of beating this. The bad news is that the treatments are painful and costly. The out-of-pocket expenses will be enormous, not to mention the fact that there will be periods in which Craig will not be able to work.

Last year, Craig’s wife Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer. Following treatment she is currently cancer-free. Needless to say, these back-to-back cancer diagnoses have been tough on them, emotionally and financially.

Now, I don’t know what his exact coverage situation is but I do know from being around musicians and also having grown up in a small-business family that usually for people who make their living in music it’s not good. Musicians and people who run recording studios, labels, etc., along with other self-employed people and small-business owners, instead of being able to get in on a big company plan, have to buy their insurance as individuals. If you think your plan’s expensive, that shit is fucking inhuman and still leaves you paying a ton more out-of-pocket. I’ve looked into it. And musicians, by and large, apart from the mega-famous ones, tend to make pretty crap money, but still too much to qualify for Medicaid and the like. So a lot of them can’t afford insurance at all and just do without and pray that shit doesn’t go bad. Then, for the unlucky, it does, and it’s a mess. Me? I’m just a weekender who pussed out of trying to make a living in music and became a computer programmer instead. Guys like Craig Schumacher who have the dedication to stick it out and devote themselves full-time to making the world a more beautiful sounding place, are straight up heroes as far as I’m concerned.

I’ve never met the man himself, but his talents are readily apparent from the records I’ve heard that he’s had a hand in, including Midwestern Film, which Dan raves about having worked with him on, and any friend of Dan’s is a friend of mine.

Here’s what Dan had to say on Facebook earlier:

Please take a minute to visit this page to help out our friend Craig Schumacher.

Long story short, Craig Schumacher is an all around great guy, a phenomenal engineer that has definitely left an imprint on modern music whether it be through the fantastic records he’s recorded and they way they sound or his numerous contributions to Tape Op magazine over the years.

Among numerous others, Craig has worked with:

  • Neko Case
  • Iron and Wine
  • Calexico
  • Giant Sand/Howe Gelb
  • Richard Buckner
  • The Jayhawks

On a more personal note for me, he recorded/mixed most of Why Make Clocks 2nd album, “Midwestern Film”, and the time we spent working with him, is still one of the best times in my life.

Please go here and chip in what you can to help the man out. Every bit helps. I don’t have a lot but I’m going to send in something.

So Iowa has some pretty interesting local music scenes. Iowa City is sort of the perrenial favorite, as it’s had a heavily creative, artistic, literary, and weirdo-friendly atmosphere to it for as long as I’ve been able to pay attention. Traditionally it has the track record of having the best and/or most enduring music venues in the state. It benefits somewhat from an organic connection to Chicago, in that the University of Iowa is a popular college for kids from the Chicago area to go to. Des Moines is the other big one, mainly by virtue of just being the largest city in the state, though being on I-80 midway between Iowa City and Omaha and on I-35 midway between Minneapolis and Kansas City doesn’t hurt (but doesn’t seem to help as much as you’d think, either).

What fascinate me are the smaller communities, the hidden-gem scenes. Two come to mind for me right away, and neither of them is my old home turf of Cedar Falls/Waterloo, an area which has been pretty hit-or-miss for a lot of years now. The ones I’m thinking of are Dubuque, which I really need to make a point to write about more here, and unlikely, out-of-nowhere Ottumwa, which I’ve written about, and about bands from, quite a bit. What is it about Ottumwa? It’s not even on a major river.

The Speak Up Records label, which I think may be the work of Jason Bolinger, formerly of The Slats and She Swings She Sways and an ex-Eggnog for those who care about Iowa rock history, is behind two pretty interesting recent releases out of Ottumwa, both of which strike me as being quite good as well as the kind of things that would have pretty broad appeal if given the chance, and sound considerably more accomplished than what someone not familiar with the area might expect out of a place that’s as outsider with respect to the so-called music business as is Ottumwa, Iowa. One is by The War I Survived, which Jason plays drums in and is named after a Slats song. They are currently in the process of releasing their debut album one track per week, with videos, and they’re only about three songs in so far and I have catching up to do as it is. I haven’t listened to them a whole lot but they seem pretty interesting. I’d say they’re the trio plays melodic, intricately arranged emotive rock, but even for as literally as I mean that, it sounds like just typical music-writer BS so instead I will refer you to their facebook page.

Bolinger also recorded and mixed this 8-song EP by North To The Future. His former She Swings bandmate Troy Morgan is on at least some of the bass and they claim to hail from Agency, Iowa: Ottumwa is really just the center of a scene that covers a few surrounding towns.

As Good As It Gets goes by in a flash: eight songs that mostly average right about two minutes, just about enough to sink the hook and get the point across. It starts out with two songs of wise-cracking alt-rock built around punky attitude and a noisy, reverby garage-rock guitar tone that some might misguidedly label as retro. Then things mellow out for a bit. “On The Ground” reminds me, in its second-person lyrics and phrasing, of Helium’s “Honeycomb” and has an especially nice section of melodic solo-trading between guitar and bass. The toy piano that shows up for half of the verse right after it is one of those tasty little sonic details that are nice in moderation and North To The Future tastefully avoid hitting you over the head with too many of, letting the songs themselves have the attention. “Home” and the title track that follows it are more warm and folky, the former sporting a viola. “This Is A Girlfriend” has a country feel, and by this point I start to notice that a lot of these songs are about girls with some troubles and moral failings but who you can’t help but feel for anyway. “Tornado” picks the volume back up and then the tempo too in its furious instrumental chorus. “Butterflies” qualifies as the album’s epic by coming at the end and being just over three minutes long. While the preceding seven songs are good fun enough, “Butterflies” hints at what this band is really capable of in terms of arrangement and melody, particularly in its instrumental second half.

North To The Future cover a lot of ground in just 18 minutes, and don’t waste a moment. You don’t even need much of an attention span to appreciate what they’re laying down. There are stories in the songs, even if sometimes you just get a rough outline.

you are home ... cover

Matthew Dake’s one-man recording project You Are Home is known for hyperactive instrumental compositions built around bass guitar and drums that at their most accessible moments sound a bit like some kind of mathy Krautrock version of Lightning Bolt. Depending on who you ask, the results are either amazing, confusing, or maddening.

“…” is the first You Are Home album to be recorded in Dake’s shiny new basement studio setup. It revels in a richer color palette than most previous You Are Home material by incorporating a wider range of instruments. Where earlier You Are Home releases would tend to go for relentlessly bludgeoning, “…” is more likely to aim for a groove or mood you can really get wrapped up in.

“Idiot Police” starts off with a floor-tom roll that sounds like the beginning of The Stooges’ “Dirt”, then launches into a free-jazz explosion of drums, delayed Casio keyboards, and the crumbliest distortion imaginable. After this intro burst, the track alternates between a more guitar-heavy version of the well-established You Are Home sound, and what sounds like a distorted acoustic guitar, possibly recorded though a broken microphone, without ever losing hold of its furious 7/8 riff. The keyboards and junky acoustic guitar introduce one recurring theme I find intriguing in You Are Home releases, that of bringing lo-fi sonic elements into a relatively polished production. Next “Live At The Sands” keeps up the quick tempo and adds a ringing piano. It actually sounds like its title, like Neu or Kraftwerk performing in an exotic outdoor location.

Some tracks on “…” bear the mark of, or may just be borrowing the feel of, looper-based music, a hypnotic, rather mechanical repetition with instruments joining in one at a time. Helping to keep things interesting is a cross-fading of things into each other, such as the way “Dummy” fades into the ambient synths and organ that comprise the first half of “…”, sounding like something that Can might have done on either Ege Bamyasi or Tago Mago (“Peking O” maybe?), which then gradually cross-fades with a 6-beat funk riff that sounds like an intro in search of something to introduce, which then cuts off abruptly just a little after I start to lose my patience with it.

After being treated to a dense glob of noise backed by an intense Neu-ish groove called “somebodyupthereHATESme” and a very nice slow-build drone piece called “My Dirt Makes Your Mud”, we get to “Airborne,” which is the real masterpiece of this album, even though it is technically like another series of scenes fading into one another the way “Dummy” and “…” are put together. There’s a menacing one-note guitar chug forming the rhythmic basis behind a jazzy meandering clarinet and a piercing synth-piano note at regular intervals that evokes the seat belt sign chime on an airplane. It’s then joined by a descending horror-movie piano melody — in fact the whole track sounds like good horror-movie soundtrack stuff. A wide variety of different sounds fade in and out at different times, keeping the scene constantly shifting — there’s Eastern-ish percussion, an upright bass, and some watery synthesizer bloops, organ, and Claire Kreusel doing the kind of ethereal “human theremin” vocals she’s known for in Longshadowmen. By the end only Claire and one long organ chord are left standing, and then even Claire disappears leaving the organ and a distant wind sound to fade slowly out. It’s an intricate, highly layered, carefully constructed piece, particularly given its being constructed from repetitive elements, and is really something pretty special and profound.

Finally there’s “Ditchweed Blues,” a slide-guitar blues goof so raw and trashy sounding that I wonder whether it’s actually Pink Villa. Coming at the tail end of the album following “Airborne” it feels extraneous and a bit jokey but if Dake wanted to end the album on a not-too-serious note, which seems like him, then it works.

Matt Dake’s ADD approach to composition isn’t always easy to follow, and lives at a kind of nebulous gray area between “experimental” rock and the avant-garde. If you already are a fan of weird stuff, you’ll find “…” easy to get comfortable in, very enjoyable but not “difficult” listening. On the other hand, if you’ve found You Are Home dense and difficult before (delightfully so, in this writer’s opinion), “…” is a good opportunity to give it another try. It wins either way.

Disclaimer: this post is only about as serious as the video.

I’m pretty sure this video was inspired by me about two days ago. Apparently bartenders are some touchy motherfuckers who get pissed off over really trivial shit. Come on, man, the tape was two feet away. What else were you doing with it? Oh, sticking it on your face, well, obviously that’s much more important.

I mean, I don’t always or even usually forget to bring tape, but dude, sometimes shit happens. You mention all the other things a band has to do: gassing up the van, writing the songs, practicing, booking the gigs (not to mention lugging heavy equipment in/out/on/off of vans, stairs, doors, stages, etc). You fail to mention that we also have to do all that shit in addition to and around our day jobs. Whereas the bar is your job. We’re not even getting paid to play the fucking gig, and then we still have to get up and go to work in the morning.

Having all that to juggle is all the more reason why occasionally a detail like tape might get overlooked as we’re jetting out the door to try to get some posters hung up quick in the five minutes we can steal before we have to be somewhere else. We don’t expect to be resented for troubling our fellow man for a couple measly little pieces of tape. We thought we lived in a world where people are willing to help each other out with little things sometimes. So much for that famous Des Moines friendliness, I guess. Sorry I interrupted your sitting-around-magazine-reading.

Here’s an idea, bar: put up some fucking corkboard and keep a few pins stuck in it. Nobody bugging you for tape, plus your wall doesn’t end up looking like shit from old tape bits and fucked-up paint. Problem solved. Or you know, don’t be such a whiny pussy, that works too.

I’ve often contemplated the innocent way people experience music who aren’t knowledgeable about the instruments and how it’s made, like young children. I recall as a youth, before I knew as much about what sounds guitars and drums can make, getting all kinds of cool mental pictures from the sounds in music. I didn’t always have just the mundane perception of a guitar or a drum; sounds made by instruments would instead give me mental images of dust blowing across a desert, a wheel of fortune spinning, a steel foundry staffed by monkeys. I miss that experience and kinda feel it’s a more pure perception of music.

I actually get some of that feeling back when listening to Descent. The imagery conjured up by the sounds is so strong that even while consciously I know and recognize that I’m hearing guitars, drums, vocals, pianos, it adds up to more than that. Bloodiest conjure up a world here and I find myself very much in it, like my ten-year-old self hearing Yes’s Fragile for the first time, instead of standing outside analyzing it. That’s a very difficult place to get a jaded old music nerd like myself to, and it’s very special.

Descent is yet another feather in the cap of the hyper-active Bruce Lamont, in a string of startlingly original and artistic albums of heavy music he’s had his hands in these past few years, and even raising the bar another notch or two. By now he’s gone far above and beyond the role he first became known for as the saxophone-wielding lead vocalist of brainy avant-metal freaks Yakuza. The mood of Descent continues in the hypnotic, haunted vein Yakuza started to incorporate on Of Seismic Consequence and that Bruce then expanded on with his solo release Feral Songs For The Epic Decline. This band and this album are much more than a Bruce Lamont project, however: this bears the mark of an intensely collaborative, collective development, every person in on it committed 150%.

The closest reference point that comes to mind is Swans circa The Great Annihilator but more metallic and on a much more abstract, mystical trip. There’s the epic sweep of post-rock but without being hemmed in by the predictable, overused build-build-build-crash progression. It’s hypnotic, symphonic, and exotic, repetitive without repetitious, with a tendency for classical-like intricacy in the quieter sections and numerous moments of intense melodicism. Lamont rages like a mad shaman as is his wont. Overall it’s the music of the holiday ritual dances of spectres existing on another plane, inhabiting an ancient forest where it is eternally midnight.

Bloodiest have created something dark, heavy, and truly frightening and beautiful here that transcends boundaries of metal or rock music, is almost beyond mere music itself. I’ve never heard anything quite like it and who knows if we ever will again.

our blood cover

There is a tendency to split up Richard Buckner’s ouvre into two parts, the earlier more “country” era, and the later more “indie” era, with the transition occurring somewhere between his last album for MCA Since and his signing on with Merge for 2004’s Dents And Shells. I will admit to not being personally as familiar with the earlier work, having heard what I have of it probably only once via my Why Make Clocks/Fetal Pig bandmate Dan, who is responsible for turning me on to Richard Buckner in the first place. But there seems to still be a split between those who prefer the earlier records and those who appreciate more the 21st century Richard Buckner; a couple early reviews I saw for Our Blood hinted at the crusty old “return to form” meme, with one even declaring it his best since Devotion + Doubt. Personally I don’t understand this split. I think the open-minded listener can appreciate all that Buckner has offered up over the years and see the consistency and evolution in it. From what I’ve been able to tell, he hasn’t made a bad album yet and probably never will.

I quite like the more uptempo (though hardly upbeat) songs of Dents And Shells and Meadow, which seem to intentionally eschew intra-song dynamics for a kind of motorik feel that gives the vocals and decorative instrumental elements lots of space to stretch out — the pedal steel line introduced during the first verse of “A Chance Counsel” always comes to mind as an especially gorgeous example of this — while the less rhythmic, softer numbers like “Charmers” provide a contrast, the grassy rolling pastures alongside the highways of the faster songs. It makes for perfect music for driving the highways of northeast Iowa.

In an interesting headfake, the intro to the opening track “Traitor” starts out looking like another barnburner album-opener in the mode of “A Chance Cousel” or “Town” (“barnburner” being a very relative term in Buckner’s subdued catalog), but then the drums drop out, to return only intermittently in this song and then not be heard from again for the rest of the album. From then on, Our Blood places its emphasis firmly on the softer side of what was the appealing contrast presented on the previous Merge albums; the quick strum of “Town” returns for “Witness” and “Hindsight” but with only a few stray maraca or tambourine hits for percussive accompaniment.

Absent this song-to-song contrast or a driving rhythm section, all the Richard Buckner sonic signatures of recent albums are still here: his rich and slightly weary voice intimately right up front and center, an acoustic or sometimes electric guitar or occasionally an organ as the main chordal instrument, short melodic figures on twangy electric guitars, electric piano, and pedal steel flitting in and out in between the vocal lines. There’s a quality to the music on Our Blood that has been described as cinematic, and that can possibly be ascribed to Buckner’s having worked in the meantime on a score for a film that ended up never coming out. The instrumental “Ponder” especially sounds like it may have been intended for that score.

Buckner’s songs seldom if ever follow a conventional song structure or have immediately identifiable verses or choruses. Usually each verse-like section will go through multiple melodic stages, sometimes with so many changes away from the root that you wonder how the phrase will ever make it back around full circle for a repeat. This suits well his oblique style of lyrics, which involve both disconnected phrases and run-on sentences that slip through so many semantic layers that one can easily lose track of what’s going on, like in the writing of Faulkner or even Ferlinghetti. This is especially the case on “Gang”.

One aspect of Buckner’s lyrics that I’ve always found interesting, especially after Dan pointed it out to me, is the variations of phrasing, including discrepancies between how the lyrics are sung and how they appear in the included lyric sheet (which I believe all of his albums’ packaging include one) and how these variations seem to open up subtly different layers of meaning. For example in “Escape” you hear, “No one’s ending up with what they thought. They’d figured out: well, this is what they get. Cold and lost, close calls take their toll some days.” But if you’re following along in the booklet, you read: “No one’s ending up with what they thought they’d figured out. Well this is what they get, cold and lost. Close calls take their toll some days.”

Each song suggests a story, though what exactly the story is may take some investigation and still turn out to depend quite a bit on your own interpretation. Though quite a bit of these stories seem to take place at night, the music on Our Blood mostly has an early-morning feel, like the dew and sunrise following a long rollercoaster of an all-nighter, turning them into recollections. Of the stories, “Confessions” seems most easily understandable, seemingly recounting a return to one’s hometown after seeking fortune among “sellouts with someone to try, but nothing to spend” (who might also be the sort of characters that were referred to in “Charmers”).

It’s tempting to call Our Blood a less immediate album than those just before it, but I’m not sure such a statement holds up to scrutiny. Our Blood rewards different kinds of listening. As simply a chill album to put on, it’s readily enjoyable and consistent, and repeated spins reveal nuances in the instrumentation; and when you want something to really dig into, contemplate and engage with on a literary level, it provides many hours of emotions, images, and concepts to chew on. Even without the difficulties Richard Buckner had in making this album, it’s the kind of work that you can totally understand being five years in the making.

hmg my new tape cover

I enjoy noise/sound-art stuff like this but am never quite sure how to review it. Nonetheless I thought this was worth making some mention of. Hal McGee’s humbly-titled latest is 60 minutes of concrete sound collage (broken up only where the tape needs turned over) made up of field-recordings, some circuit-bent electronics, and spoken-word, all captured on a handheld cassette recorder and then mixed together. It blends into a kind of midrangey white-noise from which emerge at various points voices, Casio keyboards, city traffic, police sirens, amplifier feedback, construction machinery, barking dogs, chirping birds, electronic noise, and bits of Hal ruminating about the ideas and theories behind his work, or talking to his dogs. As dense, abrasive and dissonant as it is, it can be rather relaxing. It’s also great to put on (with or without headphones, depending on the circumstances) when you want to ignore or drown out every other sound going on around you, which has made it helpful for me when I’m at work trying to concentrate on code while a construction crew is working next door, because with this playing they blend right in. It can be downloaded from bandcamp for $2 or, in true old-school home-taper fashion, acquired on cassette by mail order or trade (see this link).