While the twentieth edition of this column is being prepared, here are all the previous ones, revised, with new and updated links:
Edition #1 – Attempt at a Definition: Punk and What Came After.
Edition #2 – 1977 or So: Television.
Edition #3 – This is Pop: XTC.
Edition #4 – Perhaps Some other Aeon: Cocteau Twins.
Edition #5 – Welcome the New Soul Vision: Dexys Midnight Runners.
Edition #6 – Dissonance: Glenn Branca.
Edition #7 – American Gothic: Death Rock.
Edition #8 – To Cut a Long Story Short: The New Romanticism.
Edition #9 – Postcard of Scotland, Part One: Aztec Camera.
Edition #10 – Postcard of Scotland, Part Two: Orange Juice and Josef K.
Edition #11 – Getting Frantic on the Panic Train: The Screamers.
Edition #12 – Punk For Beginners?: Kukl.
Edition #13 – All Against All: DAF.
Edition #14 – Dance This Mess Around: The B-52′s.
Edition #15 - Urgh! A Music War.
Edition #16 – Rise and Shine: The Wake.
Edition #17 – Sons and Fascination: Simple Minds.
Edition #18 – Savage Sea: The Pop Group.
Edition #19 – But All With Strings Attached: Gang of Four.
And a taste of what’s coming up in the twentieth and twenty-first editions:
The West Memphis Three were released from prison yesterday, after eighteen years behind bars for a crime they’ve never successfully been linked to.
Their case has been extensively documented by filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky, whose 1996 HBO documentary Paradise Lost: The Child Murders at Robin Hood Hills brought attention to the case and helped spark a sustained effort to support the three young men who, as the film shows, were arrested and sentenced through quite dubious means.
While the case of the West Memphis Three didn’t involve specific accusations against musicians, it evidences the same trend of persecution of heavy metal in early ’90s America as this documentary posted a while back does. The nature of the case and trial attracted the empathy/sympathy of numerous people worldwide over the years, with performers such as Henry Rollins and Eddie Vedder aiding in raising funds and awareness for the case through benefit albums and concerts.
Berlinger and Sinofsky are now readying a third film in their Paradise Lost Series (following their first sequel in 2000) which will premiere next month at the Toronto Film Festival.
Connecting the dots in reverse:
Belong – Common Era (Kranky, 2011)
In the early 2000s this New Orleans duo began crafting a sound which straddled drone and shoegaze, using guitars and electronics to create deep, drifting ambiance. Looking back at their debut LP, October Language, and then at this, their second, it’s clear that things have changed quite a bit, and there is a step in between the two LPs which helps illustrate how.
In 2008, Belong released an EP of ’60s psych covers called Colorloss Record, and it’s here that the sound of Common Era began to take shape. Whereas October Language was an instrumental record, rendered with the staticy digital textures that defined a lot of experimental electronic music in the early 2000s, Colorloss Record was a warmer, more song-oriented (albeit completely alien-sounding) thing. Performed with only vocals, guitars, and synth (perhaps others, it’s difficult to tell), all completely saturated with effects, the songs were drastically deconstructed, taking on a groggy, ghostly sound which worked exceptionally well for the context and left them unrecognisable from the originals. Adapting this sound of voices and instruments alloying into something like an afterimage of music that’s already been played to a more song-based, pop format, is what the band is doing with Common Era.
A truly remarkable record, Common Era is deeply melodic and textured. Its unique power comes from the combination of two primary elements: the propulsive motorik drum machine patterns thumping away relentlessly, and thick streams of ecstatic composite sound. As a logical extent of over three decades of what Simon Reynolds first referred to as “oceanic rock,” before shoegaze became the more popular term, this record touches on recognisable cornerstones of the genre and is an important new milestone therein, as rarely has a group made something simultaneously so spectral and distant, yet so compelling and melodic.
Tim Hecker – Ravedeath, 1972 (Kranky, 2011)
No matter how many times one listens to Tim Hecker’s albums, their contents seem to keep shifting and reshaping, pulling in different directions, taking on different qualities, and producing different effects each time. They require an interaction between listener and what’s captured in the recordings that goes beyond listening to songs play from start to finish, as Hecker excels at building pieces around partial melodies and textures that suggest more melodic progression than they actually present. That being the case, the sense of music unfolding will differ for every listener, and that’s always been one of the more interesting aspects of this style.
What Hecker does has long been referred to as structured ambient, but, that structure is relative. The tendency when presented with this sort of music is often to reach for explanation, to look to any images or text which might accompany the record; or to any recognisable source sounds to provide a possible means of understanding the whole. Many reviews of this record have pondered the relation of its titles, artwork, and the information provided on its recording to the actual music, but the overall aesthetic remains cryptic. The key to this record, really, is immersion, experience of the space it creates. Hecker’s skilful processing and blending of sources leaves little out in the open, and much of the record unfurls in dense clouds of tones which emerge and dissipate slowly, enveloping and engulfing the listener. The result is an absolute sound, of everything all at once; a sound which implies things beyond sound. This notion of some ineffable correspondence relates to a thread found in some recent articles stating that Hecker’s work (among others) could represent a sort of contemporary, secular sacred music. Ravedeath, 1972 is not, however, reverential. Unlike 2009′s An Imaginary Country, which in many places soared and drifted off into beautiful absolutes, the ecstasy of Ravedeath is bound up in tensions. It’s a darker effort, in which the moments of beauty are managed by a predominant greyness.
Anyway, if you know Hecker’s work – especially his last couple of records – you’ll know, ostensibly, what to expect here. It’s an impressive addition to his acclaimed œuvre, further cementing his place as one of the most recognised and admired sound artists of his time.
Gil Scott-Heron – poet, singer, truthspeaker – died yesterday at the age of 62.
Below are some clips from the 1982 film Black Wax, a concert documentary which captures Gil nearing the end of his most productive and influential period (’71-’83). He was subsequently dropped by Arista records in the mid-eighties and didn’t make another record until 1993, by which time drug addiction had begun to consume his life and career. He continued performing sporadically through the ’90s and 2000s, but didn’t make another record until approached by British producer Richard Russell in the late 2000s. The result was 2010′s I’m New Here, a collaboration that brought Gil, frailer and unhealthy from years of drug abuse, back into the public sphere. The news of his death comes a year and a bit after that record’s release, and will no doubt add increased weight to its already-heavy mood. For more info on the man and his legend, watch a 2009 British-produced documentary here.
In 1986, Black Flag embarked on what turned out to be their last tour. Travelling with Painted Willie and Greg Ginn’s side project Gone, they rolled through America’s cities, farmlands, mountains, and deserts in a windowless passenger van and a cube truck painted with Black Flag’s iconic four bars. They played roller rinks, community centres, and on the sidewalk in front of at least one laundromat. By most accounts, Henry Rollins went legitimately insane.
Painted Willie’s lineup included drummer and filmmaker David Markey, who is probably best known as the man responsible for 1991: The Year Punk Broke. A few years before filming Sonic Youth, Nirvana, and Dinosaur Jr. on the European festival circuit, Markey did the same with his tourmates in 1986. The result is Reality 86′D, an hour long film documenting one of the most influential American hardcore bands on the brink of its own self-destruction. Watch it in its entirety here.
Hat Tip: Platform