My serious unprofessional writing career began when I was seventeen. It was my senior year of high school, and that year with the release of “The Doors Greatest Hits” and the book “No one here gets out alive,” I discovered Jim Morrison. Up until that time, I had listened to music with a casual love. I knew nothing made me as happy as listening to music, and I had a few records of my own, but it was mostly just happy noise on the radio. I sang along, I knew the words to the songs, but could never have recited them after the song had finished.
With The Doors, it was different. The lyrics were significant, as much or more so as the music. The words were intriguing. I understood the words, the definitions of each word, but put together, strung together as lyrics, they suggested different meanings. Hinted at or implied meanings. I loved the poetic aspect of The Doors music.
Which lead me to read more about Jim Morrison, how he come to write, keeping notebooks and journals, books he himself had read. I found that some of those books appealed to me, while some did not. Some of Jim Morrison’s philosophical ideas were attractive, while some I rejected as time went on.
What remained with me though was an urge to express myself. I began to keep notebooks or journals myself. Poems and prose pieces, random thoughts, and as I recall poorly expressed bits of philosophy.
I also began to seek other groups in which the singer expressed him or herself in a poetic manner, Patti Smith, Television, Iggy Pop, The Velvet Underground, Joy Division, R.E.M., and The Fall all quickly became staples of my growing musical library.
I wrote a lot while listening to music. And I learned a fundamental fact about my own writing. I could hear it, somewhere in my own head. Sometimes as nothing more than a tone or a hum. Sometimes as words themselves, fully formed, arranged and in order. Just a few lines, just a poem, just like that. The more I wrote, the more I heard myself. As though I was exercising and improving somehow.
The Air smells tepid-
Like moist residue
On tin foil
In live situations
The melody of things is often lost
In the rush of anticipation
I had a dream
Of, first birds, then
The fittings of pipes
Time when I was younger was always on my side. I had more time, more free time. Time when after work I would put on the headphones of my walkman, and stroll on the bike path along the bay shore, stopping frequently to write in my notebook. Was I a sight? Did anyone even notice me? Does it matter now? I still listen to music as often as I can. Travelling back and forth to work, finding myself writing not in a notebook, but on my phone. I send myself emails, all entitled “Poem,” often short impressions. I found a long time ago that I prefered a short form of poetry, not a traditional Haiku, but similar. I found a long time ago I prefered objective poetry, such as “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams, a heartfelt favorite of mine. An author I discovered researching what Jim Morrison read, the Beat poets, what the beat poets read.
This process works much the same for record collecting. When you find a group that appeals to you, often groups that influenced them will be of interest. I always took special note when a band I liked did a cover song, and would seek out the original version of that song. By this chain of happenstance my record collection grew. As did my book collection, and the ever accumulating pages of my notebooks.
The summer weather
Has a vibration
Suspended two or three feet
Above the yellow grass
I can see it as clearly as
I can see you beyond it
The water’s depth
Controls the rate
“There are twelve notes.
The scale of it is beyond me.
There are twelve steps.
There are bakers dozens.
There are twelve rings.
There are twelve children.
And twelve more. And twelve more.
The Scale of it is beyond me.
There are ten fingers, for twelve notes.
There is music.”
Sahel Sounds is an “exploration of sound and music in West Africa, particularly in the Sahel region of Mauritania, Mali, and Niger via filmmaking, field recordings, visual art, mp3 archiving, cellphone data collection, and cross cultural experiments.” The albums on their roster are terrific, so you should seriously consider checking them all out. Also, HOT OF THE PRESS this week is Mdou Moctar’s new album, Sousoume Tamachek.
So good it hurts.
Fresh off a tour that saw the reunited band playing a set of songs focused on their first two records, “The Days Of Wine & Roses” & “Medicine Show”, The Dream Syndicate hit the studio and recorded their first album since 1988.
The influence of their first couple of albums can be heard throughout this new album. Making it not quite the missing link between the two earlier records, nor a straight follow up to the two aforementioned albums.
Instead it is more a band at the height of their powers, knowing what they do well, and doing just that. The cliche of having one foot in the past while stepping forward into the future has rarely ever been so accurate.
The album starts elegantly with the song “Filter me through you” riding a melodic fuzzy guitar riff that seems to have started before we joined the song. Separate guitar parts come from either speaker, left and right in a pleasant attack.
Track two “Glide” occupies a different space, more wide open, with a spacey effected guitar line.
Track four “80 West” cracks out of the gate with a bass bounce & all on two guitar assault..a lyrical travelogue of a man on the run…punctuated with slide guitar…
Track Six “The Circle” practically burns the record down…with fuzzed our feedback guitar, with the rest of the band racing along, just a bit behind…
Track Seven “How Did I Find Myself”. The title track, shifts gears…sounds like the band on a Jazz tip, circa Miles Davis “On The Corner”…feedback guitar on the left, bass and added keyboards upfront…Steve Wynn drops lyrical couplets that intrigue, and hint at a story partly told, like real life…
Track Eight, “Kendra’s Dream”, concludes the album with a beautiful burnout, and finds the welcome return of Kendra Smith as vocalist on this track. She was the original Bass player in band back in 1982, and last took lead vocal duties on “Too little, too late” from the band’s debut LP, “The Days Of Wine & Roses”
The album is a triumph and welcome return.
The band will be playing live in Portland on September 29th, along with Portland’s own, Eyelids.
I buy True Blue with money from my piggy bank earned from outside chores and inside begging. This is officially the first record I’ve ever bought on my own. Other records were given to me by my mom or dad or someone else, someone supposedly in tune with music, like my surrogate aunt Nan who sometimes bangs on bongos in the nude or my Uncle Joe who plays the piano in Jersey bars overlooking frozen rivers. The cashier slips the record into a brown paper bag. This thing is mine, all mine. When I get home I’ll pull the cellophane wrapper off and slide my fingers in between the album cover, careful to avoid paper cuts, inhaling the smell of a freshly pressed record, plastic, inky material. My mom is with me. I hold her hand as we cross the street. I peek inside the bag. True Blue. I won’t play her on my fisher price record player because she is way too grown up. She’s all sex. Hips and boobs, John Paul Gautier. She dances for men, to woman, she rolls around arms and bellies and legs. I drop the needle on my dad’s record player. He’s away again so I can play her loud and for as long as I want to. I dance, roll around his sheepskin rug without pants on, in leg warmers, in my mom’s red lipstick, teased hair, neon bracelets around my ankles.
Her name is Louise Ciccone. I’d like to think I can be like her. I know her many faces, I have them too, playful, brooding, nasty, sullen, sultry. Her dance moves in menswear and lingerie, her chameleon hair, blonde, red, black, brown, blonde. My mother hosts a tiny Russian girl named Elena. Elena thinks I’m related to Madonna because we have the same yellow cropped hair and cross earrings. I’m flattered and so I allow her to believe this and don’t feel like speaking slowly enough to explain that I’m not the only one in this country who follows Madonna’s fashion trends. Yes, I’m her cousin.
I count down with the radio DJ in squeals to the number one song of the country, Like A Prayer and sing and dance around the living room with my friend Mindy. She sits back and admires my ability to hit the high notes without breaking. Madonna was a ballet dancer. She grew up in Bay City. She’s Italian. I play the Like a Prayer video to my Grandma Millie and she immediately turns it off because of the cross burnings. Her mom died when she was little. Her dad raised her, maybe he wasn’t the best dad. Maybe he was the dad she sang about. One day (because I ask) my father will buy her Sex book for me for Christmas and shortly after, someone will steal it. She married Sean Penn. She married another guy named Guy. She’s a mother to four. She stays out of the sun, eats mostly chicken breasts. She has a fake British accent. Her birthday is the day after mine. She’s a mediocre actress, a children’s book author, a pitch imperfect singer. One day I’ll listen to her disco revival Confessions On a Dance Floor while sprinting on treadmills, while mopping bat shit off of the floor of an old barn.
Burial Wreaths (BW) is a passion electronics duo based in San Diego, California. While BW would most definitely be categorized within the Power Electronics genre, they have chosen to identify themselves under the concept of “Passion Electronics”.
BW definitely share a soundscape with other industrial, experimental, noise, and power electronics acts like Croatian Amor, Puce Mary, Nurse With Wound, Coil, and Throbbing Gristle. And visually BW have developed a strong, consistent aesthetic online and on stage. They explain how their use of extreme imagery is not for “shock value” but is coming from an “alarmist standpoint.” Like so many today, they feel we’re “on the verge of fascism” and that the imagery they use is “to serve as a reminder of the tragedy fascism and extremism have caused people in the past.”
One of the main members in BW used to be an acoustic guitar-based solo artist and was also involved in, as he puts it, a “collaborative band very similar in structure to BW”. He has explained how the guitar style he played — a style created by John Fahey, founder of Takoma Records — is “frustrating and very physically demanding and most people cannot play like that…” So he later sought a new artistic direction. A creative aim that is very much the “direct reaction to making that music.” Thus BW was created as a project where he could “make music that literally anyone can make should they wish.” Overall, his creative focus shifted from making music that is “more demanding to listen to than to make.”
On BW’s newest tracks, “Tendrils” and “Shallow Breath”, there is a softer, ambient quality. They are thoughtfully methodical, yet free flowing, almost meditative. Both songs screech and hum with industrial machine soundscapes. Yet I easily find myself fully absorbed in each track, floating along till the end. Frankly, after listening to them, I was inspired to ask for an interview with one of the members. He agreed so I sent him 5 questions to answer. I deeply appreciate that he agreed to the interview and that he sent back very informative, thoughtful answers.
I have also respected his request to remain anonymous for this interview.
Q1: The jump from acoustic folk music to hardware based electronic music is a big change. My interpretation of this shift is that you wanted to be free in many ways. Free in how you created and played music; free in how you expressed yourself visually. I can see how an acoustic guitar in one’s lap could feel constricting at times; weighed down by so many cultural stereotypes and expectations. As I mentioned above, BW has a viewpoint on social and political matters and I am guessing your need to explore and express those views is part of why you chose this direction. You and the other members have also made the decision to remain masked and anonymous so that you may speak and express yourselves in a more open and frank manner.
So I am curious to know if BW has an overall social/political purpose or mission. If there is what is BW ultimately looking to say and do through their music and visual presentations?
BW1: I don’t think we have a codified mission politically. We are more interested in agitation at this point. I am disappointed that politics has taken a decidedly right wing turn during my lifetime, one example is that each candidate for president has been more conservative than the last regardless of party affiliation. Technology and fear have brought us here in various ways. The election of Trump is akin to Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. He is slowly eroding democracy. Attacking the balance of power until the executive branch is essentially the last standing. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Fox News become state sponsored in the future. Discrete legal changes lead eventually to the failure of the judiciary enabling martial law.
One way we push back against that is by releasing limited physical formats where the end user must make some sort of real contact to attain the music. Even if it’s via the internet — listeners have to contact us. There’s no automation to get physical formats from us. Hopefully those kind of direct connections give a human face to resistance.
I’m torn on extremism. On one hand I feel it’s lunacy and in an enlightened society there’s no need for that. But on the other hand we apparently aren’t living in rational enlightened time so the other part of me is saying arm the left and hope for some sort of coup to end the insane predicament America is in.
Q2: You have expressed a dislike of the LA “scene” calling it “pretentious in an ironic way.” You also explain that you see the power electronics genre to be “pretty loaded.” Obviously there are things about the genre and scene that frustrate, annoy and disappoint you. BW seems to be responding to that by distancing yourselves through referring to the collective as passion electronics. I see the act of replacing the word “power” with “passion” as quite significant. And to call yourselves this seems very conscious and intentional — a kind of protest. On a personal note, being a woman, the “power electronics” genre and scenes could sometimes come across as hyper-masculinized, macho and therefore fairly off-putting. So the idea of passion electronics really intrigued me.
So would you explain further the idea of “passion electronics”. Was this purely BW’s idea? Or is this concept already growing somewhere?
BW2: Haha! Well, I wouldn’t say I dislike what’s happening in LA. In a lot of ways, I love it. Some insanely good music is coming out lately. Drab Majesty, High Functioning Flesh, Youth Code, HHL, etc. The main frustration is the pretentiousness. It’s hard to explain without naming names but there’s this attitude of hierarchy. Certain venues only book their friends or popular artists whom they want to be their friends. Audiences tend to stick to one venue or another, with the attitude that “those other people aren’t really into this” when really they’re just missing out on really good stuff. The exclusionary attitude signals to me that if you say “those people aren’t really into this…” you’re probably the one not really into it. Does that make sense?
Some of these venues are 20 minutes apart from each other, yet there’s not a lot of cross pollinating, it’s complete insanity. That’s why a lot of them are starting to close. It feels very cliquey and that’s unfortunate because at the end of the day we’re all a bunch of degenerates playing noise music anyway. I see a lot of the same shit in tattooing or tattoo culture, that’s why I’ve never participated in conventions and why I stopped working at street shops and opened a private studio.
To address your comment about the macho aspect, I agree and disagree. Clearly the word “power” conjures some cultural heteronormative dynamic but the genre has totally flipped since it’s inception, I would argue that the two most profound artists in the genre currently are females: Military Position and Puce Mary. You could include Pharmakon in there too but I’m not interested in splitting hairs about genre labels. More to that point is the reasoning behind the “Passion Electronics” tag. I wanted something that was new and stood alone but was obviously reminiscent of an existing trope. But I wouldn’t say it’s a protest. However there is a certain band that refer to themselves as ‘alpha males’ and I cringe everytime is see someone post about them on the internet. Luckily they’re not very popular. Haha!
[Was this purely BW’s idea? Or is this concept already growing somewhere?] …yes this was a singular idea by us. I think other people fall into this category but didn’t know how to express that. Croatian Amor, Puce Mary, etc. Also, I didn’t want to be solely “power electronics” it’s so narrow. With the addition of Michael (also of Vom, Semen Sundae, Business Lady) it was imperative to have room to grow. We’re now incorporating much more melodic structures and danceable drum beats. Much more electronic body music (EBM) influence at the moment. Part of that has to do with new gear/instruments. We gone from using MS-20’s and boutique synths to the Eurorack format in the last year and that has opened the door to a lot of different choices sonically.
Q3: Now to focus a little bit on you. You come across as aware and knowledgeable of the power electronics genre — speaking about such artists and acts as William Bennet, the founder of Whitehouse, a pioneering power electronics band — and sharing your opinions on the power electronics communities in Southern California. I do want to acknowledge that BW does reach beyond that specific genre (like you mentioned, calling yourselves passion electronics is a way for BW to explore other influences and genres). However, power electronics is essentially what BW is — it’s the heart of the collective’s sound.
How, where, and when did your interest and involvement in power electronics begin?
BW3: Sorry, I’m kinda blurring the lines on these questions, but yes power electronics was kind of the launching point. It was a way for the two of us (two original BW members) to say “this” is the context to start.
I’m not really sure when/where I first got into power electronics specifically. I grew up listening to Throbbing Gristle (TG). They’ve been my favorite group of musicians since I was about 13. They were my first intro into punk I guess. My mom was involved in the 1980’s hardcore scene in San Diego. So as a toddler I was living in squats like the Battalion of Saint house and she was taking me to Bad Brains show at 5/6 years old. But TG was the first thing that really spoke to me. They were my mom’s records. She had tons of amazing shit. I got into Chris and Cosey, Skinny Puppy — really anything you can think of that way. There was a period maybe 12 or so years ago that Ilya Monosov from Mountain Home was listening to a lot of shit I wasn’t aware of.
Keji Haino, White House, Les Realize, and Flower Travelin Band, come to mind.
Then a few years ago maybe mid 2014 Kenny and I started kicking around the idea of doing some sort of noise project. That really took shape when he was my merch guy for the last couple solo guitar tours I did. The shows were poorly attended and it just felt dead, so we started taking BW more seriously. Now that Kenny’s dropped from the collective line up, being the other founding member, I decided BW should stop being a collective and get more focused. I think from here on out Michael and I will form the core and we will continue to have friends collaborate.
Q4: You have a history with Ché Café, a social center and live music venue located on the University of California campus where notable acts like Rage Against the Machine, Rise Against, Unwound, Acid Mothers Temple and more have played . You mentioned that you have been playing there, in various bands, since you were 16 years old. And that Ché Café is a “very important place both to me and to independent music in San Diego.” This place has most definitely had a profound impact on your development as a musician and as a person.
Would you elaborate more on how Ché Café and the San Diego/Southern California indie music communities affected you, as a person and as a musician? And, more specifically, how they may have influenced and shaped BW?
BW4: Too much to say here, so I’ll kinda skip it. Michael and I met at first as teenagers by both being involved in the Ché — booking/volunteering and just going to pretty much every show in the late 90’s. It’s funny, you mention the Acid Mothers show too because I opened that show. Really good show.
Q5: Okay. Being a musician myself. I am always curious as to each artist’s and band’s process when writing, recording, producing, and performing music.
How do you approach creating songs? And how does everyone involved in BW write songs? Are the songs primarily created by one member and the others add a little to them? Or does BW take a more collaborative approach where everyone is equally contributing to the creation of songs?
BW5: The first releases are mostly improvised. Kenny and I would gather a few sounds we liked then piece them together taking turns doing the chant like vocals. The most recent tape is two songs that were written by the two of us but he had departed by the time Haley were recorded. Because of that I recorded it with a musique concrete approach. I recorded samples of some synthesizers and patches, dumped those samples onto a drum sampler then played a rhythm on the pads. So that tape could be viewed as a solo instrument performance. Right now, I’ve been really focused on my Eurorack setup. I’m not using traditional drum modules for rhythm instead using wavetable and FM modules to make noise based rhythms/beats and classic VCOs to make basslines. Over that Michael is playing a polysynth and doing the singing. So the backbone is done when Michael comes in, shaped in a way to highlight his particular talents. I’m sure this will also morph into something new as my rack grows and as we incorporate more of Michael’s instruments.
Along with BW performances, Michael and I are doing some more power electronics/noise oriented shows under the name Vom. In addition to that I have a duo with Preston Swirnoff called Paradiso that we’ve been compiling songs for, which has a few show booked this summer. Then there’s Active Shooter a power electronics collective that includes the boys from Reaper.
I’ll be in Portland, Oregon around Halloween for a visit. I’ll probably play while I’m up there. I have some instrumental modular music that I’m working on but doesn’t have a distinct shape yet, the closest I could say to describe it would be close to Muslimgauze with a lot of black metal influence. Working title for that is “osh blatkv”. Still hammering out the kinks. Hopefully that covers everything…
Portland’s A Certain Smile create a timeless dream pop/shoegaze/jangle rock masterpiece with Fits & Starts – and it’s their first album!!!
“Twee music” gets a lot of hate, from a lot of directions. More precious than a Precious Moments, and seemingly just as fragile, Twee/indie pop might be criticized as escapist, decadent, or self-indulgent, like Nero playing a Shirley Collins ballad as our cities burn.
Just because a piece of music is gentle and a little distant doesn’t mean it doesn’t have heart and heat, however. Rock ‘n roll and punk rock are about being yourself, remember, and expressing it to the fullest of yr abilities. That’s why the OG punks copped music from all over the globe and didn’t stay amateurish for very long. Punk just gave bands the nitro to get started – if you do anything long enough you’ll get good at it.
As they put it in the Pitchfork’s Twee Retrospective “Twee As Fuck“:
“As of the mid-1990s, there were a hell of a lot of kids like this in America: Happy pop geeks in love with all things pretty, listening to seven-inch singles released on tiny labels, writing songs about crushes, and taking a good deal of pride in the fact that everyone else found their music disgustingly cute and amateurish and girly.”
Twee/indie pop/C86-style shoegaze sound ethereal – gauzy and distant, like watching the world through lace curtains while listening to retro Bossa Nova LPs. While this might sound like the height of decadence, a kind of easy listening Masque Of The Red Death with Stephin Merritt as the Grim Reaper. But perhaps this is just how we glimpse the world, how we ARE – and to pretend otherwise would be superficial artifice; the real decadence.
Just because a record sounds elegant, ethereal, and beautiful doesn’t mean it doesn’t have muscle and marrow; that it does not possess true grit, all of which are supremely in evidence on A Certain Smile‘s absolute stunner of a proper full-length.
Portland’s A Certain Smile (featuring Freeform Portland’s very own Thomas Andrew have been plying artful, moody, emotive, introspective but explosive indie rock in Portland since at least 2004, sounding like a broody slowcore Modest Mouse with an ampule of creaking orchestral doom pop. Strong songwriting and sound production insticts have been in evidence since the very start, with even their earliest fuzzy bedroom demos boasting intricate chord progressions and catchy hooks. These little nuances make your ears perk up and pay attention, when you begin to notice thoughtful lyrics, tuneful vocals, and accomplished melodies.
What existed in a nascent fuzz, beneath the tape hiss, emerges in fully-formed glory on Fits & Starts, which is not only one of the most accomplished debuts this side of The Velvet Underground & Nico or Galaxie 500’s Today. Not a line is out of place, not a note is out of tune – everything is perfectly polished and placed to perfection.
Fits & Starts is built around a twin-guitar attack of charging chord changes and delicate, intricate guitar leads, bringing to mind the absolute best of the Dream Pop canon – Television, early Felt, Cocteau Twins at their most frenetic. These atmospherics are underpinned by a sturdy rhythm section, glinting like obsidian and purring like a Motor City V8, keeping things rooted and earthy, muscular and raging. It can be heard in the first moments of album opener, “Hold On, Call.” and never lets up.
It’s those leads and lines that let you know A Certain Smile know exactly what they’re doing, and execute it flawlessly.
Melodic leads and lines are one of the first things that grab my attention, as someone who’s listened to probably at least a million records. Those little jewelled barbs that get harpooned in yr tympanum, that you can’t forget. That are so easy to flub, that probably take a million takes to get perfect. Or maybe just one. To me, melodic lines are a mark of proficiency and experience, point blank. A Certain Smile certainly know what they’re doing – they don’t miss a note or a beat throughout Fits & Starts cruelly brief nine track runtime, and a lot of this shit’s complicated! The basslines wiggle and crawl and stomp in place, while the twin guitars catchy charging rythym guitar spelling out the chord changes, freeing the second to explore, but never meander. There is less noodling go on on Fits & Starts than a gluten-free convention, despite their technical verocity. Every part is polished and poised and placed, and yet it never sounds neurotic or fussy.
The meticulousness of the arrangements and precision of the musicianship make us lean in and pay attention, when we begin to notice more and more details, from the sterling guitar leads that show up like sun dogs at exactly the right moment; the call-response vocals; twinkling pianos and glockenspiels. The details emerge upon repeat listenings, like investigating a medieval hunting tapestry to find a hidden faery kingdom trapped in its weft.
Luckily, repeat listenings are no problem, thanks to Fits & Starts gentle, faded, soft-focus production style, courtesy of Chicago’s Lisle Mitnik’s mix. Every inch of this record has an attractive soft-focus sheen, like some ‘70s teen drama. It’s romantic. A Certain Smile don’t use retro allure to cover a lack of talent. Their songs kick ass, there’s no other way around it, but they deliver it with a nicely stylized bow, a Polaroid patina that makes this one as good for staring out the window and drinking hot beverages as it will playing with the top down. It’s a true rock ‘n roll, dreampop record, energetic and exciting and catchy and memorable, and the blur makes it easy on the ears, so you can drown in their gazing pool over and over. Fits & Starts will be essential Autumn listening, as the skies darken, so pick up some of the few remaining vinyl. And listen obsessively.
Recommended for fans of The Clientele and Rocketship.
Listen to A Certain Smile’s Thomas Andrew play shoegaze, indie rock, drone, noise, and hyperpop every other Monday, from 6 – 8 PM, on My Lil Underground.
Originally released in 1983, “Emergency Third Rail Power Trip” by The Rain Parade is as near perfect an album I have encountered. To my ears in those days, it was the equal of Love’s “Forever Changes” or Television’s “Marquee Moon”. A stunning debut that has not been diminished with the passing of years. I am happy to say that the new remastered reissue from the label Real Gone Music only improves upon my appreciation for this sonic document.
As part of the loose affiliation known as the “Paisley Underground”, which included such groups as The Dream Syndicate, The Three O’Clock, The Bangles, The Long Ryders, Green On Red, and True West, The Rain Parade were part of a wave of bands in a post-punk era unafraid to embrace past eras and let their sounds melt in your brains, not only in your ears.
At the time of the album’s release, the band was a five piece ensemble with David Roback and Matt Piucci on twin guitar duty. They had a stunning partnership, playing off each other like Verlaine & Lloyd from the aforementioned Television, or Neil Young on early solo albums with the band Crazy Horse. Although my focus on initialing hearing this record was on the guitars, much must be said for the wonderfully well timed and unique drumming by Eddie Kalwa. Giving the music a jazzy-eastern sort of feel, while always being a solid grounding point, from much Steven Roback could tether melodic bass lines. Adding to the ebb and flow were keyboard washes provided by Will Glenn.
The Music all blends and strains against itself perfectly with a slow burn feel from start to end. The tempo never rushes or falters.
The Album kicks off with “Talking in my sleep” and on this new remastered reissue version, what might have been previously unheard bits of percussion and guitars are clearly more evident, the song ending with a fade of keyboard output, I perhaps had not noticed before.
All of the songs on the album benefit greatly from this remaster, which sound lovingly done, bringing forth what was already there to begin with not uncovering some lost guitar part or additional vocal bit that never made it to the first release back in 1983.
One of my favorites from side two, “Look At Merri” has never sounded better, building towards a long ascending guitar solo, underpinned by the bass bounce and drumming that move the song along, drums that always seem to be mixed in to the music in such a way that you rarely notice them, until you catch your hands tapping along unconsciously while listening. I can think of no better compliment.
The album ends with the track “Kaleidoscope”. Hearing it now, again for the first time, with a slow keyboard steady build, and melodic crashing drums that seem to move from left to right, it is a wonder I neverrealized at the time, this song is the blueprint for David Roback’s next band, “Smith, Roback & Mitchell” as they were briefly named, before switching to the more memorable, “Opal”.
So yes, David Roback left the band sometime after the release of the debut album and a short tour of the states.
The mini album “Explosions In The Glass Palace” was recorded by a four piece band, with barely a noticeable difference. More acoustic guitars come to play, mixed in well with electrics, but the drums and bass remain, bouncing and balancing any psychedelic twist and turn.
On the second track of the mini album, “Prisoners” the band locks in on a groove reminiscent of second LP Pink Floyd, with a bit of slide guitar brought to the fore and the lyrics warning of possible menace.
The mini album concludes with two of the best songs the band has ever recorded, “Broken Horse” followed by “No Easy Way Down”. “Broken Horse” with it’s seemingly sad vocal, longing for something lost in childhood perhaps, over a mournful acoustic strum, electric guitar flourishes and then the song explodes subtly with an electric guitar solo that might invoke a smile. It is these sort of emotional turns, that keeps me coming back to these records over the years.
“No Easy Way Down”, when you hear it, you just know that band is going to conclude all of their live performances with this track. The guitars bite to cut loose, but never veer from the tempo. The repeated keyboard part drills into your brain, and it all ends with a string section that rises into the mix and fades away.
These are classic releases, ones I have heard many times, that have been remastered with great care by the folks at Real Gone Music, which I hope will find their way into your music collection.
Doom Metal, by nature, inherently evokes catastrophe. The funereal pace, cannon-like percussion, unholy yowling and cheese grater guitars suggest apocalyptic imagery of abandoned necropolises, overgrown cities, alien planets, and abattoir battlefields, even without the Lovecraftian imagery and occult and warlike imagery that so often graces doom records.
Much like the horror genre, or most forms of extreme music, it’s a wonder that anyone listens to doom for fun. As Kim Kelly wrote recently for Noisey, speaking about the newest full-length from Salem, Or.’s HELL, “Right now, as you read this, two sad, stupidly powerful men feint and jab at one another, flaunting nuclear arsenals like toys and holding the fate of the planet in their vulgar fingers.” Kelly goes on to comment on HELL’s appeal, in these troubled times, “By enveloping myself within HELL’s radium-bright notes, agonized howls, and ominous dirges, it’s almost like I’m inviting the unthinkable… or the inevitable, depending on which side of the nuclear divide our current administration deigns to drop us.”
So, is listening to doom in times of strife just simple tragedy porn? Or is it some kind of survival instinct, preparing ourselves for the worst possible outcomes? Or maybe we’ve just been living the apocalypse for such a long goddam time that this is just how we party, at this point? Like Bonnaroo meeting The Hunger Games, betting on gladiator sport in between eating rats and post-industrial dance parties, high on gasoline fumes from the generators and huffing chrome.
Whatever the motivation, the fearsome din from the mysteriously monikered MSW, out of the ancient primevil forests of Salem, Or. sounds damn fucking fine in these troubled times. HELL’s trademarked pyroclastic flow of brutal bass tones washes over you like the final moments of Pompeii, while shrieking guitar feedback comes over like the dying stars falling out of the sky, while the drums pound like the Five Armies converging on Lonely Mountain.
That Tolkien reference is no coincidence, as HELL carry a lot of the good time vibes of classic doom merchants like Sabbath or Kyuss, with all of the geeky mythological religiosity. The classic doom and sludge is well in evidence, on HELL’s fourth self-titled LP, with massive (and massively catchy) riffs that get stuck in your head, while bludgeoning you to the dirt like a cyclop’s club. Unlike a lot of classic doom, however, HELL’s doom is low-down, dirty, messed up, and disturbing, rather than the cartoonish caricatures of Black Sabbath, Count Raven, Witchcraft, or Saint Vitus (not that there’s anything wrong with that). HELL’s down-tuned, cacophonous sludge is spiked and studded with windy black metal and harsh noise, as well as moments of breathtaking beauty, like the striking orchestral fade-out of “Victus”.
MSW favors a raspy, wraithlike vocal style, much more Mayhem than Metallica, heard in fine effect on tracks like the “Sub-odin,” or in the grunting, shrieking invocation of “Inscriptus,” one of Hell’s most scorching moments. MSW’s gowlin yowl is much more bone-chilling and spellbinding than much of doom’s Cookie Monster death metal grunts or Freddy Mercury operatics.
“SubOdin” also boasts some of the finest blackened guitar work of the record, of the windswept Explosions In The Sky-style post-rock/metal, distant, dreamy, gauzy, beautiful, and emotional, as if viewing the world through a veil of mist. The gracefulness erupts with next track “Machitikos,” which is a straight-up flying fretboard shred-a-thon, acid-fried pentatonics at the speed of thought that would do Hendrix proud, over a crunchy, thudding headbanging beat. Monolithic and groovy, it’s all that is good and unholy about DOOM.
The raspy vocals and multivalent guitar textures are some of what really separate HELL from the imitators, those lacking in imagination or creativity. MSW switches it up constantly over Hell’s too-brief seven tracks. The blasts of buzzsaw black-metal power chords and delicate, shooting star leads punctuate the ominous heaviness of doom’s crawling-through-the-dust pace. So many funeral doom records get caught up in their 70 bpm headspace, and never relent. While one can appreciate 70-minute of bleak, hopeless downtuned guitars and skull-punching drums, it can get a bit homogenous at a certain point. Like watching a bunch of Gaspar Noe films on loop, we get bludgeoned to death, numb, jaded, and disaffected.
And while there is a time and a place for that, and i can certainly get down, i get enough of that in my daily life lately, reading the news. HELL reaches across the void, delivering their despairing message. The stars are aligned for us to receive, to really listen and hear. The news might be grim, but it’s not all bad. HELL promises it’ll be a hell of a party, even if we do go up in flames.
HELL is playing tonight, with Seattle’s Bell Witch, and Portland’s own dark folk magus Aerial Ruin.
Hell is out today, co-released by Sentient Ruin and MSW’s own label, LowerYourHead.
A roundup of tunes about the winged, wondrous and wild creatures we know as birds.