A Certain Smile – Fits & Starts album review

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 FeltCocteau 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.

Fits & Starts by a certain smile

A Certain Smile FB
ig: @acertainsmile

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.

The Rain Parade – Emergency Third Rail Power Trip

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 Party: Hell – Hell Review

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.”

detail from Hell MMXVI Cassette Box Set on LowerYourHead

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 SabbathCount RavenWitchcraft, 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.

Hell FB

LowerYourHead Bandcamp

Sentient Ruin FBhttps://www.facebook.com/SentientRuin/
ig: @sentientruin
Sentient Ruin Bandcamp: https://sentientruin.bandcamp.com

New Facts Emerge – The Fall

Released worldwide today, July 28th, the new album by The Fall, has the weight of years working against it. The group has been an ongoing concern for roughly 40 years, and New Facts Emerge is their 32nd studio album.

Combine that number with the many singles, live albums and compilations that have been released, and you would be hard-pressed to find a person who had not heard, or heard of The Fall. Let alone have no opinion one way or the other, regarding this new album. The lines were drawn a long time ago, love them or hate or turn an indifferent cheek, but ladies and gentlemen, the new album is a triumph.

Perhaps one of the main reasons for the album’s success is the band themselves. It is no secret that over the years band members have come and gone, so much so that a small English village could hardly house a population consisting of ex-members. But the band that appears on the new album has been operating as The Fall now for nearly a decade, and the strength and interplay of the music on these songs is clearly evident. It’s bass heavy, rhythmic, moving like a tide of heavy syrup, a post-motorik kraft rock fashion, with hints of country and rockabilly guitar licks throughout. The watchword on this album, as on so many albums by The Fall, is “Repetition repetition repetition”.

The vocals this time around are mixed down and placed at the sonic level as the music itself. Seeing as how Mark E. Smith has been renowned for years as a unique lyricist of sorts, this production decision only serves to pull the listener’s ear further into the album itself.

On first listen, I was already prepared to love this album. But after listening through from start to end, I believe it is an album that will reveal itself with subsequent visits.

These days, with our Google enhanced inability to remember facts for more than a few seconds, that would seem to be the point. Put it on, listen for the first time, put it on again, listen again, and again.

Replacing The Plasma Of Control: Stereo No Aware – The Sound Of Stereo No Aware album review

“Oh, Pyschedelia

The way it sounded (MONO or STEREO)
What generated its effects (OIL and WATER)
How it extended into digital (ZEROES and ONES)
The way it was documented (LO-FI)
They way it travelled (UNDERGROUND)
The flicker and the strobe (YES. YES. YES.)
Were all single-channel. Binary. Off. On.

Now the screens are full of rainbows. Affect and (libido?) no longer authenticate. Grids of disciplines are replaced by the plasma of control. Immersion is a predatory technology of full-sense predominance. Beyond all of that lies no India. No illumination. No colorful fabrics – only the desert – the one place where we can truly make love.”  —– Dexter Bang Sinister “Black And White Psychedelia

21st Century Psychedelia feels like a bit of a missed opportunity, while also detailing the complex, bifurcated nature of an interconnected digital existence. On the plus side, we have more access to psychedelic culture than any other time in History, apart from maybe the height of Pagan Greece, where psychedelic carnivals were the mainstream. More people are exposed to psychedelic art and culture than ever before, but that is also part of the problem. Once an idea escapes the grips of the slipstream, there is a certain distortion which occurs, degrading as a copy of a copy of a copy, losing weight and heft along the way, until it is a ghostly parody of itself.

In the case of psychedelia, what has the potential to be truly AWEsome, in the original sense of the word (read: shitting yrself in terror, trembling in the face of THE INFINITE MYSTERY) instead is codified into a chain of cheap tie dyes, chintzy head shops, and over-the-counter substances of questionable quality and safety.

Psychedelia and psychedelic art, in general, is defined as either “trying to recreate or reflect the experience of altered consciousness.” Note, they don’t specify which altered states. From the wide-open terrain of human consciousness, psychedelic art and music has been reduced to the colorful shapes and visual distortions of the 1960s, most commonly referencing the effects of Cannabis, LSD, Psilocybin, and Mescaline. While the latter three can be rather earth-shattering, all of these headsplitters are rather known and familiar, at this point, and not exactly revelatory, (although they are capable of great revelations). This reductive reading overlooks the visionary states of less-wholesome substances, like cocaine and its derivatives; opium and its descendants; and a whole shopping list of designer alphabet drugs like DXM. That is not even to mention the terror-inducing meltdowns of mental illness or sleep deprivation.

By way of illustration, check out this rather sinister psychedelic short film from director Larry Carlson, “Contact The Star People”, with its conspiracy-laden, consciousness-expanding mixture of cheap sci-fi; avant-garde experimental art; and trippy visuals, all combining to approximate the manifold myriad levels and layers of existence. It’s also a great example of how real wisdom can mingle with pseudo-science and paranoia, requiring a fine-bristled brush to delineate truth from fiction, grandiosity from great wisdom. After all, perhaps people suffering from paranoid schizophrenia just have an advanced understanding of the world, and all its complex systems, and an inherent understanding of the role we play in creating the world we inhabit. We are all Gods, all world-builders.

“We are all Gods, all world-builders.”

Long story short, if psychedelia and psychedelic art are simply comforting and comfortable, it’s not really doing its job very well. After all, psychedelic art contains both the whimsical worlds of Dr. Seuss, as well as the subjective, post-modern shamanism of Lewis Carroll; the biomechanical terror of H. R. Giger; the religious awe of Hieronymous Bosch; the eye-crossing infinity of M. C. Escher. It should take you off the grid, drawing new maps that contain the dragons, mark the wild things, locate hidden cities of gold and show hidden wisdoms with a lurid red X.

The Sound Of Stereo No Aware from Portland ‘experi-mental POP’ outfit Stereo No Aware is one such treasure map, taking us on a journey into a shifting, senseless dream realm where you are not you – or, you are, but not for long, or for certain.

Stereo No Aware play a surreal style of art pop, including everything AND THE KITCHEN SINK, from jangling, winsome acoustic folk; to retrodelic, rinkety-dink drum machines, like a dream of ‘70s roller rinks; vitriolic indie guitar rock; polyrhythms; and personal lyrics – frequently in the same song.

These jump-cuts and sharp juxtapositions are The Sound Of Stereo No Aware’s most striking feature, like when the bottom drops out on album opener “Passing For A Ghost”, when discordant math rock guitars give way to a breezy, nearly middle-eastern Reggae vibe, unexpectedly and without warning. Or perhaps the vaguely ominous “Yareta Yorona”, approximating what it might sound like if Fantomas were to cover The Velvet Underground’s “The Gift”.

Apart from the jarring juxtapositions, Stereo No Aware live up to their tags of ‘weirdly relaxing’ and the rather basic ‘dreampop’. In many ways, Stereo No Aware are simply a very talented, highly enjoyable guitar-oriented indie band, along the lines of Pavement, Modest Mouse, with a little bit of math rock sparkle, a la Don Caballero or Omar Rodriguez-Lopez’s solo material. The closest, most apt comparison would have to be The Olivia Tremor Control, however, and perhaps The Elephant 6 Collective as a whole. The Sound Of Stereo No Aware possesses a similar kind of dream logic to The Olivia Tremor Control’s Dusk At Cubist Castle, combining retrodelic production and instrumentation, and songwriting; musique concrete bricolage; and sudden, unexpected jumpcuts in the songwriting, leaving one with the impression of flipping through someone’s dream journal, at random (or, wait, maybe that was just the dream itself).

Neutral Milk Hotel’s Jeff Mangum was still a member of The Olivia Tremor Control during Dusk At Cubist Castle, we must remember. Neutral Milk Hotel are another fine example of the dark side of psychedelia, with In The Aeroplane Over The Sea calling on ghosts, the holocaust, sexual obsession, and the holocaust, as Mangum lived in closets and dark basements, culling the lyrics from the ether as he combed cobwebs out of his wild hair. Even during the heights of crisis, however, NMH still sounded like a chic, cosmopolitan French jazz band, creating some truly nightmarish and also third-eye-opening vistas, that have probably done more to introduce new generations to the dark delights of psychedelic music and art, and the implications for visionary, subconscious explorations and new dream states. Neutral Milk Hotel, themselves, are almost victims of the cutesy reductive reading of psychedelia (and, perhaps, we might extend that to ‘indie culture’ as a whole, in the 21st Century), becoming the poster children for far out indie folk. We can’t help but wonder how many of the ukulele-wielding, “Oh Comely”-worshipping indie kids have really dug into the layers of time travel; necrophilia; erotic obsession; oedipal neuroses; drug addiction; sleep deprivation; ego annihilation; loss of identity; and all those other things we both love and hate about psychedelic experiences.

As a kind of boutique New Age Spirituality industry emerges, with wealthy, beautiful tourists taking $10,000 vacations to somehow have their egos bolstered with ayahuasca, the need for realauthentic psychedelic music and art have never been more necessary. As with psychedelia, humanity as a whole are facing a weird split, in the wake of the datastream. We’ve never had more information available, from so many different places. The sheer over-abundance of perspectives is causing many to just shut down entirely, going online merely to reinforce what we already think and know. Seeing as how a huge percentage of our daily interactions all happen via mediating screens, however, this is a problem. It’s time to get uncomfortable.

The Sound Of Stereo No Aware comes on both standard black vinyl and in a beautiful, multi-colored marbled edition as well, which I was lucky enough to receive. The colored wax makes The Sound Of Stereo No Aware a cherished work of psychedelic art, as well as a fantastic slice of psychedelic indie pop. Fantastic stuff from an exciting, up-and-coming Portland outfit.


Stereo No Aware FB


The Radiation Of Sands: Roselit Bone – Blister Steel

illustration: La Petite Prince – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The stars are beautiful, because of a flower that cannot be seen… The desert is beautiful, ” the little prince added. And that was true. I have always loved the desert. One sits down on a desert sand dune, sees nothing, hears nothing. Yet through the silence something throbs, and gleams… “What makes the desert beautiful, ” said the little prince, “is that somewhere it hides a well… ” I was astonished by a sudden understanding of that mysterious radiation of the sands.

-Antoine de Saint-Exupery, La Petit Prince

It doesn’t take long for the desert to swallow you whole. Drive 10 minutes outside the false protective neon and LED orb of civilization into the might-as-well-be-infinite expanse of shifting sands of this Earth’s deserts, and you could be anywhere. The slow skyline of undulating dunes could be Morocco, Marrakech, the Mojave southwest, all fragrant with mesquite. Or you could be on Mars. There is nothing to orient one’s self by, apart from the constant constellations, to tell us where, or when, we might be. The emptiness can be annihilating, a rushing agoraphobia as the inky fanged gullet of the night sky threatens to swallow you into forgotten-ness. The emptiness can be terrifying, but it may also be awesome. The desert is a place of perspective and purification. Those that survive its irradiating sun and excoriating wind emerge cleansed, baked clean and vacant, like vulture-pecked cow skulls.

The desert is a place of renewal – of finding’s one true self, apart from society – in many/most of the world’s religions. From Jesus and his privations, to Buddha and the Boddhi tree, prophets turn to sand and sun to remove society’s twists and turns, to navigate their own souls. Or turn to Moses, with his unflagging faith as he led the Israelites to the promised land. One finds one’s self in the desert, must find their true orientation, with no landmarks, no leaders. Just the wind, the coyote howl, the sizzling mesquite, the sighing sands, the sickle moon.

So much of the imagery that we have of the American Southwest comes from cinema, particularly Westerns, even if some of those celluloid wastelands were actually shot in the Tabernas Desert, in Spain, or the hills of Castellucio, around Italy – just another layer to the ephemeral nature of the desert landscape. If we were to accept as true that places, and ideas, can inherit meaning, accruing associations, connotations, history, folklore, data, stories, and art of all kinds, the American desert, in particular, would be rather a bloodbath. From the actual atrocities of “Manifest Destiny” westward expansion, to its recreation for profit of Cowboy movies, to the vacant nihilism & lawlessness of No Country For Old Men, or the toxic revenge of The Hills Have Eyes, the American southwest seems to be taintedblighted. Think of Stephen King’s/Richard Bachman’s alter-universe meta-fuck The Regulators/Desperation. There is some ancient, nameless evil, beneath those sands, some sickness.

Portland doom country nontet Roselit Bone strike out into this emptiness, to meet this darkness head on, to greet the rushing storm. Roselit Bone are serving as psychic charcoal, plunging into the mesquite, looking for holiness, seeking to exorcise the poison which, these days, manifests in rampant drug addiction, racism, poverty, and empty, bleak lives. Like Breaking Bad or True Detective, Roselit Bone seek the real desert dwellers – neon-lit dive bars off the highway, the only light for 50 miles, summoning apocalyptic clouds of insects against the night.

Roselit Bone seek the real desert dwellers – neon-lit dive bars off the highway, the only light for 50 miles, summoning apocalyptic clouds of insects against the night.

With an orchestral pallet of pedal steel guitar, mariachi horns, twangy tremolo rockabilly electric guitar, organ, and fiddle, it’s hard not to place Roselit Bone’s music on the sacred Western music continuum of Ennio Morricone and his progenitors. If Blister Steel were a movie, album opener and title track would alert you to the fact that this is a Cosmic Americana western, Alejandro Jodorowsky interpreting Tolkien for Native American tribes. “What I saw down there/I do not know/but I know that it was real/the king came drifting through the snow/with eyes as blue as blister steel.” It’s like The King In Yellow, the pestilential prophet of Dread Carcosa, walking through a silent sandstorm.

Once the stage is set, regular life resumes, with barroom brawler “With The Glint Of Your Horns”. Speaking of True Detective, the slow sad country waltz of “Leech Child” recalls The Handsome Family’s theme song for Season 2, “Far From Any Road, with its snarling bobcats and cracked earth. “Leech Child” crawls with the most tremendously opiated twang guitar you’re likely to hear this side of The Bang! Bang! Bar. This is like Roland S. Howard jamming with The Flying Burrito Brothers – ultimate doom country, and one of this album’s greatest moments. It erupts into a frenzy of fiery woodwinds and furious buzzsaw guitars, reminding us that this desert could be in Egypt, as well, with shades of both Sun Ra And His Arkestra, and even the Dead at the Great Pyramids in the ‘70s. It’s a glorious climax, that you will want to return to, again and again. It’s one of this year’s best songs, so far.

Roselit Bone possess so many of the best elements of amazing music from all over the world – from the Northwestern African slink of Ethiopian jazz, to cosmic spiritual freakouts, to classic country, to Mariachi and Mexican Ranchera. They inhabit them all, make them their own, blend them into a cohesive whole and yet fans of any of those genres would dig the hell out of Blister Steel. Those looking for hard-drinking, don’t-give-a-fuck country brawlers, or romantic honky tonk slow-dances, or those looking to zone out with hashish visions like Kubla Khan, will all fall in love with this record. Blister Steel is part of a very small, very elite set of albums expanding and exploring the cosmic consciousness of the American Southwest, joining Ennio Morricone, The Dirty Three, Mojave 3, Gram Parsons, The Handsome Family, and the Denver axis of Slim Cessna’s Auto Club/Munly & The Lupercalians. There’s not nearly enough records dowsing these vibes, and i, for one, would love to see that fixed.

illustration: La Petite Prince Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Like The Little Prince quote at top, perhaps the holiness of the desert comes from knowing there is a well out there somewhere, some green gem oasis, with water buffalo, ibises, crocodiles, leopards, incense, and mystery. Or perhaps it is because there are explorers like Roselit Bone willing to go into the waste, to face the emptiness and tell us what they find. The American psychic landscape, of all kinds, desperately needs a’scrubbin’, at the moment, so those willing to pan like prospectors, toss out the bullshit, and risk a couple of bar fights along the way, are doing Good Work.

Blister Steel is out now on Friendship Fever

Check Out The Music Video For Title Track “Blister Steel”:

Roselit Bone are doing a full national tour to accompany the release of Blister Steel, culminating in a show at Portland’s very own Mississippi Studios on July 22, 2017. Make sure to catch them, if they’re coming to a town near you!

Roselit Bone 2017 Blister Steel Tour Dates:

Jun 23 Governor’s Cup Salem, OR

Jun 24 Lofi Seattle, WA

Jun 25 Ritval Tattoo Eugene, OR

Jun 26 Siren’s Song Tavern Eureka, CA

Jun 27 Café du Nord San Francisco, CA

Jun 29 The Crepe Place Santa Cruz, CA

Jun 30 HM157 Los Angeles, CA

Jul 01 The Golden Tiki Las Vegas, NV

Jul 02 Valley Bar Phoenix, AZ

Jul 03 Owls Club Tucson, AZ

Jul 04 The Farm Las Cruces, NM

Jul 05 Cactus Cafe Austin, TX

Jul 06 Super Happy Fun Land Houston, TX

Jul 08 Circle Bar New Orleans, LA

Jul 08 One Eyed Jack’s New Orleans, LA

Jul 09 The Earl Atlanta, GA

Jul 11 Hill Country DC Washington, DC

Jul 13 Hill Country New York, NY

Jul 14 Steel City Coffeehouse Hamburg, PA

Jul 15 Howlers Pittsburgh, PA

Jul 17 Subterranean Chicago, IL

Jul 19 Reverb Omaha, NE

Jul 20 Hi-Dive Denver, CO

Jul 21 The Olympic Boise, ID

Jul 22 Mississippi Studios Portland, OR

Roselit Bone Facebook
ig: @roselitbone

Freeform Portland presents: 5 Questions!

In this installment, Swintronix interviews fellow Freeform Portland DJ Lucifer Rosa of the weekly show Tchotchkes.

How did you hear about Freeform Portland?

A good friend of mine introduced me to Jane Beerkin and DJ Ed shortly after I moved to Portland. He knew that I had been doing radio for years and that I would be looking for something here in town, so he introduced me to the station knowing that it would be love at first sight!

How did you come up with your show name and DJ name?

The DJ name has evolved over the course time…. When I first started doing radio I hosted a surf show on KZSC in Santa Cruz, under a different moniker (it was really silly and I am too embarrassed to share it). A year later I joined KFJC, where I volunteered for many years, and I chose the air-name Surfer Rosa (yes, like The Pixies album)- that name was a hats-off to both my earliest radio days hosting a surf show, as well as my musical roots since I grew up on bands like The Pixies. A friend of mine jokingly suggested the name Lusurfer Rosa one day, which I liked- but I dropped the pun and went with Lucifer Rosa for simplicity’s sake. For a while I would switch back and forth between Surfer Rosa and Lucifer Rosa, Lucifer Rosa was like Surfer Rosa’s evil alto ego- she would come out at night and play a bunch of grating noisy music. Eventually Lucifer Rosa stuck and cannibalized Surfer Rosa altogether. Tchotchkes (the name of the show) is a Yiddish word that refers to a random assortment of decorative, not necessarily functional or useful objects. I chose it because I do not like to be genre specific in my programming, I prefer to play a random assortment of music from across the board. Basically, I was looking for a word that means random junk, so Tchotchkes was perfect.

How do you put together a set for your show? Is there a theme, process or goal?

My sets are always improvised. I utilize an assortment of mediums- vinyl, tape, cd, and a little bit of mp3. I bring a bunch of stuff from my own collection, and I also pull records and CDs form Freeform’s wonderful library. So, I start the show with about twice as much music as I could play in two hours, and just chose from that pile as I go along. The programming is pretty heavily subject to whatever mood I am in that day-  but I do play a lot of international, experimental, jazz, and rock on the noisier side. I also really like soundtracks and blues. My goal is to mix all these genres together and deliver some nonconventional segues (like a transition from harsh noise to 70s Thai pop). As a listener and lover of radio, weird segues have always been something I enjoyed hearing, so I try to deliver the same when doing my show.

All Djs at Freeform Portland also volunteer at the station – what are some of the ways you’ve contributed to the station besides hosting a show?

I get a lot of volunteer hours working for the Music Department and working with the physical media library: adding/processing/labeling new incoming music, alphabetizing the library and making sure it is orderly and well kept, taking inventory. We are working on building some new shelving since the library is growing rapidly and we will need more space (particularly for the CDs). I also get some hours helping with events, and substituting for other people’s shows.

What are some shows you like on Freeform Portland?

This is a hard one! There are so many great shows! Sounds Obscure w/ RK Heist is great- she plays a lot of old favorites. Chaos Warp and Spider in the Ear are great for weird experimental stuff (which is always a pleasure to hear on the radio). Amos Ananda plays loads of great jazz. Ghostpunkwasteland is always buckets of fun. Uva Ursula does a killer show.  And so many others….

Freeform Portland presents: 5 Questions with Swintronix & DJ Adam

In this installment, Swintronix interviews fellow Freeform Portland DJ Adam of the weekly show Instead Of White Men.

How did you hear about Freeform Portland?

I remember I was walking around town somewhere, and there was a poster advertising the station and calling for DJs. I had no radio experience before–but it was always one of those things that I wanted to do. I have a deep love for music, culture, and community, so I thought: “this might be for me.” This was before Freeform was liberating the airwaves. I visited the site, I think it was a Google Doc and it seemed chill enough and DIY enough for me to give it a try. I applied for a show and was offered a slot, but due to time conflicts I had to hold off. I started out heavily volunteering for the station, and it was a good move. It was a great way to get connected to the community aspect of things.

How is the music on your show different from other electronic music shows on Freeform Portland or elsewhere?

There are a lot of great dance and electronic shows on Freeform Portland. Even though Portland is a small city–our scene is pretty solid and our community is very engaged and innovative. I think my show is different because it has a racial and gendered lens to it. As a queer person of color in this city it’s a struggle to be in this scene and negotiate the white heteronormativity and dude-ness of it all; that’s electronic music in general I suppose. Portland is a lot better than other cities i’ve been to though. I feel that generally, over the last few years there has been a big push to elevate and create spaces that include women artists and artists of color and it’s been fun to be a part of that celebration. Since those are the artists I try to play on Instead of White Men, it has been a gift to explore underrepresented artists and I don’t think other radio shows are approaching dance and electronic music with that same lens.

How do you discover new music and artists to play on your show?

It’s a lot of work to be honest. When you’re seeking out anything alternative and then also an alternative to that alternative it takes some time. It’s been an interesting and demanding project. Overall, I’d say I am pretty connected to our local scene and we have great artists and DJs that visit town. I also travel a fair amount, and that typically involves music somehow. In the way some people watch sitcoms or read novels, I listen to music. All the time. I listen to a ton of DJ sets and radio shows–from local to global, and keep tabs on tracks that I like. I find artists and labels that I love and see what else they’re connected to. I read a lot of online commentary–and really, Instead of White Men couldn’t happen without the internet and social media. The connectedness that the web provides allows me to find artists that would otherwise be impossible. Overall, I just want to share diverse artists–but the music has to be dope.

All DJs at Freeform Portland also volunteer at the station – what are some of the ways you’ve contributed to the station besides hosting a show?

For my first year with the station I was a Volunteer Committee chair–mainly connecting with volunteers, facilitating station meetings, trainings, and doing a lot of the behind the scenes communication to our DJs and community. A lot of project management. I also contribute to the Freeform Portland Zine from time to time, and a piece I collaborated on (see below) with DJ Freakbook from Radio 859 was on the Fall 2016 cover. I took on some diversity and outreach work as well–which is something I would like to see grow at the station. Though I’ve had to scale back, I still have my hands in a few things and want to continue to be a committed member of the station.

What are some shows you like on Freeform Portland?

I have a lot of shows I really like, all our programming is fantastic. I really love everyone, but to give some dance and electronic shout-outs I would say: Interspecies Smalltalk with DJ Grain Elevator, Terminal Beach with DJenks and Teen,  Bonus Beats with DJ LaRose, Travel Agency with DJ Image Research and DJ Life Couch, Alleys of Your Mind with Nightchilde and Ian Hicks, Horoscope Club with J. Truant, Beats Don’t Break with DJ Le’Mix. Other stuff I love: Comma Summer with Adrian Business, Make Out Sesh with DJ Pow Pow, The Upstairs Room with The Queen of Siam, Weekend Family Music Hour with Kawaii, Devil Child, and Karen, Bachelard’s Panty Drawer with Mammal in Crime, Deep Lez Power Hour with DJ Pizza Delivery.

Come back to Freeform Portland’s Blog soon for more installments of 5 Questions!