Thursday, May 10, 2012

Lungfish-A.C.R. 1999, Dischord, 2012

Disaster Amnesiac is a pretty big fan of Lungfish. I have published an interview with their drummer, Mitchell Feldstein, and gobbled up pretty much anything even remotely related to the band. I mean, do you have the Daniel Higgs mouth harp CD on Northern Liberties?
As you can guess, I was excited to read about Dischord's release of these recordings, made back in 1999 at Baltimore's A.C.R. studios and subsequently shelved.
Many of the tunes on A.C.R. 1999 were included on 2000's phenomenal Necrophones, but, still, this new release will surely be of great interest to Lungfish fans. It shows heretofore unseen aspects to what are some of their best songs, and a few new gems for fans to relish.
First, to the previously unreleased music. Comprised of four tunes and one more Musique Concrete piece (Aesop), the former show Lungfish's exuberant, ecstatic Rock Minimalist approach in full force. Screams of  Joy and Symbiosis stick to their by-then finely honed simplicity, which had reached an apex with 1998's Artificial Horizon,with sublimely repetitive drum beats from Feldstein and circular riffage from guitarist Asa Osbourne. Bassist Nathan Bell was masterful at providing counterpoint sounds to his rhythm section partners, laying down big, rich, low-toned chords. The sum total is one that shows movement though steadiness. A kind of sonic aikido. These two tunes, along with I Will Walk Between You, also feature Daniel Higg's private, poetic esoterica, his words painting rich pictures of his unique vision. These songs definitely fit into the Lungfish oeuvre. They share a lot of sonic characteristics with tunes of the same era, ones that ended up on 1999's The Unanimous Hour and the previously mentioned Horizon. Perhaps this was why they were shelved? At this point it doesn't really matter. The fact that they can now be heard at this far remove is fine enough.
Secondly, on to the tunes that ended up on Necrophones. If you are a Lungfish fan, I am sure that you've listened to and appreciated that album. In Disaster Amnesiac's view, it was a high point, perhaps the highpoint of their recorded output. Its songs stuck to the Lungfish template, but there were subtle changes in playing, new tones, and a general feeling of elation that had begun to (re)emerge. For examples of the former, listen to Shapes in Space, and for the latter, listen to The Words or Hanging Bird. I can recall feeling that they had made some deep collective breakthroughs, that a kind of light had begun to shine on the band. This is conjecture, of course. Back to the early versions of Necrophones songs, though. On the whole, the tunes sound a bit more "new", with rougher edges and less refined, slightly looser performances. They sound a lot less smooth on A.C.R. 1999; this less-refined feel gives tunes such as Sex War, Shapes in Space, and Hanging Bird, rawer, punkier feels overall, compared to their "official" versions. Band-centered music is in many ways all about process, and one can hear Lungfish in process at work in these earlier versions. Lungfish fans will be treated to extra lyrics that were edited out of the later versions of Sex War and Shapes in Space, and Disaster Amnesiac was downright stoked to hear cowbell in the A.C.R. version of the former tune. Far from being cast-offs, these tracks make for fine new experiences of these more familiar tunes.
A.C.R. 1999 provides a rare document of Lungfish not recorded at Inner Ear Studios. This is telling, and the sound of the record is different from their other LP's. The guitars and bass sound more present, louder, in the mix. This at times slightly buries the drums (interesting, in light of Inner Ear owner/chief engineer Don Zientara's quote about the drums suffering at the expense of the guitars on the early D.C. Hardcore recordings), but that is just a minor quibble. Engineer Craig Bowen's work is fine, albeit different from that of the Zientara/Mackaye tandem that is featured engineering most Lungfish recordings. Craig captures the band with a lot more loud presence, giving their sound an over-driven, "live" feel that is unique in their recorded documentation.
For years, Disaster Amnesiac relished and practically revered new releases by Lungfish. A.C.R. 1999 has been providing those same feelings again. Does its release suggest a return from "indefinite hiatus"?

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