Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Goodbye, Lemmy, Last Folk Hero

Presumably just like millions of other Motorhead fans, Disaster Amnesiac was saddened, but not exactly shocked at the news of Lemmy Kilmister's death on 12/29/2015. The reports coming from this year's tour cycle seemed to presage some drastic change for him (retire? yeah......right!).
I've spent a few days mulling it over, and my conclusion is this: Lemmy was the last 20th Century Folk Hero, and possibly the last real Folk Hero ever. Seeing the outpouring of love for him, from all over the Pop Culture spectrum, deems it so for me.
EVERYONE loved Lemmy, and, really, why not? He was honest and sincere: he loved to rock, he loved to party, he loved to make love. He made no bones about anyone of this, and, to paraphrase one Facebook pal, he did so under an unwavering ethos of personal accountability. He never gave off any bullshit, nor did he come across with the grody, passive-aggresive/sadistic vibes of so many in the music industry. He called it like he saw it, and in an incredibly honest, and heartfelt way.
Take for example his relationship with the Ramones. No less an authority than Joe Carducci opined that the Brudders from Queens had beaten Lemmy to the aesthetic punch that he desired by a year or so. Far from being snarky and weird about it, Lemmy wrote a song praising their genius! It's this kind of supportive, non-egotistical attitude that made people love him, surely. I also always marveled at the variety of bands that Motorhead played with: Metal, Punk, Stoner, Rock....Motorhead defied genre and just hung with any type of band, and I suspect that all were better for it.
Disaster Amnesiac saw Motorhead live twice, and both times Kilmister's presence was very much at center, but never forced or ridiculous. He was just there rocking for the people, and he was a star without even trying to be one.
It seems rather unlikely that a persona as blunt, forthright, and honest could ever emerge from the morass of politically schmoozed movements that now make up popular culture. Lemmy Kilmister, the Last Folk Hero, emerged at just the right time to take that mantle, and I suspect that he took it with him to the grave.
Now, people...go and enjoy some Motorhead, Hawkwind, Rockin' Vickers, or Sam Gopal. Lord knows Lemmy did.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Tom Weeks-Ero Guro; self-released/Produced by Harry Gibbons, 2015

It's an entertainment truism that "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", but one of the dynamics of Jazz and Improvised Music that Disaster Amnesiac loves is the way in which artists within these fields disregard that kind of safety net and let their new developments show. I recall a trip from San Francisco to Oakland's Yoshi's in the mid-1990's in order to see Anthony Braxton play. Expecting the other world logic of his classic Quartet, instead I was treated to a few hours of Braxton playing Standards on the piano with a very straight rhythm section. An instructive moment in expectations, surely. Recently, this type of dynamic played out for Disaster Amnesiac again: after enjoying a set of Electro-Acoustic improvisation from Tom Weeks, John McGowan, and Sam Genovese, in which they played a set of mostly delicate and very quiet pieces (for the first time, Disaster Amnesiac had the opportunity to think "man, his saxophone sounds a lot like a bowed cymbal right now"), I duly purchased a copy of Weeks' Ero Guro, expecting its sounds to be comparable to the music I'd just heard from him.
I was mistaken. The sound of Ero Guro comes from a much different vantage point to be sure, that being a tight and muscular quartet music, featuring electric bass and two drum sets alongside the (mostly) reed work of Weeks. Tom shows great command of his alto saxophone, blowing hard and hot throughout with Blues-ey runs that evoke the disc's dedicatee, Ornette Coleman. Disaster Amnesiac has particularly enjoyed his post-Bop style on closer Yamette Kudasai and his speedy, high pitched runs on Kimochi, but that said, Weeks just seriously plays throughout the proceedings. If you're looking for some physically effecting alto saxophone sounds, you'll find them in Ero Guro. Tom Weeks seriously owns things on the disc, his compositions and improvisational skills greatly on display.
Also of great effect is the rest of the group. Bassist Michael Srouji anchors the rhythm section with fat grooves and quick lines that match the saxophone when necessary. His playing shows serious simpatico with Weeks as his bass riffs run alongside those of the horns. Dig his finger picking on Onii-chan, My Hips Are Moving On Their Own and hear that of which I speak.  The tandem drums from Robert Pruett and Harry Gibbons get into some serious Funk on Tentacle Apocalypse, get all fire-ey and Free on Yamette Kudasai, and blast away furiously on Onii-chan. Their command of the compositions' details and wanton, ranging drumming power during more improvisational passages is powerful, heavy, and just all around enjoyable. This rhythm section simply kicks ass.
Ero Guro is a damn fine CD. Its sounds run a serious gamut, from wild improvisation to complex song forms and strange Musique Concrete (Interlude, with its surreal prurience: are they fucking or climbing a mountain with frost bitten digits?), it has scads of music to offer the listener.
Tom, please keep busting things up, OK? And, please, keep Disaster Amnesiac informed when you're doing this breaking!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Vector Trio-Sin Ojos; self-released via Bandcamp, 2015

With hindsight, Disaster Amnesiac could kick myself for not checking out more music during the years that I lived near Washington, D.C. The shows that were attended by teenage Amnesiac were awesome, of course, but there is just so much great musical culture there to be had: Go Go, Blues, Jazz, Roots Rock, etc. can be found alongside the eminent Punk Rock and Hardcore that gets a lot of the attention. I do recall night time trips to Georgetown for record shopping, during which I would stand outside of this little Jazz club's window, in which the drummer would often be placed, and listen. Still, it's a drag to have never taken in so much of the music that permeates the District.
Happily, Disaster Amnesiac discovered yet another great D.C. band recently, through the great World of Abstract Dreams blog (the man's reading, that band being Vector Trio.
Sin Ojos, one of three 2015 releases at Vector Trio's Bandcamp page, starts off spaciously with Semi, a track that has Disaster Amnesiac ruminating about any and all manner of the Post-Ayler continuum in Improvised Music. The group makes these skeletal frames of sound, within which they interact freely and with precision. As I've listened, it's become clear that this group has jammed together a lot; they comment on each others' sounds, finish each others' riffs, and just generally play. Drummer Marshall Hughey frames the sound on Semi. His drum set playing doesn't so much swing as creates zones, from which bassist Gary Rouzer and trumpeter Scott Forrey launch off into their own spaces. These three players present myriad sounds during the tune's twelve minute duration, and though they all really inventive, it's Hughey's drumming that impresses the most. His brush techniques go way beyond the standard Jazz-brushed swishing: at times he coaxes what sound like strange machine sounds from his brushed tom toms and cymbals, or taps out log drum sounds out on the sides of his drums. This is not to say that Forrey and Rouzer don't play incredibly on Semi; they certainly do, but Hughey just puts on a clinic in improvised drum set creativity throughout.
Next up can be found the Jazz march of the title track, during which Forrey really shines. The rhythm section provides a solid, swinging frame, from which he riffs at times buttery and full bodied, at times spicy and more slim and high pitched. His trumpet playing on Sin Ojos travels many paths, all of them compelling to hear. Rouzer gets woody, percussive tones from his bass, and, eventually, Hughey introduces the recording's first overt Swing pattern, moving the group into the canny lateral Monk quoting of Well You Shouldn't, with its sweet horn solos and more fine, if somewhat more traditional brush work from Hughey. It's the kind of nod to tradition that all Jazz lovers could recognize as legitimate and heartfelt. Disaster Amnesiac figures that none that would hear this track would find it disingenuous. Its easy, swinging feel seems all about adding creative touches to a much cherished tradition, never aping it, but participating in its evolution.  Things go back to the more Free side on Not But Also, in which the rhythms get more cellular and pointillist for a time as the trio examines collective improvisation conversation before beginning to bounce a bit more. Forrey's solo again shows him to be a masterful player: as I've listened to Sin Ojos, I've marveled at how much sound and varied tone he gets from what so often seems like such a simple instrument (I realize that this is absolutely not the case, of course, but, hey, maybe I need to check out more trumpet and less saxophone during Jazz listening sessions). Ojos winds down with the melancholy closer The Minus Ghost, during which Rouzer pulls sweeping tones from his cello, Forrey bleats lonely and somewhat sorrowed, and Hughey provides more inventive framing with his excellent brush work.
As this title suggests, there are times when people are without eyes to see, but if you have any kind of ear for Jazz, listen for the sounds of Vector Trio

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Street Of No Return-David Goodis; 1954, Fawcett Publications

For the past few years, Disaster Amnesiac has been digging interviews and podcasts from an "alternative historian" whose view are quite challenging to mine. Within the spirit of free speech, and the desire to challenge certain orthodoxies that had begun to ossify within my perceptions, I have greatly appreciated this Youtube celebrity's spieling. Recently, he opined something to effect that "America has contributed NOTHING to world culture", and this assertion had me scratching my head, especially since I was deep into American writer David Goodis's 1954 novel Street Of No Return.
It seems to me that Noir writing's form, with its short, tight, descriptive sentences and bleak world views arose out of the necessity of describing the hard scrabble gauntlet that most Americans must indeed walk within our lives on this part of the continent. Street Of No Return definitely stays within those parameters, and masterfully so. Goodis's novel, the story of which essentially spans one long night in the life of a quintessentially 20th Century American Loser, is written with the economical, fast moving Noir style that gives voice to the constantly hustling American Masses. His pages-long description of main protagonist Whitey's beat down at the hands of a sadistic racketeer named Bertha struck this reader as a perfect metaphor for the myriad unpleasant turns that fate hands to so many people within the "American Dream".
Additionally, the sub plot of the novel, framed within a ginned-up race war, plotted and financed by unseen hands that couldn't care less about those doing the actual fighting, and only interested in the profitable chaos that stems from it, is clearly reflective of American culture. Sadly, that's a dynamic that's in play more within the 21st Century Global Culture, but the strange bedfellows that intertwine seem to Disaster Amnesiac to be singularly American. As such, Noir in general and Street Of No Return in particular  are deeply American, culturally.
Along with Jazz, Rock 'n Roll, Hip Hop, Bluegrass, Hollywood, and, indeed, Noir, America has indeed made a few innovations in culture. Disaster Amnesiac cannot say that they're all shining lights as compared to the innovations of various other World Historical societies. That said, novels such as Street Of No Return, which is a fine, fast, and really good read, give the lie to statements that would have American culture as one vast blank. Often dark? Yes. Blank? No, just churning within a firmament that we're all aware of, and trying desperately to rise above.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tape Crash #12 by Stefan Christoff/Post Mortem-Split cassette/dl; Old Bicycle Records, 2015

Fun Disaster Amnesiac fact: I currently work at a place that often involves young people screaming, crying, etc. As such, my musical tastes, especially during the afternoon automobile commute, are sometimes tending toward the "mellower" sides of the musical spectrum. I still consider myself a musically adventurous person, of course, but, some days the intensity of working with cognitively asymmetrical students has increased the desire for more placid sounds.
Thankfully, independent labels such as Italy's Old Bicycle Records are producing releases that satisfy both of these criteria. Take for example the recent split cassette release between Stefan Christoff and Post Mortem, Tape Crash #12.
Packaged within a beautifully silk screened wrap-around case, Tape Crash #12 features two sides of music that nicely fulfills both of the above stated needs.
Stefan Christoff's contribution on side A, recorded in Montreal in the years 2013-15, have him playing generally slow tempo, introspective works for solo guitar, organ, and piano. On piano pieces such as reve populaire a Montreal and piano in the atmosphere, his melodic approaches are emotionally charged and moving, seeming to hint at times at loneliness and possibly sadness, with touches of some kind of overcoming. Granted, these are just projections on Disaster Amnesiac's part, but they just have that sound of late-night piano ruminations that tend to evoke those types of feelings. His six string playing on correspondance has great High Plains, wind-swept strummings, and I really enjoy the slow pace of its movement. Perhaps Christoff's most experimental moves on Tape Crash occur during his organ pieces, fenetres sonores, with its backward sounding loops, and the 1960's-style Minimalism of organ rhythms under the rain, but even these two are plenty chill and meditative. Overall, Stafan's side is a fine fusion of relaxed, atmospheric playing and experimental questing. Disaster Amnesiac has found these sounds plenty soothing after tough days with challenging students.
On the B side of Tape Crash #12 can be found Dutch artist Jan Kees Helms, aka Post Mortem. His one long piece, Waasland, has a more musique concrete feel, with long, ambient sound washes, watery piano samples, strange, metallic-sounding percussion, floating voices, and the like. Waasland is certainly more on the more purely experimental side, but Disaster Amnesiac has found its tones to be equally calming. I suspect that this has much to do with Post Mortem's pacing: over the course of twenty three minutes, his sounds are never pushed hastily. Indeed, the mental impression that I have had is one of a dreamy river of sound that flows languidly past the perceptions. It may seem like a point belabored, but, again, this music provides plenty of mellow, yet compelling listening as Disaster Amnesiac has wended his way home during the work week.
A few years back, Disaster Amnesiac wanted to describe the music that fuses introspective, meditative vibes with the harder edges of the more purely experimental tones as "Blackened New Age". I don't know if the artists whose work is presented in Tape Crash #12 would be comfortable with, or even like that appellation, but it seems, in some ways, appropriate. I do know that their sounds are helping me to relax, while not boring me to tears, after long, generally stressful days within my particular zone of the "rat race". For that, I am grateful.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Bob Marsh-Viovox; Public Eyesore #109, 2008

It seems as though conversations between creative/thoughtful/non-wealthy people in the San Francisco Bay Area increasingly feature an element of "where in the hell are we going to move once our landlord evicts us?". This has at least been the case for Disaster Amnesiac for the past couple of years. I hear about more and more people having to pack things up and leave the places that they'd been calling home; a move to entirely different city or state has been pretty often the case in these circumstances. The complicated property rights and human rights issued that these conversations touch upon are way beyond the scope of this humble blog, but, in this instance, I write about a friend's work, this friend having had to recently pull up stakes and leave the community within which he'd been working and thriving for several years.
Bob Marsh gifted Disaster Amnesiac a copy of Viovox at he and his partner, painter/percussionist Sandra Yolles', house during the first of their two moving potlatch events in late September of this year. He noticed me looking at it, and suggested that I take it and enjoy it.
Enjoy it, I certainly have!
The disc features Bob on spoken word, which he mixes with processed violin, cello, and sampled sounds. 
Viovox has a very Avant-Garde, Experimental Music sound throughout, but is always imbued with the kind of human and intimate flavor that makes it quite pleasurable to hear. It never feels like a pointless exercise.
Marsh's raw, Punk Rock/Industrial feels on the stringed instruments definitely add to this property, as his playing style is indeed heavy, in the sense of it having physical impact. Bob does not coddle his instruments. Of course, this is not to say that he bashes them around either, it's just that, as one listens, one can feel their effects. It's this type of playing, rooted as much in Folk traditions as any 20th Century forms, that Bob always brings to his music.
Also within the Folk music matrix is the tradition of verbal information transmission. On pieces such as Rich Rule and Bring Out the Dead, Marsh achieves almost Medieval tones of narrative, while on Fuck It All and Calm Down his concerns seem more contemporary if equally "primal", even "alien" at times. Disaster Amnesiac has been marveling at the ways in which Bob effectively externalizes the internal dialogues that we are all going through. It strikes me that there is an element of autism or even insanity within these types of dialogues, and one of the highest functions of art is its ability to release these "demons"; on Viovox, Marsh sounds as if he is, in many ways, doing so, and inviting the active listener to participate in this process.
Mixed together, the twin elements of strings and voices blend richly in Viovox, providing for a fascinating, fun, and sometimes cathartic musical experience. Although challenging, it's never boring.
Bob and Sandy are now on their way east, searching for a new home in a more affordable area of the U.S. Any community in which they will reside will be better for their presence. Disaster Amnesiac is glad for any Bob Marsh recordings present in my musical library, especially since it will be challenging to see him, going forward.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Ricardo D'Orlando-Extensions Through Dimensions; Galactus 15 Records, 2015 compact disc

Over the years, Disaster Amnesiac has interacted with more than a few musicians, and perhaps one of the most humble of them is Ricardo D'Orlando. I met him at the Luggage Store in San Francisco, where he was doing a performance after driving all the way to California from his home base in New York City. Mind you, there were no other stops on this tour, save for a brief one in Los Angeles, where Ricardo stopped to check out some gear. Many musicians would likely be pretty perturbed by having to have traveled so far, especially in light of the somewhat small turnout for the show. Ricardo showed no negativity or frustration at all. He simply set up his synths and guitar amp, turned his rig on, and played a wonderful and spaced out set for his allotted forty five minutes, after which he packed his gear up, grabbed his car, and proceed to start the long trek back east. Pretty awesome, all of it.
Since that time, Disaster Amnesiac and Mr. D'Orlando have struck up a friendship on Facebook. A few weeks back, Ricardo let me know that a I should be expecting a package containing some of his music; the package has arrived, and I have been digging his solo disc, Extensions Through Dimensions, to start.
The disc features twenty three tracks of Cosmic Music, produced with the pretty much the same gear that I saw him use at the Luggage Store, and they all flow nicely together. There is a vaguely ritualistic feel to the overall sound, which pairs nicely with the ancient carvings featured on the disc's cover. D'Orlando sculpts as well, building up big clouds of sound that drift through the listener's perceptions as their action unfolds. There are linked sequences, such at the four part Antagonization, with its short statements; classically 20th Century Electronic Music moves on Robot Speaks; a canny remixing of Wagner's Tristan Und Isolde; harrowing heaviness on La Terra Trema; New Age feels on The Sacred Craft, and even emotional tenderness on Shala 1 and Shala 2. As any effective ritual should, Extensions Through Dimensions has varying and diverse movements.
It's these types of variation that Disaster Amnesiac finds really compelling about Extensions. When listening to this disc, I have found my mind going to all sorts of fascinating imaginary places; it's clear that Ricardo has put a lot of thought and care into his creative efforts.
I beseech you, the reader, to send some care his way, and listen to some of his music. He's surely put in the miles to warrant your attention.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Hexn-al-khimiyya; Old Bicycle Records, limited edtion cassette/dl; 2015

     "[I]t's like an alchemists playground"-June Millington, Angry Women in Rock, v. 1 

As Disaster Amnesiac has been listening to, and really digging al-khimiyya by Italian artist Hexn, I've also been digging back through certain key publications within my library, not the least of which being Andrea Juno's great mid-1990's interviews with women musical artists from the Pre-Punk, Punk, and Post-Punk years.
June Millington's quote, used to describe engineer Richard Perry, jumped out at me, its theme being synchronous with Hexn's stated goal of a "desire for alchemical knowledge" as arising from his musical matrix.
Hexn's playground would probably have to be designed by Edward Gorey or Tim Burton, as the release features a fantastically Goth vibe. Tracks such as Still Praying In the Middle of a Sun, Since Everything Was Anything, and A sacred Ring Around the Earth feature the kind of Bat Cave trance rhythms and vibes that would have just about any fan of that genre up and onto dimly lit dance floors world wide.  
Still Praying features a wonderfully dramatic, icy synthesizer buildups that lead into really cool reverb drenched viola sounds, Since Everything features finely programmed down-tempo percussion, and A sacred Ring's doom-ey ritualistic vibe slithers into an awesome double time shuffle that would surely send any of its participants into a Dionysian ecstasy. These tunes are seriously tight, finely produced, and incredibly pleasurable to hear.
Further tracks such as Never Again Again Again, Now Then Black, and Eye are a bit more on the heavy Industrial side of the blackened Goth spectrum, with their sounds having a bit more of an experimental feel, perhaps a bit less dance-oriented and more of the head trip variety. One won't hear Disaster Amnesiac complain about those vibes, either! More really thoughtfully produced musical alchemy can be heard within these tracks, it's just that one may want to sit down with the eyes closed for them. Perhaps they're a bit more on the Apollonian side of the "as above so below" equation.
With al-khimiyya, Hexn has crafted a fine magickal vessel. It is surely a symbol of a sublimely attuned musical/alchemical soul.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Mean Crow-s/t; Limited edition cassette/Digital download, Ross Hammond Bandcamp, 2015

A few weeks back, Disaster Amnesiac got into a pretty interesting conversation with a local business owner about our mutual love of Jazz. He told me about his trips to Monterey and Montreal Jazz Fests, and I told him about the rich, vibrant Northern California underground scene. The look of incredulity that he gave me was both heartbreaking and instructive. Heartbreaking, because I realized that he just did not believe me when I told him about how many great Jazz/Improvisational musicians this area has, and instructive because, after thinking about the interaction, I realized how much work must be done to let Jazz fans about said scene.
One can't say that Ross Hammond isn't doing his share of this undertaking. Take a glance at his bandcamp page, and you'll surely get my drift. Along with showcasing his own work, he also runs the great Gold Lion Arts organization in Sacramento, where he organizes shows and puts on educational and art events. Ross is WORKIN'!
Working, too, is the sound of Mean Crow. This trio features Hammond on guitar, Luke Stewart on bass, and Nate Scheible on drums. Together, they explore some seriously deep Jazz and improvisational spaces.
The set, recorded in late 2014 in Washington D.C., starts off with some the group playing collectively long, arcing tones, with an almost Industrial Jazz feel, before spinning of into a typically heady solo from Hammond. Disaster Amnesiac has enjoyed the simple approach of his aesthetic, and the myriad voices that he coaxes from just strings, neck, pickups, and amp. Ross continues to grow his sound; from a quite simplified base, he manages to produce an overwhelming array of tones and moods. Stewart and and Scheible most definitely keep pace with him. Their tight rhythm section actions cooks, boils, whirls and blazes around the guitar speak, with big, plummy bass tones and quick sticking/foot action on the traps. Stunning trio action herein! The only quibble I have is that its side cuts off right as Ross seems to be delving into another great statement. Dude, frustrating!
Thankfully for the attentive listener, side two continues with their sublime trio dynamics, with some hot slide guitar action following after the initial bowed bass eloquence of Stewart's playing. Scheible also impresses mightily with his brush chops, which are quick but by no means un-present within the action. This leads back to more full trio Harmelodic conversation, the group back in all-out STUN mode as the tape concludes, Mean Crow walking the listener out the door with a seriously bangin', funky, aural kick in the ass.
I could go on and on: Mean Crow's release is the kind that begs for the moment by moment enthusing that characterizes many a music fan. Disaster Amnesiac will just advise: find it and listen to it! If you're at all interested in Jazz or improvised music, I promise that you won't be disappointed.
Would that guys like the business owner that I mentioned be able to acknowledge talented voices when they hear, or even hear about, them, regardless of their status. Disaster Amnesiac feels happy to be able to do so, as I am always happy to hear new sounds from Ross Hammond and his various groups.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Wroth-Force and Wrath; USC Records, 2015

The shopping list for a recent trip to Amoeba in Los Angeles was headed with the simplest reminder for Disaster Amnesiac: "Some Black Metal", and, thankfully, I was able to find a really fine example of such in Force and Wrath by Dutch band Wroth.
This disc has been my constant Metal soundtrack for a few weeks now, and I'm seriously loving the deeply traditional Black-ness of it.
Take for instance the ripped, shredded vocals from Jeroen. You just have to love his banshee wailing across all tracks. Disaster Amnesiac can recall the first exposures to Black Metal in the 1990's, and it was often the insane feelings that the singers projected with their vocals that made a fan out of me. Wroth's vocalist sounds just perfect within those parameters, somewhat buried (and decaying) within the instrumental mix.
Also ripping is the instrumental interplay within the band. Their songs run a gamut of almost-Street Punk sounding D-Beat, faster tempo thrashers, and full-on Blackened blasting. Every song has the kind of gnarled, close to going off of the rails primitive energy that I have learned to really love from the genre. Screw "prowess", Wroth's music strikes this listener as being all about heavily evoked moods and feelings. Their full bore blasting passages on tunes such as Darkness Emanates have brought up memories for Disaster Amnesiac of reading Val Wilmer's great early 1970's book As Serious As Your Life, in which one drummer suggests that he want's to "stop time completely" with his drumming. I feel as though Bram on drums, Kenneth on bass, and the forementioned Jeroen do so at times; imagine yourself staring into swirling whirl pools or tornadoes as you hear Wroth do their primal best thrashing. These are not linear time passages at all. Also really compelling are tunes such as Blood On Dark Soil, in which they get this great feeling of wheels turning, spinning onward over some Metal Highway: an upgrade on the initial NWOBHM template!
Also included at the end of this disc are six tracks of demos, in which Wroth sound even more primitive and crushing, despite their having occurred later in time. 
Disaster Amnesiac has an acquaintance who feels as though Black Metal bands are unimaginative and derivative. I must disagree. Bands such as Wroth, seem to me to be using the influences of early bands, within Black Metal and without, to conjure up compelling new heavy sounds. Find this one and let it rip your mind to shreds.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

DC Rox: A Compilation of DC Area Artists; Wetspots Records, 1987

There is a scene in the recently released, and really great, Salad Days documentary in which Dischord Records co-owner Jeff Nelson addresses the fact that his label had to, by necessity, focus upon only a small sliver of the greater music scene within the Washington D.C. area. Disaster Amnesiac fully comprehended his logic; that city has as vibrant a culture, especially "underground", as any other in America. Naturally, after the film's conclusion, I began thinking about some of those other bands, and quickly dug out my copy of this 1987 compilation.
Much as the initial D.C. Hardcore scene had been, many of the musicians and bands featured on DC Rox seem to have aesthetic/inspirational roots stemming from the music of Bad Brains. Indeed, front Brain H.R. and his brother Earl make an appearance herein on the kick-ass thrasher It'll Be Alright, with its blazing guitar leads from David Byers and David Jordan, and the Apocalicious Ras Metal of Power of the Trinity. Such an original and inspirational voice! As Disaster Amnesiac recalls it, much of the national Hardcore Punk scene had soured on Huntin' Rod by the time that this LP appeared, but he gets pretty much top billing on Rox. And, really, why not? His music and bands were just as powerful during that era. I have no idea if and how the controversies that made for Bad Brains vs. Hardcore U.S.A. were resolved, but am certainly happy that the former managed to continue documenting their musical moves.
Also makin' moves on the comp are Press Mob, featuring the great vocal talents of Spyche and more Dr. Know-rooted guitar shredding from James Proctor. Press Mob definitely sound as if they've taken a bit of inspiration from Bad Brains, but their vibes on Dream In Kind and Sundays are pretty unique. The vocals give them plenty of melodic, almost Pop, flavor while Proctor's guitar shades them Metallic. The rhythm section of Banks and Fat Vice is organic sounding and grooving. These guys are not fakin' the funk. Disaster Amnesiac has pleasant memories of seeing this group wig out live-they lifted the stage, for sure.
Similar to Press Mob in that their sounds fuse heavier Rock styles with gritty Funk and touches of Bad Brains-style Rasta is Revelation. Front man Jimi Jam's vocals can come across as a bit reedy, but the conviction with which they're delivered never fails to make this listener smile. I saw him at shows sometimes during the mid-late 1980's, and he seemed like a good guy, full of enthusiasm for the music. On Babylon Days Are a Comin', guitarist Kenny Dread drops all sorts of sound bombs onto the listener's head while Skeeter Thompson and Greg Miller move things along on bass and drums respectively. They also deliver a kind of Techno Metal on HMDS (Bonzo); quite a strange track!
One of Disaster Amnesiac's favorite D.C. bands of that era was Scythian. I loved their odd mashup of Psych Rock, Metal, Punk, and God only knows what else. Their two songs on Rox, while suffering a bit from their somewhat thin sounding engineering, always make me smile. Guitarist Matt Ray rips, vocalist Zack Fuller sounds crazed, and drummer Eric Wallgren does a great job of fusing Metal chops with Punk energy. I wore their t-shirt with pride, and wish that I could find more recordings from them. Anyone?
Original D.C. Hardcore scene guy, and Double O front man Eric L. leads his group Dove through the emotional requiem for Toni Young on Wrecking Ball. Many other D.C. bands were labelled "emo" at that time, as they sang to each other about heartfelt feelings; this tune has all of that weight and seemingly more. The darkness that Wrecking Ball hints at can be frightening at times. Sometimes I feel as though this one could have been a hit at that time, but it's probably just not phony enough for chart action. Does Eric still lead a band?
No discussion of D.C. music and culture would be complete without mention of Go Go, and DC Rox features some great Go Go/Metal fusion by way of Outrage and their track Life Abuse. Not only does their drummer have a great drummer moniker, Boogie Foots (oh, hell yes!), but he leads the band through a song by turns wailing and grooving. Again, Bad Brains' influence seems likely here in the way in which Outrage blends styles within a powerful matrix; the former cannot be cited enough when mentioning that dynamic, while the latter reap pleasing aesthetic benefits from those innovative approaches. If you're a fan of Go Go, you'll likely be pleased with this track, too.
Perhaps the strangest band on Rox is I.N.I.C.U., which seems to be a kind of jam band made up of some rotating cast of players. On Body, with its goofy lyrics and shout outs, they come across as the kind of wacky group that can rock a good house party, while on Not Satisfied/Mushroom Tea they bring their own Metallic Dread to the party, blazing through it in a few short minutes.
While the scene documented within DC Rox's grooves has not had the historical impact of that shown on the previously mentioned Salad Days film, you have to hand this to them: someone involved had the good sense to put some sort of document of their collective work together. Somehow, Disaster Amnesiac doubts that they were sitting around nursing sour grapes over not getting the Dischord imprimatur. I figure that they just went ahead and handled shit for themselves. A VERY D.C. way to go about your business.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Drowning In Wood-s/t, cassette/dl; Scissor Tail Editions, 2015

While Disaster Amnesiac is by no means an expert on Black Metal, I have been a fan of the genre for several years now. Perhaps its most appealing aspect for this listener is willfully corroded aesthetic that many of the bands utilize. By this, I mean the way in which they sublimate so many of the often useless trappings of music, such as playing notes for notes' sake, "catchy" hooks, and overuse of orchestration, to a more over arching feel. Black Metal is, to me, all about mood. One must be in the correct mental space in order to vibe with these moods, granted, but when one's damn compelling.
What this all has to do with Drowning In Wood is the simple fact that as Disaster Amnesiac listens to this Italian duo's eponymous release, those same types of moods arise within my mind. Sergio Albano and Vincenzo De Luce conjure up these darkened soundscapes utilizing what sound like very extended techniques with their guitars. I thought that there were laptops involved upon my initial listening! On tunes like Above the Field and My Roots Are Covered In Blood, and the snarling Industrial of Crossroad, Drowning in Wood have that same plaintive, slowly unfolding inner drama that features in the best Black Metal. These tunes are not necessarily easy to listen to, but, damn, what darkened moods! I have often felt, while listening, as if I had been summoned to some hidden cave and given a private concert from the duo, one lit by slowly burning fires and candles. Glimmers of hope do arrive in Limbo and Never the Same, but for the most part the release stays within the blackened parameters of Kvlt aesthetics. By the time the closing tune Somewhere Not Here finishes up its twisted hocket, the listener will surely feel the sublime, cold hand of ravishing grimness massaging the caves of their minds.
Disaster Amnesiac has no idea as to whether or not Drowning In Wood are fans or practitioners of Black Metal, but I damn sure hear some similar traits.  Both revel within the chilly airs of isolation and despair, set to music. This stuff ain't for the timid or easily offended, but if you're in the mood for that type of musical disaffection, their skeletal hands, wrapped around icy strings, lift a beckoning finger.

Monday, August 24, 2015

No. 4 Imperial Lane; Jonathan Weisman, Twelve Books, 2015

It's been some time since Disaster Amnesiac has enthused about a novel, but after finishing Jonathan Weisman's wonderful No. 4 Imperial Lane, I just have to do so.
The book follows two time streams, one set in in Brighton, England in 1988, the other in (mostly) Angola in the early 1970's. Linking the two is the story of Elizabeth Bromwell, who in the former setting is the primary care taker for her quadriplegic brother Hans and in the latter a young, inexperienced wife of a conscripted Portuguese army medic. Dramatic action is achieved through her recounting of those early years to David, an American college student that has taken on the job of assistant care taker for Hans. While David's voice is the primary narrative voice, the story ultimately belongs to Elizabeth as she describes those times while knocking back vodka in the kitchen of her Brighton flat and its steadily decreasing possessions.
Weisman's crisp, subtly witty writing moves this story along compellingly; seriously, I could not wait to get back to its pages when not reading it.
Also compelling is the history lesson imparted through the novel. Disaster Amnesiac knew absolutely nothing about Portugal's imperial machinations and the ruin that they brought to Angola, especially at their empire's terminal stage, but after reading Imperial Lane, I will likely seek out more reading on the subject. It was striking for me to realize that at that same time as my country's ignominious exit out of Southeast Asia was happening, a much older misadventure, equally traumatic to all parties, was also crumbling into the World Historical dust in Southwest Africa.
Weisman shows much creativity with use of many Shakespeare quotes, delivered by Elizabeth and her husband Joao, both of them being scholars of the Bard. These quotes accentuate certain parts of the story really nicely, coloring moments both tragic and triumphant with extra flair.
Tragedy certainly does color the story, as airs of impossibility and human recalcitrance towards emotional obligations arise from the characters, but Weisman ultimately gives the reader a tender shoot of hope amid the thickets of hopelessness that are evinced at macro and micro human levels.
No. 4 Imperial Lane is the kind of novel that one could end up harassing friends to read. Disaster Amnesiac will try not to do so, but, if you do read it, please feel free to share your impressions of it with me. I'd love to discuss its voluminous merits!

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Ross Hammond/Jon Bafus-Shiner; self-released cassette, 2014

This cassette, procured from Ross Hammond earlier this year at the excellent Gold Lion Arts space in Sacramento, had been forgotten by Disaster Amnesiac in the ensuing months, as I'd stored it in a drawer.
Anyway, thank heavens for re-organizing jags, as it presented itself to me, underneath my Sony AM/FM Walkman during a recent reshuffle.
Made up of two tracks, Tones for Roscoe Mitchell and For the Defenders of Middle Earth, Shiner features Hammond in duo with drummer Jon Bafus.
The pair lay down some swift, sinewy lines on the first track, with Hammond getting great North African style picking from his clearly clean guitar, while Bafus skitters and pounds out Free energetic drum kit-speak along side of him. This piece fades out at the end, while the duo are in full-on expressive mode, which leads to the other side's plaintive beginning passage; here they let the tones ring out a bit more as their exchange begins to climb a sonic ladder up into a syncopated lock step groove that leads out.
With that, the tape ends, and this listener is left wondering when I can see Hammond/Bafus live again.  Short, sweet, and solid, this one.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Disaster Amnesiac swims in two streams of the Ambient River!

Disaster Amnesiac finds it very interesting that these two releases have come my way in recent days, both presented after some type of work done for their principles. Additionally, they are both collaborative pieces, produced largely by way of technically aided interface between their creators. Synchronicity abounds!
Both of them strike me as being rooted within the Ambient Music movement. As most readers well know, this stream has been somewhat quietly growing for the past four decades or so. It is one that is alive with diversity, as thousands of musicians and artists are working within its wide flows. Releases such as In the Other House and Inuksuk, while probably never getting massively hyped, are all the more fascinating for this listener; they are the products of people that want to express themselves, most likely for the simple pleasures achieved from the act of doing so. Let us slip into and swim within these two individual tributaries to the larger Ambient river of sound.

Deison & Uggeri-In the Other House; Old Bicycle Records/Oak Editions, 2015
Utilizing an Electro-Acoustic mixture of instrumentation, the duo of Deison & Uggeri offer six tracks of somewhat darkened Ambient on In the Other House, each one naming a given room of an imagined dwelling. Violins are bowed, piano keys stroked, horns blown, and all kinds of electronically modified field recordings are transformed into somewhat eery drones in this rumination on "uncomfortable rooms which were populated by dark invisible presences". Disaster Amnesiac can hear this discomforted vibe: listening to In the Other House has at times had me in a somewhat perturbed state of mind. This disc's ambiance is pretty murky and unsettling, as hinted at by the cover art. This is not fluffy New Age Ambient music. I've often thought that Blackened New Age would be a good descriptor for these kinds of sounds, but am not exactly comfortable with the contradiction in terms implied there. Comfort and discomfort aside, Deison & Uggeri have cooked up an intensely intimate statement here. Despite its outward darkness, this is a perfect soundtrack for padding around your own domicile as you quietly marvel at the small mysteries of life and its physical manifestations.

Hertz & Mystified-Inuksuk; Aural Films, 2015
Recently in conversation, Jack Hertz explained the motivations behind his Aural Films label: he releases a lot of stuff, most in the purely digital format, but the best get the coveted physical treatment.
With Inuksuk, Hertz teams up with Mystified to produce an enhanced CD of eight chill(y) blasts of Ambient sound, all intended to take the listener on a ([J]ourney into the mysticism of Arctic cultures". As such, it's a very effective release, and Disaster Amnesiac can hear why Aural Films wanted to release this one in a bit more of an archival form.
High-end peals of sound evoke the brightness of the Arctic sunlight, pairing with low, long, and deep drones that give the timeless feelings that one can imagine rising within a person as they traverse the ice and tundra of the region. Great shamanic percussion is pulled from drum heads and resonant metals, which gives pieces such a Tcakabesh a stately, ritualistic feel. The music of Inuksuk is filled with deeply esoteric spaces and moods, and it's perfectly suited for many types of activities: deeper listening, ritual soundtrack, or those times when some (seemingly) unobtrusive tones are needed. Any of these types of experiences would be enhanced by the sounds produced by Hertz & Mystified herein.
Along with all of these mysterious sound worlds, the CD provides detailed liner notes/guides in pdf form, reproductions of several great, abstract paintings by Thomas Park-Jackson, and brief video snippets. This one is jam packed with sensory goodies!

To reiterate, Disaster Amnesiac realized that there are thousands of Ambient releases for listeners to choose from, just as there are thousands in any other given genre of the post-Internet world. I don't know who will choose these two from that stream, but I can say with certainty that I'm glad that these two swam my way. Perhaps you'll find their sounds refreshing as well.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Disaster Amnesiac Mixed Bag of Submitted Materials Review!

When this blog started eight years ago, Disaster Amnesiac figured that I'd always focus my rantings and ravings upon items that I'd found/purchased myself. The reasoning was that, if source materials were not submitted by another party for review, I could maintain an objective stance within the reviewing process. It was a method of avoiding what I saw as some pretty rampant nepotism within the music industry. Since that time, the principle method has remained mostly consistent, but within the last couple of years, certain labels have sent along promo items for my describing and enthusing. Disaster Amnesiac is grateful for the free sounds, as I know this all costs these people money and time. Here I present a first installment of items that have come my way through these channels.

Beauty School-Residual Ugly; Humbler Records, 2015
First up, Beauty School's Residual Ugly cassette/download release. This SF Bay Area group features top flight musicians Matt Chandler on bass, Tom Djill on electronics and trumpet, and Jacob Felix Heule on percussion and electronics. Essentially an Experimental Music power trio, they lay down some fantastically textured Noise. Chandler's bass playing has great impact with its heavy strumming and low end plucking, Djill's spaced out sounds color the treble sound spectrum with whine, bleep, crackle, and pop on top of the hard-hitting bass beams, and Heule pounds great big percussive moves alongside of them. Disaster Amnesiac has really been enjoying the junkyard Industrial feel of this cassette, and has also been reflecting that it's releases such as Residual Ugly that have solidified the now 100 year old promise of artists such as Futurist Luigi Russolo, that of fresh new musical forms arising out of what had been considered mere noise. The promo sheet gleefully maintains that "[M]usic can be avoided", but in this listener's opinion, Beauty School are simply working within a musical matrix, one that includes "noise", that remains wide open, and, yes...beautiful.

Alan Sondheim/Azure Carter/Luke Damrosch-Threnody: Shorter Discourses of the Buddha-Public Eyesore Records #133, 2015
If you've read this blog at all within the last year or so, you'll be well-appraised at how generous Public Eyesore/eh? Records have been to me (thanks, Bryan!) They sent over the newest offering from Alan Sondheim and Azure Carter a few weeks back, and Disaster Amnesiac has been digging this one greatly. Threnody features the extensive talents of Sondheim on 19 instruments, and he shows tremendous skills on all of them. His skittering, fast string playing throws out all manner of micro-tonal delights within its speedy delivery, and his playing on wind instruments has emotional depth, warmth, and balance. Sondheim's aesthetic evinces the awesome power of Folk-based sounds within the greater musical spectrum. Dear America: please pay attention to this homegrown talent! It's a shame that Sondheim's six decades of singular musical development are not as widely acknowledged. He's a Master. Also quite enjoyable are the understated vocals from Carter. Listening to Azure sing evokes the same kind of pleasure for me that comes from reading well written Minimalism. Great clarity and enjoyment comes from the apparent simplicity of her delivery, which is completely free of extraneous embellishment. Would that so many other current singers learn from her! The addition of Luke Damrosch on guzheng and madal adds percussive string and drum depth, respectively, and his layered summation of Threnody's totality of songs on Alltracks achieved by use of Supercollider software, is deliciously bizarre and thick!

Amy Reed & Collette McCaslin-"Rocks*Sticks*Stones"; self-released, 2015
Disaster Amnesiac was handed a copy of this disc by trumpeter/percussionist Collette McCaslin a few days back, and I've been listening to "Rocks*Sticks*Stones" in the car quite a bit. Revisiting its sounds is more the case, as I was in attendance for this show earlier this year at the Musicians' Union Hall in the SOMA District of San Francisco.  Along with her cohort Amy Reed on guitar and vocals, Collette immerses the listener into an intensely private, almost ritualistic sound world. I've seen them both play at least a few times, and it's clear that they have intense focus while in the midst of performing. No "Jazz Hands" coming from these two! Needless to say, these "rituals" feature the two musicians probing with their sounds, searching for shared spaces in which to intertwine their voices. When these spaces are discovered, Reed and McCaslin blast forth with energy, yet always conversationally, their unison lines then walking back to quieter moods as the process continues. Collete's trumpet playing, sometimes filtered through an echo unit, features a kind of frank, non-flashy timbre, while Reed's guitar, going straight to the amp, is dryly plucked and probed by fingers, rocks, reeds, and other implements. "Rocks*" has the kind of late night feel that I often mention, and still more often love. A privileged glimpse into the musical minds of two of the more retiring, yet intensely creative, Northern California-based improvisers.

Chances are, Disaster Amnesiac will have to depend on private funds in order to keep up this little 'ole blog. Still it's flattering to be sent promo materials for review. Many thanks to Public Eyesore/eh?, Humbler, and Reed/McCaslin for sending stuff my way! Either way, I'll keep listening, describing, and enthusing.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Controlled Bleeding & Sparkle In Grey-Perversions of the Aging Savant; Off Records/Old Bicycle Records, split CD, 2015

Controlled Bleeding first came on to this listener's mental radar back in the late 1980's. Teenage Amnesiac had a friend that was a brilliant artist and thinker, and as such, this friend knew creative types that were a bit older and a bit more tapped in to the deeper currents of underground music. I recall getting a chance to thumb through one of these peoples' LP collection, and for some reason, the Controlled Bleeding stuff left the kind of mental impression that urged: SEEK THIS STUFF OUT. Over the years, Disaster Amnesiac has enjoyed hearing their output when possible, and, naturally, ended up following them on Facebook. Needless to say, I was compelled to check out their latest offering, a split with Italian group Sparkle In Grey, when it was announced on their page.
Perversions of the Aging Savant is presented less as an arbitrary split release, and more of a single-themed work. One great aspect to this theme is that a lot of its meaning is left to the listener to to ponder; aside from the titles, not a whole lot of info is given regarding this. What is given in spades, however, is a glut of musical changes and approaches, the entirety of which is delivered in all-instrumental fashion.
Controlled Bleeding present their sounds first, in a section titled "The Perks of Being a Perv", and it's quite impressive to hear their ideas therein. They run the gamut from Musique Concrete-like collage tones in Intro, to Heavy Psych Progressive in Garage Dub and Birdcanned Pt. 1 & 2, with their fantastic guitar squall and fine, free drumming, to the smashing Industrial aggro noise of Perks, and the pastoral loveliness of Springtime in Brooklyn. A short, guitar-led live track from 2012 is tacked on to the end of the CD version of Perversions, an introspective coda to the proceedings. One aspect of Controlled Bleeding that Disaster Amnesiac finds fascinating and inspiring is the way in which they've developed their unique voice: however they've wanted to! The core group of Paul Lemos, Joe Papa, Chad SB and Tony Meola seems to use whichever form that they're currently interested in exploring, all the while keeping their Experimental Music edge, and their unique voice, in the process. Their tracks on Perversions of the Aging Savant show this process to be one that is still evolving in creative, musically compelling directions.
Disaster Amnesiac was not familiar with Sparkle In Grey before hearing Perversions, but after having done so, I'm surely happier for it. Their section of the release, "The Rant of the Idiot Savant", is made up of four connected pieces that feature droning violin, piano, electronics, bass, and sax. This one starts off with a feel of late-night/early morning chamber jams, somewhat quietly burbling, then leads up to more assertive rhythmic patterns before sinking back into the ambient zone. It's as if the Savant's interest had been piqued, then his/her opinion served up, and then he/she had quietly skulked away into the night. As I've listened, I've thought that I'd love to hear Sparkle In Grey live, and their bonus track, also at the end portion of the disc, with its great, spacious drumming of Simone Riva and sweet, minor harmonic horn lines, only adds to that desire. Perhaps they could book a joint U.S. tour with Controlled Bleeding?
As I mentioned a few paragraphs back, Controlled Bleeding will always remind Disaster Amnesiac of certain key aesthetic influences. Looking back on those, for me, early exposures to creative art and music, I do feel a certain nostalgia, but I am certainly glad that groups like Controlled Bleeding have kept looking forward and developing their music, all the while never giving in the formulaic thought traps that can snare musicians over time. Underground groups such as them and Sparkle In Grey are doing fine work, pulling from various streams of music in order to develop their own voices. They may be aged, they be perverse, but don't let any of that scare you off of 'em. These savants' offering here is very worthy of your attention.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Ou-Scrambled!; Spoot 2015OU/Public Eyesore Records #132, 2015

Scrambled is right! Here Disaster Amnesiac was, having figured myself used to the Noise and extremely Avant-Garde offerings being sent over from Public Eyesore, and then this one arrives! Not that Disaster Amnesiac is complaining....far from it. Think about it this way: you've been served several odd elixers, thick with strange, otherworldly, unnamed tastes, and then a snifter of the finest, smoothest cognac arrives, along with the best of Cuban cigars, and you're asked to partake of them both. This is one of the feeling that I've had as Scrambled! has massaged my ear drums, in regard to previous Public Eyesore releases that I've heard. Seriously, my perceptions about it all have indeed been scrambled! 
There are many aspects of the this big(ish) band recording to enjoy, not the least of which is the voice of Martina Fadda. I guess it would be safe to say that Fadda is the featured performer herein, as eight of the nine tracks feature her pretty prominently. Stop checking your Facebook status for a second and think back to the preceding paragraph and recall the cognac analogy. Got it? Good, as it's most definitely her voice that provides a lot of that smooth feel. She also achieves a lovely sensuousness with her delivery in Spanish, Italian, English, and Portuguese. Is there a finer language in which to sing than the latter? If you find it, please let me know. Disaster Amnesiac has reveled at listening to her singing the whimsical lyrics of band leader Ersilia Prosperi. Martina has the kind of Jazz singing voice that relaxes the mind, taking the listener down cool, understated melodic streams. No yelling or shouting here, just really beautiful, skillful vocal technique and execution that runs the gamut through many powerful modes.
Disaster Amnesiac knows from recent personal experience just how complicated it can be to play within a large ensemble, and it's partly that knowledge that makes listening to Ou's group interaction such an impressive subjective experience. All of the players navigate Scrambled!'s charts with skill and zest; they play funky Second Line in S'Ou Abbattadu, Euro-Free, seasoned with Mingus-like Cumbia flavoring, in Gallone Bocca Larga, evoke Bahia beauty choruses in Jengi; simply put, this group cooks. Especially impressive is the shimmery post-Chick Corea piano from Andrea Pesce and the deceptively simple drumming from Cristiano De Fabritils that swings madly with bassist Claudio Mosconi. Reeds players Amy Denio and Cristina Pecorario submit great solos and fine harmony playing alongside Prosperi. In that same way that Martina Fadda's vocals offer many unique moods within Scrambled!'s duration, so too do her charts, and the players that make up Ou are very much up to it. Disaster Amnesiac has not heard such sounds as these since Mark Apfelbaum's Hieroglyphics Ensemble was storming stages with Don Cherry in tow.
Additionally, I'd like to submit a request that I Like You, a hilarious, short track of surreal humor, be played before most social functions from now on.
As the shock of the novel sound of this Public Eyesore disc has given way to pure enjoyment of its great tunes and the flair of their International and Jazz fusions, Disaster Amnesiac has found myself transported to mental spaces that have been highly enjoyable and highly musical. If you're at all interested in Vocal Jazz or large ensemble Jazz, hell, just Jazz in general, you'll find a wealth of compelling examples of said forms on Scrambled!. It will surely pair well with your perceptions.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Bob Marsh-(for the) Rock(s) Concert-Bob Marsh's lawn, Richmond CA; 6/20/15

The first Punk Rock show that Disaster Amnesiac ever attended was done so by accident: 14 year old wanders unknowingly into a beer tent that has been set up in the courtyard of a Rohrbach, Germany housing project, in which a Punk Rock band is playing for five or six drunken pals, the singer spitting out his words as the band crashes through their set behind him. To this day, thirty years later, I marvel at the immediacy of that whole scene, how it felt so CLOSE, so alive and so available. I still crave attendance at performances such as that one, and thankfully was invited by Bob Marsh to his (for the) Rock(s) Concert, performed on his lawn in Richmond, California, and it most definitely had that same feel.
Bob choreographed a number of rock groupings upon said lawn, and proceeded to perform a 35 minute set for them as they danced in their spots, using his cello and vocals. At times it felt a bit difficult to hear his extended techniques and shamanic chanting, on account of the constant traffic whirring past on Barrett Ave., but close, attentive listening was rewarded. As always, Marsh's emotive effect cuts through any environmental barricades that may be present.
The world needs many, many more of these types of performances, where the barriers between the performer and those in attendance is slight, if present at all. At least, Disaster Amnesiac sure does. Thanks to Bob Marsh, along with those Punkers in Rohrbach, wherever they may be now.

Below: Bob Marsh plays music for dancing cairns

Above: Marsh breaks down

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Voicehandler-song cycle; Humbler Records, 2015

 "A music that transports the listener to the moment where he is."
    --John Cage

As Disaster Amnesiac has dug into and enjoyed the sounds of Voicehandler's song cycle, I've reflected more than a few times on John Cage's aesthetics, mostly as regards his works for percussion. These reflections come not so much from any explicit outward similarity between Cage's works and that of Voicehandler, but more so from the way in which percussion is brought to the forefront within both, and the ways in which this is so masterfully done therein. The above quote is included because it sums up the effect that song cycle has on me: with the "melodic" forms that accompany great vocals by Danishta Rivero being so much achieved by actual percussion or percussive synthesizer and hydrophonium, Disaster Amnesiac has been compelled to stay in the moment, to really listen closely and deeply for the "hidden" melodic tones that emanate from the instrumental work of Jacob Felix Heule. 
song cycle announces its presence with the gently struck gong tones of sonando, in which Rivero intones beautifully in Spanish, her vocalizing, based upon Eduardo Galeano's Memoria del fuego, initially framed by the alternately chirping and rolling sounds before Heule presses out some fantastic rolls on his large bass drum. The feel of this one is most definitely incantatory, especially within the dramatic wails and rolls that come from drums and vocals deep into the piece. This action pushes off with what sounds like bowed cymbals (hydrophonium?) and leads into jungle sounds of empty and without pain, in which Heule's ample percussive chops really shine forth as he punches and clatters all manner of tones, framing Rivero's cathartic shouts, growls, and whispers derived from Knut Hamsun's Hunger. Along with the Cage-ian ruminations, Disaster Amnesiac has also reflected upon Braxton's "gravillic weight" concept as I've listened to this one; the term as I've come to understand it describes the "physical" feel of a given player's sound, whether that sound is "lighter" or "heavier" on the senses. Jacob's "gravillic weight" has struck me as being on the heavier side-not to say that he's a "basher", because he is not, but his sounds just really impact this listener in that heavy way. This feel may also come from the amount of discrete space included between each of his various hits, which is subtle and ample at the same time. Danishta's vocal skills come to the fore on the Jorge Luis Borges El fin-influenced a meager labyrinth, sounding like private liturgical movements and framed by more gongs and chiming metals. The overall aesthetic here is somewhat mystical and reverent, making the listener feel as if they are slowly wending their way through some humidly labyrinthine imaginary space. Upon leaving that space, Voicehandler gets downright Zeuhl in the vocal department, with Rivero delivering clipped glossolalia on mi falible mano. Seriously, she'd fit in fine in duet with Christian or Stella Vander on this one. Heule gets these elastic, dragging riffs of the head of the drum, along with more metallic clang and scrape, all of which really move within their reverberations. Last up, I am a recording instrument, which evolves from the ultimate 20th Century literary document, Naked Lunch, clatters, jars, and simply rocks the perceptions in ways similar to those experienced while reading Burrough's breakthrough novel. Voicehandler deliver the Noise goods here, casting out all manner of the disc's previously heard sounds, with bubbling, aggressive synth and equally aggressive percussion leading the charge as Danishta pretty much goes crazy on the vocal side. Disaster Amnesiac has particularly enjoyed the way this one ends, with a s-l-o-w fade, a drone lasting over two minutes. Listen and imagine yourself sailing away from Interzone's shore in a stolen boat, sweat-beaded and lucky to be alive after interacting with its sonic Mugwumps. 
Getting back to the Cage allusions that I initially mentioned, I guess that the idea being pursued was this: post-Cage (and others, such as Ellington, Varese, Stockhausen, Sun Ra, etc. etc.), there have arisen multiple ways with which to produce and listen to music, ways that offer the listener opportunities to be really present. Groups such as Voicehandler offer opportunities for an active, engaged listener to do so. Trust Disaster Amnesiac when I say that in the case of song cycle, the aesthetic payoff is very much worth the work. 

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Of Human Passings-Ornette Coleman, 1930-2015

Disaster Amnesiac realizes that there will be millions of obituaries and reminiscences of Ornette Coleman, and this is as it should be. The man was one of a select pantheon of American 20th Century Artists. His influence on music ranged FAR beyond that of Jazz, the form from which he first gained mass media attention. Musicians, visual artists, poets, novelists: all these vocational types felt the vibes that he put out for the past sixty years.
For me, personally, I was always touched by the sound of the human voice that emanated from his playing, on all instruments. Ornette imbued every note with the cry of humanity; the voice of real people having real feelings was always tantamount in his sound.
It's also great that he got monetarily rich doing it! I tip my cap to the astuteness of his business, not an easy endeavor within the music business.
Disaster Amnesiac loves so many of the bands and musicians that learned from him: Anthony Braxton, James Blood Ulmer, Grateful Dead, Arthur Blythe, David Boyce, Rent Romus, Joe Baiza.....on and on and on. Surely his Harmelodic Theory will continue to bear fine musical fruits from diverse quarters.
Ornette, you have now left the Planet Earth, may your spirit fly far and wide into the Greater Omniverse! Godspeed, Ornette, and thanks for sharing your vibes with the rest of us humans!

Friday, May 29, 2015

Up Half-Known Roads: Solo Percussion Records Installment 5; Clanging Edition

As usual, Disaster Amnesiac has let far too much time go past without an edition of the Up Half-Known Roads series. It's not as though I've been lazy, far from it. I was just marveling at the fact that the month of May has already for the most part slipped by. Good lord, how short is this mortal coil? Enough kvetching, though, and allow me to introduce this installment's theme: solo metallic/Post-Industrial percussion! Of course by now, just about all of America must be familiar with the concept, by way of, say, the Blue Man Group. This installment goes way beyond the likes of them, hopefully, dipping into the darkened caverns of Post-Industrial U.S.A. and pulling up some fine examples of the genre that whatever readership I currently have the pleasure of serving may not be on to. If you're already familiar with these artists, kudos. If not, hang out a bit for some clanging!

Hal Hutchinson-Wreckage Installations & Metalworks; Crucial Blaze, 2014
It was an initial hearing of this CD, several months back, that first sparked the idea for this post. At the end of his detailed liner notes, Hal Hutchinson describes the sound on Wreckage Installations as being examples of "true Industrial sound", and Disaster Amnesiac is very much inclined to agree. Hal took field recordings of scrap metal, all clanging and banging together, then mixed them together with looping processes. The resulting seven pieces (three somewhat longer, four shorter) provide all kinds of compelling sounds for the attentive listener. I've heard the voices of ghosts, strange familiar/unfamiliar melodies, rushing rivers, all manner of tones within these carefully crafted matrices. One thought that keeps coming back is the way in which Hutchinson's music on this disc shows layers of voices, much like those of any symphonic movement or attentively written song; there are low baritones, tenor and alto voices, and high soprano sounds. Wreckage Installations and Metalworks proves to be a very enjoyable listen, very much due to the obvious care with which it has been formed. The physical edition, assembled with equally great care and featuring really cool art, seems to still be available at the Crucial Blast website, but it's limited. Cop one and then let it color your mind with Rust Belt Rainbows of sound.

Ricardo Donoso-Solo Percussion Improvisations; self released, no date given
As opposed to the sheer bombast of the Hutchinson disc, Ricardo Donoso's Solo Percussion Improvisations is tons more quiet and subdued. Disaster Amnesiac figures that this is due in large part to the methods used in order to make these pieces. As the title says, they're improvisations. The tracks have that kind of questing feel that features on so many improvised pieces; it's as if the listener can feel along with Donoso as he explores various surfaces for the sounds that lay hidden within them. These sounds include high pitched scrapes from cymbals that float somewhat menacingly in the auditory spectrum, bubbly rubbing ones (from plastic drum heads?), long bowed tones, chains rattled and whirled on surfaces, and complex drumming patterns on actual drums. One important aspect of improvisation in music seems to be that of the player or players showing their inner thoughts and insights, and what Disaster Amnesiac loves about Solo Percussion Improvisations is the way in which Donoso, through pretty simplified means, does just this. One can feel oneself in the room with him as he, somewhat quietly, explores those innermost recesses of the Clang.

Ben Bennett-Spoilage; Experimedia, 2012
Last up for this Clanging Edition we find Ben Bennett's great Spoilage LP, on which the very talented percussionist coaxes any and all manner of sound from a long, meticulously detailed list for instruments. Much like the Donoso disc, Spoilage's performances sound as if they are real-time improvisations. Bennett does a really fine job of layering their various sounds as he works. Disaster Amnesiac has had the pleasure of seeing him do his thing live, and can attest to the veracity of this. He essentially utilizes a pile of sound making devices, and whirling them around on a surface, creates these maelstroms of sound. This is not to say that he's not a gifted technician: I've marveled at his sticking control, as it is really something to behold. On Spoilage, there are tracks on which he plays frame drums that prove this point. Bennett also uses a saxophone mouthpiece fitted with a drumhead-reed to accompany his drumming, adding even more layers of listening interest for the listener. There are also whirling, rubbing, and scraping sounds to delight at. SF Bay Area artist/musician/dancer/shaman Bob Marsh has described Ben Bennett as being something like one of America's foremost practitioners of genuine Butoh, and Disaster Amnesiac is inclined to agree with him. He uses dramatic silences, long pauses, in a way that is congruous with that form's aesthetics. There are long stretches of said silences embedded with parts of Spoilage which add to the dramatic tension feeling of their clang. This LP also has incredibly funny and sardonic track titles, my favorite being "I'll Call You When I Get Creamed By a Motorist". Ben, call me when your next release happens!

Believe it or not, Disaster Amnesiac does get intellectually involved in these posts. Hell, I probably get more food for thought than anyone else does with them! As I've worked on this one, it has occurred to me that there must be hundreds, if not thousands of individuals in the world who are working on musical projects and sounds similar to these. I often feel that the Noise genre and its many offshoots are a new form of Folk music in that way. If you're seeking out a few new clanging sounds from solo percussionists,  or perhaps an entry point into the genre, you might consider starting with one of the above. Tons of compelling sounds comin' from them, if you're willing to listen.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Other One: The Long Strange Trip of Bob Weir; Netflix Originals, 2015

Mrs. Amnesiac and myself just finished watching this brand new film about the man who is most likely the most recorded musical artist of all time, and Disaster Amnesiac has to say that it's pretty damn good.
The person that emerges from this portrait is one that is eloquent, thoughtful, and bluntly honest. I find myself wishing that so many other Pop Culture Icon types shared these traits with Mr. Weir.
The Other One is filled with great archival footage of the Grateful Dead, naturally, and I'd be willing to bet that most Dead Heads, along with more casual fans, will thrill at its visual treats. There are also beautiful shots of rural Marin County and San Francisco, which, when paired with Grateful Dead music, show how reflective of the physical aspects of the San Francisco Bay Area their music really could be.
Additionally, there's a really heart wrenching interview with Trixie Garcia, in which the weight of her dad's life and its tortured ending really cuts through. Seriously, you'll be moved. Thankfully, Weir comes in to save the day with compassionate insight into the character of Jerry, and his matter of fact musings go far to assuage the raw pain that comes through Trixie's breakdown.
Obviously there will be many more blog posts, tweets, and Facebook statements about The Other One: The Long Strange Trip of Bob Weir, but I just had to get a quick one in while the impressions are still vivid.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Beefeater-Plays For Lovers; Dischord Records #17, 1985

As Disaster Amnesiac has listened to Beefeater's 1985 debut album, I've had thoughts about that concept which says an older person unconsciously gravitates towards the music of their youth. Not that this LP was every out of my listening rotation for too long! Far from it. Disaster Amnesiac has always had some sort of copy of Plays For Lovers close by. Naturally, these tunes, first heard by yours truly when he was a tender pup of fifteen resonate for a crusty almost forty-five years old in that way, but Disaster Amnesiac would also just like to describe and enthuse about not only its emotional merits, but those musical ones as well.
Beefeater's sound as always struck this listener as a mixture, often times a beautifully messy one, of four very distinct elements. This feel was what made them so compelling upon initial listens, and what probably keeps them that way.
Foremost among these elements is the distinctive vocal sound of Tomas Squip. The emotional rawness of his delivery, wherein he sighs, cries, hits, and even spits into the mic provides for an often exasperating listen. Of course by now the term "Emo" is probably bandied about at any level of cultural discourse; as far as Disaster Amnesiac recalls, that term arose as Post Hardcore Punk Rock listeners dialogued with each other, searching for ways to describe the highly charged approach of Squip, Rites of Spring's Guy Picciotto, and Embrace's Ian MacKaye. Over time, some of the more overt political references of tunes such as Reaganomix seem to lose a touch currency (but, then again they also serve as snapshots of what was on the mind of a large chunk of an underground music scene), but his lyrics on Out of the Woods, Song for Lucky, and Mourning, with its incredibly poignant musings on the dynamics of suicide, retain tons of powerful impact. I've often felt, while listening to Plays, that Squip's style is almost too confessional, too emotionally intimate for "polite society" dynamics, in the way that often the first reaction to any type of sorrowful tears is to try and immediately stop the person shedding them from doing so. Certain emotional displays make people uncomfortable, and Squip spends the span of this entire LP evincing them. Disaster Amnesiac counsels: don't be afraid of it. Listen to and feel this emotional outpouring. Additionally, Tomas plays one hell of a great guitar solo on the cover of Jimi Hendrix's Manic Depression, essentially going ape shit with feedback and raw six string caterwaul. As with his vocals, it's all about the rawness, there.
Not to be outdone in the guitar rawness department is Fred Smith, with his style that fuses Heavy Metal, Funk, Punk Rock, Psychedelic Rock, all blended into a very personal expression. I can recall marveling at his sounds, so at odds with most Hardcore (save the crew over at SST, of course) of the time. Over the years, these sounds continue to thrill the guitar player fan that I remain. His heavy, block chords on Trash Funk, his quicksilver intro on Beefeater, his feedback-drenched playing on Assholes Among Us, the wild riffing on Miss You So Much. Fred just provides so much in the way of guitar expressiveness throughout Plays. His wild, careening playing added a lot to the singular Beefeater mixture. In the early 2000's, Disaster Amnesiac was channel surfing and saw Fred on the tube as part of some Rock band based "reality show". All that I could do was reminisce about seeing his smile up on stage at a community center in Washington, D.C., riffing away with Beefeater.
Funky bassist Dug E. Bird also adds his own personal voice to the Beefeater mix by way of his four string originality. I'd say that if you want to go to the heart of his expression on Plays For Lovers, skip ahead to track 5, Mr. Silverbird, and marvel at his thick, rumbling low end heaviness. Disaster Amnesiac never tires of this tune, with its musical and emotional movement, and Bird's playing has so much to do with this. At this point in time, the musical paring of Funk and Rock elements is well-trod territory, but I'd counsel the listener to really pay attention to the gritty, dirty, FONKY sound that Beefeater get on this track, and recall that they laid it down over thirty years ago. Now, I ain't saying that this was the first example of such action, as I'm sure that Bird was in the audience at that Big Boys/Trouble Funk/Minor Threat show in D.C., but I am saying that it's a damn fine example of the potential of it. Dug pretty much plays lead bass on A Dog Day and Song for Lucky, builds huge low blocks of sound on 4 3 2 1, floats melodic on Beefeater, and just generally holds things down throughout. His style has always struck this listener as a liberating voice of the bass guitar in Punk Rock, right up there with Mike Watt in some ways.
Paired with Bird, nay, glued to him throughout Plays is drummer Bruce Taylor. I can still recall seeing his picture on the sleeve of the LP, and marveling at this "old guy" playing on a Punk Rock record. That notion seems ridiculous now, of course. Bruce's playing on the album is most definitely not ridiculous as he, like Smith, mixes what sounds like elements of different influences into a voice of his own. His kit playing has the energized feel of Punk Rock and Hardcore on Mourning and 4 3 2 1, albeit still beat-based, and his solid thumping beats on Assholes, Red Carpet, Mr. Silverbird and Manic Depression, always blending lively cymbal work with over the top rolling snare and tom tom patterns, show grounding in earlier styles. It's probably safe to say that he played drums in bands before Punk Rock, and felt fine utilizing lessons learned from those experiences. Where did he  come from pre-Beefeater, and where did he go after this LP?
Disaster Amnesiac remembers exactly where I was, the first that I heard Plays For Lovers, and who I was with. I also remember how it made me feel.  All these years later, I put it on and still feel something. Beefeater's dervish mixture of elements, and their raw delivery, just never gets old for this listener.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Many Arms & Toshimaru Nakamura-self titled CD; Public Eyesore Records #131, 2015

On occasion, Disaster Amnesiac worries about Public Eyesore/Eh? honcho Bryan Day. Between what I'd gather is a constant production schedule for his labels, and keeping his Bad Jazz group going (including tours), where does he find time to rest? Seriously, Bryan, make sure and drink plenty of water!
Thankfully for the Noise/Improvised Music/huh? fan, all of this effort pays off in recordings such as Public Eyesore's newest, the Many Arms & Toshimaru Nakamura disc. Over four simply named pieces, I-IV, this powerful quartet blasts, pounds, and sizzles its way out of the speakers with the fury of Punk Rock, the demonstrative battle energy of Metal, and the control of Jazz.
Guest Nakamura, on no-input mixing board, provides a lot of that sizzle, as his sounds remain often in the background, subtly coloring the side areas and crevices of the overall sound field. Listen to his work of II for what has struck this listener as the best overall example of that action within this disc. Disaster Amnesiac figures that "politeness" does not hold much weight with a lot of the more aggro improvisors, but I definitely get a sense that Nakamura's approach here was somewhat framed by that notion. Perhaps he didn't want to bring too much attention to what he was doing within the overall group sound? It's not so much that he's timid, as it is that he blends into the maelstrom whipped up by Many Arms.
Maelstrom, indeed! Philadelphia-based Many Arms, according the to the Public Eyesore press sheet that came with this disc, have spent a lot of time on tour themselves, and this certainly comes through in their sound. Drummer Ricardo Lagomasino often goes full octopus mode, whirling his arms and legs around the kit's components as his poly-rhythmic layering propels the music into highly energetic zones. Bassist Johnny DeBlase plays and incredible solo on IV, really wresting center stage for the four strings, but equal to the other players throughout. Nick Millevoi on guitar pulls industrial sized scraping and tonal blasts, along with cool cello sounds on III. In a word, Many Arms plays. Their energy and intensity has made Disaster Amnesiac think of Tony Williams Lifetime at times, almost as if that band had dispensed with their "prettier" stuff and just delved right down into the well of delicious, noisy, messed up improvisational whoop ass. Many Arms fucking bring it!
On the engineering side, Eugene Lew deserves much credit for capturing the many layers of instrumental depth that Many Arms and Nakamura poured out during this one day (!) session. The listener can hear all elements with the clarity that Disaster Amnesiac is sure that the players desired from their respective axes.
Within the past few days, I've seen on social media that Bryan Day is currently planning a trip to the Philippines  in order to document what he's told me is a burgeoning and good Improvised/Noise scene developing there. Disaster Amnesiac looks forward to tasting some of that lumpia, but, in the meantime, I'll be jamming Many Arms & Toshimaru Nakamura at those times when a cleansing aural blast is required!