Sunday, March 29, 2015

Disaster Apologia

Disaster Amnesiac has recently been reflecting on the length of time that this blog has been in existence. I started it with the encouragement of my friend Michael Row in 2008, and, with the exception of pretty much the entire year of 2010, have pursued it ever since that time. I'm not going to toot my own horn here, because I realize that not all of the writing that springs forth from the mind of Disaster Amnesiac has been stellar. However, I feel like I've made an honest attempt at objective and descriptive writing about cultural phenomena, mostly of the musical variety, that has felt worthy, for whatever subjective reasons, of receiving such treatment.
Of course, we all make mistakes, and over the years, a few of what I consider to be blatant flubs have slipped forth from whichever keyboard was then being used. It is with these mistakes in mind that Disaster Amnesiac would like to issue brief apologia.

1. Myspace vs. Facebook-I used a very collegiate compare/contrast model from which to praise the usefulness of Myspace for the purpose of finding new sounds and bands. In light of the fact that Myspace seems to be as dead a web presence as Hillary's email server, I must apologize for that flub. How long has it been since you went to Myspace for anything?

2. Bill Graham-Disaster Amnesiac said mean things about the Man That Built This City. Don't get me wrong, I can't stand Bill Graham Presents. Their venues suck, their staff are rude, their shows feel less like living experiences than they do slick ad campaigns, etc. That said, I should have kept my criticisms professional and human. Sorry, Bill.

3. Pussy Riot-When Disaster Amnesiac first saw rough, grainy video of Pussy Riot, and its attendant Punk Rock with drum machine (Metal Urbain!) soundtrack, I was hooked, and spent a lot of time watching and listening. Their early, raw sound was incredibly exciting to me! Three or so years later, as I watch Pussy Riot become just another celebrity skin show, and hearing their not great English language offerings, presumably served up as demos for an opening slot on some leg of the Sleater Kinney "Hey, We're FINALLY BACK TO SAVE ROCK 'N ROLL" tour, Disaster Amnesiac cringes. Please accept my heart felt-est,  folks.

So, there you go. I guess it's up to the Big Guy Or Girl that Barry Bonds used to point upward to, post Historic Number ..... now, as to whether or not Disaster Amnesiac will be granted forgiveness. And yes, I realize that in seven years' time I may have to consider doing another one of these posts, especially in light of the Sleater slung snark. Until that time, though, don't expect me to go anywhere. Disaster Amnesiac guarantees some more mistakes in the interim.
For that, no apology.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Some thoughts on England's Dreaming

So today Disaster Amnesiac finally finished England's Dreaming, Jon Savage's wonderful account of the rise of the Malcolm McClaren, the Sex Pistols, and Punk Rock.
I'm sure that there have been many reviews of the since its 1992 publication, but I just wanted to quickly note how great a book it is.
Particularly delightful for this reader was the story of the early McClaren years, up to and including the initial London Punk development. It strikes Disaster Amnesiac that this Pop Culture development was very much massaged into being by Malcolm, but that the more organic youth energy and creativity was absolutely essential for it to arrive non-stillborn. Therein lies the subsequent tale of Punk and its mutations. As I read about the media feeding frenzy and crucifixions that the members of the Sex Pistols endured, I also marveled at the story that was constantly brewing underneath that particular surface, the story of a much more organic, vital culture coming into being. That culture can defined as the worldwide d.i.y. Punk/Post Punk/Hardcore culture that soldiers on in the Pistols' wake.
These days, they exist simultaneously, sometimes influencing each other, sometimes spinning in completely different orbits, but related by birth, for sure.
Also of interest is Savage's open minded, objective assessment of the various bands of early Punk Rock, and his great journal notes that provide clear glimpses of the scene as it happened.
If you've not read England's Dreaming yet, and you're at all interested in Punk Rock, post-1960's Situationism, the Sex Pistols, or Britain in the 1970's, you'll do well to find it and dig in.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Toiling Midgets-A Smaller Life; Full Contact Records 2X vinyl; 2014

In one of the earliest Disaster Amnesiac columns, I compared the the music of Toiling Midgets to the quality of reflected and refracted light in San Francisco. The shimmery opaqueness of both has not changed in quality in the interim. Toiling Midgets personal circumstances have changed quite drastically since that time, however, with the passing of Tim Mooney and Tom Mallon, along with other big life changes for members of the group. As such, it makes sense that some sort of retrospective from this great band be collected.  Thankfully, Finland's Full Contact Records has done just that with A Smaller Life, which collects demo and live recordings from Toiling Midgets entire history, a span of well over thirty years now.
The great thing about hearing demo recordings is that they show a band's innermost thoughts. By that, Disaster Amnesiac means that they reveal the sounds and approaches to making them that are the most personal; more often than not, recordings such as these are never meant to be shared further than with the most inner-circle of the group, and thereby evince the kind of raw emotional and aesthetic revealing that would likely be done away with, or smoothed over, once the final product is prepared for public presentation. Demo recordings often sound delightfully unrestrained. Listening to A Smaller Life, I revel in the breadth and scope that Toiling Midgets were pondering as they played, along with, of course, their "standard", incredible sounds.
Standout examples of the latter would be early versions of tunes such as Do the Incendiary, Warehouse, and the gorgeous Caverns II. These songs feature Toiling Midgets signature twinned guitar voices that bounce off of each other with eloquently chiming conversational cross talk, heavy rhythmic patterns from the drums, and taut bass lines that carry it all forward. Mid-period songs like EQ Plex and The Brush (more stunning beauty here) and the joyous Mr. Spine show the group developing and refining their sounds from the initial template. The strength of their conception is bearing serious musical fruits here, as the group plays with an interconnected lock that is seriously powerful and moving to hear.
Along with their instrumentals, Toiling Midgets always had (have?) a few great vocal tracks thrown in. Disaster Amnesiac figures that, early on, it had to do with whether or not Ricky Williams would show up; on If You Choose to Live, he does indeed appear, giving spooky recitation of his very singular psychic visions. On Wolf Blitzer and Why Can't We? his sounds are the most ripped Punk Rock of his career, and on Pumice the intimacy is almost frightening. Mark Eitzel hits some serious highs on the rocking, heavy, To Die. I wonder why this one was left off of Son?
Moving into the later years, I get more of a darkened, industrialized feel to the songs; Disaster Amnesiac feels that the 1990's were a pretty heavy emotional time in society, much more so than many will ever likely let on, and Toiling Midgets music from this period seems to reflect that. Some sort of additional weight is injected into all of the forms. Perhaps this simply has to do with better mic capture as Mallon in particular refined his craft, but anyway it's notable.
Also of note within the later oeuvre is the tasteful addition of viola on tracks such as Train Set and Pumice and keyboards on No, Paul, No, the ass kicking thrill ride of Andi, and the ethereal Yakuza Serenade. Their timbres add to and enhance these songs' moods in fascinating ways. Paul Hood and Craig Gray show their continuing guitar development on Broken, presumably one of the most recent demos collected here. After it all, their initial spark remains, and only flames brighter and with even more clarity.
To add to this already long list of compelling listening, Disaster Amnesiac must also note tunes such as synthesizer/percussion/Ricky experiment, worthy of Tuxedomoon or Pink Section, of So He Sayeth and the haunting Texas Hills Country of Train Set. These ones offer glimpses of the mentioned inner, private aesthetic work outs that happen below the surface of a band's public face. As a Toiling Midgets fan, I am grateful for them.
Disaster Amnesiac does not really believe in or pay attention to the Grammy system. Having said that, though, I'd seriously like to nominate Full Contact Records for Best Reissue, for the absolutely stellar job that they've done with Toiling Midgets on A Smaller Life. Printed on high quality paper, and filled with not only first rate Rock music but amazing archival photos and detailed notes, this LP is totally worthy of that, and even higher, honors. I'd also admonish you, the listener, to find it before it sells out. Chances are, those that have copies will NOT be letting go of them any time soon!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Jackie McDowell-Language of the Birds; Hairy Spider Legs, cassette and download, 2015

A few years back, Disaster Amnesiac was saddened when Jackie and Matt McDowell split Portland, OR for Pittsburgh, PA. I had just recently spent a cool weekend within their West Coast orbit, and had been looking forward to more chances to hear their music live. It transpired that the McDowell's were absolutely ready for a big change, and that move back to their home state seems to have provided it. Their music, both collaborative and solo, has been somewhat reconsidered and born anew; despite being far away from them physically, I'm grateful to have remained in the loop of their reinvigorated output.
Jackie's Baptista LP, released last year, provided this listener all kinds of contemplative, mystical insights as it blared forth from the Disaster Amnesiac personal library. I have no valid excuse for not reviewing it, but rest assured that I enjoy it immensely. A few days back I was delighted to have received her new offering, Language of the Birds, completely unexpected, in the mail box, and I most assuredly ain't going to pass up this opportunity to spiel a bit about her music.
Language starts off with the held tones of Harmonium for a Wood Thrush, in which Jackie duets with said bird, leading the listener with spare percussion and patient keys into the solitudes of their own mental forest space, should they choose to journey along. I'd recommend going, and, of course, so would the thrush, most likely. If one stays on the path of the cassette's side one, they will find themselves in the very Appalachian Country strum, reminiscent of her work in Sun Cycles, of Heralds. This tune's professions of love are humbling and heart warming. Cynics beware, it's the dreaded L word! The love one feels when spying the rising sun from a window, or perhaps when one sees that true, special person walking their way. Nothing to be cynical about there, and if you are, may you find the blessings that you need on this earth. Jackie's music could help lead the way. Next up is Door of My Heart, a cover song, borrowed from Bengali culture by way of P. Yogananda. Its reverent, very spiritual rendering, delivered with gracious simplicity and sparing restraint, gives ample proof of the talents that Jackie has. It can be said that a musician's mettle is often proved by the way in which they handle the music of others, and McDowell does so in a fine way with Door of My Heart. Speaking of simplicity, that's the name of the next tune, and its playful feel, rung out with great old organ tones, tal-inspired rhythms, and vocal embellishments that have a distinctly Indian folk music feel, has Disaster Amnesiac imagining himself strolling along a street in Mumbai and hearing its tones coming from multiple radios; Simplicity is a song with transporting whimsy.
Side two of Language continues with the Exodus of Hats Off to (Hal) Borland and its surreal poetic incantations. Jackie seems to be describing some inherent facet of creation here, some power deeper and stronger than man as she plays her harmonium, again sticking with the sustained tones to create an aura of ritual. The rite continues in the form of multi-tracked voicing with A Midsummer Day's Improv, more mysterious vibes here, with words combining and sliding off of each other, conjuring up new mental associations along the way. Isn't it the point of ritual to do just that? Language of the Birds fittingly ends with a trio of harmonium, human voice, and bird voice, McDowell returning to wordless chantings on O Orogeny Mine. The bird gets the last say here, ending the tape with a few salutary goodbye chirps to the listener as the chords wind down.
As I wind down this review, I sit and listen to my local bird friends chirping joyfully at an overnight rain, and take pleasure in the fact that bird song can be heard most everywhere. Jackie McDowell must realize this too, and often. Her musical language is becoming just as unique as those of her avian inspirations.

Monday, March 9, 2015

Apriori-Demo Tape; digital release via Bandcamp, 2014

Disaster Amnesiac subscribes to a really great youtube feed from a guy in the SF Bay Area who films all sorts of local Punk Rock and Metal shows. I really look forward to his Sunday morning uploads, even though I often have a feeling of regret as I watch, knowing that all of this underground culture is going on so close to me and I'm missing it! Ah, well, I guess one can't be everywhere doing everything.
What one CAN do, even this lazy bastard, is go over to Bandcamp and immediately download Oakland band Apriori's 2014 demo recording. Disaster Amnesiac had the pleasure of watching a recent live show of theirs at roseman127's Youtube feed, and before their short set was even over, I was busy searching for their music online.
Said music is really satisfying Punk Rock, played with the aggression of early Hardcore. What I mean by that is that their sound has the wanton, half unhinged tempos and pacing that made hearing Punk so necessary to so many music fans; it is clearly cared about by the band, but played with the kind of over the top aggro energy that makes it fly out of the speakers as a great, enervating racket. The guitar player, James, uses raw, ripping tones that make Disaster Amnesiac think of Craig Gray, Craig Lee, or early Greg Ginn even. Rock power with Punk aesthetics and, again, energy. This is damn fine company to be in for any guitar player, and one just has to give kudos to him for it.
The rhythm section of Ben on bass and Aryel on drums pounds its way through the songs with stomping, powerful command. They don't just oompah, they rock. Seriously, one could slow their pace down (not that there's any reason at all for anyone to do so, just saying) and have equally bracing Metal or Doom or straight up Rock. Just as is the case with the guitars, these guys clearly know what they're doing with their instruments.
Singer Laura uses the kind of shouted approach that makes Disaster Amnesiac want to shout along, or simply thrash around the apartment, fist pumping the air and saying "YEAH!!!", not in an ironic way, but in an inspired way. She sounds great, equal to the energy coming from the players in the band.
The great thing about the internet is the immediacy with which one can find cool stuff. One of the great things about Punk Rock, when done well, is how immediately emotionally satisfying it can feel. Disaster Amnesiac suggests that you go immediately to Apriori's Bandcamp page and hear their great demo tape!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Three discs of "huh?" from eh?

Much like any other citizen, Disaster Amnesiac has an abiding fantasy as to what exactly goes on in America. For me, a large share of my projection upon the good ole U.S.of A. entails scores of creative music composers, laboring away, Ives-like, in the heartland and on the coasts, cooking up odd electronics and weird Jazz. Of course, the reality of the situation must be wildly divergent from my imaginings, but labels such as Public Eyesore and eh? are hard at work, making available diverse and divergent sounds for the rabid consumption of the likes of me. What can I say, I still don't care to listen to singer-songwriters or the newest ironic cover band.
I recently came in to possession of three more discs of underground sounds from eh? Here are some impressions.

Gary Rouzer-Studies and Observations of Domestic Shrubbery; eh? Records #81, 2015
Emerging from the ether wrapped in an elegantly simple brown slip case and decorated with Bryan Day's cool asemic writing, Studies and Observations of Domestic Shrubbery presents four pieces that click, chatter, and drone. Composer Gary Rouzer utilizes cello, clarinet, and cardboard as sound generators. Disaster Amnesiac puzzles over which sounds are emanating from the cardboard, but thinks that it may be these kind of scrape-ey whooshes that arise from the mix. The cello sounds are much more easily appraised, as Rouzer pulls long tones from them to produce said drones, along with percussive bowing techniques on the strings and possibly the body of the instrument. His clarinet sounds are generally high-pitched signals that arise from the the low stuff of cardboard and cello. Perhaps the most striking aspect of Studies and Observations is the ways in which Rouzer uses silence: long pauses in the action provide drama inducing tensions, before leading into new exploratory spaces. Far from being Harsh, the Noise that Rouzer cooks up is full of these spaces and their attendant release. Four really enjoyable multi-tracked observations, here.

Venison Whirled-Tetragrammatones; eh? Records #82, 2015
Disaster Amnesiac is familiar with Venison Whirled mostly by way of Bill Shute's Kendra Steiner Editions (go buy some of this product!), and news of her eh? release was highly exciting to me.
Shute has told me that Lisa Cameron is a great trap set drummer, and coming from the long-time underground music fan and supporter, I believe it; that said, if it's normal beats or rhythms that you want, these Tetragrammatones are not necessarily the droids you're looking for. Instead, Cameron utilizes contact mics on snare drum and berimbau to create long, standing wave drone tones.Three of the tracks of on this disc are, per the liner note, directly inspired by a fourth, Sea of Air, and all of them have the auditory quality much akin to infrasound if played loudly. By this, I mean that they establish internal organ quaking tones that rumble mightily. At any volume, one's musical payoff is commensurate with how much one listens. As is the case with so many other Minimalist forms, the amount of attention paid is directly equivalent to the amount of aesthetic satisfaction delivered. While listening to Tetragrammatones, Disaster Amnesiac often had similar thoughts as those experienced from staring at amethyst crystal arrays. This one has real power, especially when cranked up high!

Chefkirk & Andrew Quitter-Keiju Manifestos; eh? Records #83, 2015
Not to give the wrong impression, because Disaster Amnesiac loves all three of these new eh? discs, but, so far, this one has been my favorite. As I listen, I figure it has a lot to do with the two man interaction between Chefkirk and Quitter. Of course, for all I know, these two may be one in the same entity, but Keiju Manifestos certainly has a more group dynamic feel. It was recorded in Eugene but has the aesthetic impact of some inter-dimensional cosmic war going on, with all of its high end blasting and explosive sounds, especially on tracks such as Spacial Surface, Plastic Synthesis, and the absolutely bonkers closing track, Recreation, Multiplication, Expansion. Things do even groove a bit on Gesundheit, but for the most part this disc features the sounds of worlds, hell, galaxies for that matter, colliding and exploding. The things that Chefkirk and Andrew Quitter do on this disc would appeal to fans of Industrial, Power Electronics, weird old independent synthesizer cassettes from the 1980's, but Disaster Amnesiac feels a bit like I'm pigeonholing them with that statement. Their sounds are unique and clearly by their own designs.

To get back to my initial statement, and after spending some time listening to these new three discs from eh?, Disaster Amnesiac can rest assured that there are indeed the myriad composers here in the U.S.A., working away at and documenting their individual craft. Given the current malaise of our shared economic situations, I'm not sure how many people have that much time to pay attention, or the psychological liberty necessary to expose themselves to these kinds of "risky" cultural moves (it seems to me that during periods of tremendous societal transition, the masses can't help but become reactionary, even when they're of a Utopian political construct), but I for one take heart from knowing that they're out there, and want to hear as much of them, as often as possible. Label head Bryan Day, along the artists described here, would probably take heart from receiving a bit of financial remuneration for their efforts. Go ahead and grab yourself some eh?! Perhaps, after listening, you'll love America just that much more, if for no other reason, than for knowing that we're still producing Ives types within our historical churn.