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.