Saturday, October 13, 2018

Various Artists-Switched-On Eugene; Numero Group Records #198, 2018

Towards the end of Douglas McGowan's great liner notes for Switched-On Eugene, Peter Nothnagle, one of its featured artists, is quoted thus: "...I think that if there's one key thing that has inspired me in life, it is uncovering that which is hidden...". These words can truly be the maxim for Numero Group, a label that has been finding all sorts of hidden gems and putting them out for the interested public for several years now.
Earlier this year, when Disaster Amnesiac read about Switched-On Eugene's immanent release, I felt pretty excited and confident that it would be highly worth checking out. I have long had a fascination with the release's time frame of mid-to late 1980's synthesizer music! Of course, this feeling has been proven to be correct.
Over the course of fourteen tracks, the listener is treated to a beautifully detailed overview of Eugene, Oregon's Electronic Music Collective, founded in 1984 by six of the musicians featured. The synthesizer-generated music featured on this release is all wonderful and diverse, linked loosely by a common focus on Post-Psychedelic and New Age aesthetics; that said, all of them are uniquely realized and are clear examples of the individual vision of their respective creators.
Eugene kicks off with David Stout's The Seven Rays. This track features Stout's dramatic incantation about crystals and numerology, backed by great marching drum pulses and a mixture of billowing and bleeping tones from his synthesizers. What a great, definitive opening statement for this release! From and artist with the excellent nom de plume of Phyllyp Vernacular, track two, The Clinging, has a bit more driving pulse, classic machine sounds pushing big keyboard chords towards a slow fade. One can really feel one's self within a blissfully digital realm here. A very meditative piece for Prophet 5 Synth, Shimmer, comes next. Peter Thomas's largo approach features a lovely mixture of longer, longing tones and wistful commentary from the higher notes. It really does indeed shimmer within the perceptions. It seems like a definitive statement of New Age Music from that time frame. Other Playgrounds, from Peter Kardas, proves to be quite a good transition from its predecessor on Eugene, as it continues with the longing feelings in some ways. His Jon Anderson-inspired vocals hover above a drones generated from a delay pedal before fading out. The peripatetic (at least during that time frame) Kim Carter and his lively, almost Beatles-ey Energy wanders in next. Driven by a jumpy drum machine beat, this song is really catchy in a Pop sense. Sadly, its insightful lyrics are probably a bit too deep for mass consumption. This one has been bouncing around in Disaster Amnesiac's brain for days. The more rhythmic sensibilities continue with Great Moves, by Nathan Griffith. It gets to the heart of the machines as robotic poly voices mix and mingle within its moves. Moves veers almost into Punk Rock territory, not so much in overt show, but in its harder edged surfaces. Joel Horwitz joins the action with a very cool fusion of drums and synthesizers for Finale From "A Walk Down Serenity Lane". A track that can by its nature be considered Electro-Acoustic, it was produced to be promotional music for a drug rehab clinic. Joel mentions that it was not used as intended. Its tripartite form runs the gamut from harrowing to uplifting and has some really fine, loose drum set action. What was Serenity Lane thinking? Perhaps the term of Techno-Primitive can best be used to describe Michael Chocholak's Skomorokhi. Sparse washes of sound and a incessant, tapping beat frame vocal samples of the track's title. Its atmospheres are quite mysterious and perhaps a bit dark, and provide fascinating contrast to the dreamier cuts that precede it. Every story needs an element of tragedy, and Derryl Parsons may well fit that role on Switched-On Eugene. After reading about his jaw being broken in a street altercation and his somewhat early passing, Disaster Amnesiac certainly has sensed so.  The icy synths of Floating Landscape (including Chase Scene), Derryl's contribution to the the disc, pulse along gaily and belie the sorrow which the man apparently embodied. Chase Scene is particularly cool with its Minimalist stuttering and water atmosphere. Dance Pacific, by Portland OR native Scott Blair is very aptly titled. He managed to coax bamboo Gamelan sounds from his Yamaha CX5M, along with bright chimes and longer, supporting tones atop them. Really gorgeous tones here. Heather Perkins brings The Eugene Electronic Music Collective to a pretty much Punk Rock place with Burning Through. Her slurred recitation about not being cool and remaining her own person in the face of social pressures has a really sharp edge. The spare electronic percussion bed upon which her lyrics rest is perfect for this type of street level ranting. It's a testament to the broad mindedness of the organization, hinted at from a quote in the liner notes, that they allowed this declamation sit side by side with the more Aquarian sentiments generally expressed. More drum set and electronics fusions emerge with Self-Regulation (II). A trippy blend of bent guitar (?) notes, up beat traps drumming and electronic washes from Carl Juarez, it carries on with the harder sounds. A blending of Punk Rock with Psychedelic in the fine tradition of the German groups of the early 1970's. The next couple of tracks, The Ride and Patterns, by Talve and Suse Millemann respectively, seem to show a return towards more upbeat, vocal-oriented Pop sensibilities. The former has a quite catchy chorus that Disaster Amnesiac has been humming a lot, delivered from Talve's clear soprano. The latter, a bit more subdued, has Suse singing in a rougher alto. Both are finely crafted and inspiring, really nice pieces of 1980's styled song writing. I've really enjoyed these ones during early morning commutes from Richmond CA to Concord CA along Highway 4, a somewhat rural stretch surrounded by ranches. They lend themselves to early morning contemplation. Switched-On Eugene concludes with the very placid New Snow by Peter Northagle. It is a sumptuous piece of smooth tones that floats the listener gently away patient waves of synthesized chords. Along with Shimmer, Nothagle's piece may be the most classically New Age of this set, and it's a fine ending statement.
Additionally of note about Switched-On Eugene are the lovely cartoon graphics by the late Paul Ollswang, numerous reproductions of Eugene Electronic Music Collective tape covers and show flyers, and wonderfully candid photos of most of the artists represented. Numero Group clearly put a ton of effort into this beautiful package. No surprise there, of course. They are stunningly meticulous about all of their output.
Switched-On Eugene would surely appeal to both long time fans of Electronic Music or curious new comers to this fascinating, wide ranging genre. Disaster Amnesiac has been loving this very intimate glimpse into this hidden, hermetic scene and its admirable d.i.y. aesthetics. Most of these artists are still around, doing cool stuff in the world. Throw 'em a couple bucks and some listening time!

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Panic!-photo book; Ryebread Rodeo Press, 2018

It took a day, maybe two, for Disaster Amnesiac to splurge on Ryebread Rodeo's great new hardbound book, Panic!, upon hearing of its release. Being a huge fan of Black Flag and pretty much anything SST and Greg Ginn related, there really wasn't much choice for me. Kinda HAD to have it. I figure that's the case for many out there, and they'll surely enjoy the photos of Hermosa Beach based Punk Rock group Panic!, a few months before they'd morph into being Black Flag. Robo looking half naked and totally feral, Keith holding onto a can of cheap beer for dear life, Chuck looking every bit the philosophy professor gone Col. Kurz, Greg with his piercing stare and lanky frame. The four of them rehearsing in their padded cell (I've marveled at how clean it looks!) and goofing off inside of what I think is the fabled Church, posing dangerously, while being double exposed, on Aviation Blvd., sitting in Keith's car (there's that brewski again, too). Also of note are the rough, naturalistic backgrounds that show Los Angeles in 1978. One can almost feel the grit and smell the exhaust coming off of the contact sheets.
The most instructive takeaway for Disaster Amnesiac, though, has been the repro'd contract with Bomp! Records. After reading it, I was struck by the "in perpetuity" clause mentioned. Is it painting with too broad a brush to suggest that this clause in some sense was the seed for the underground, do it yourself ethos which Black Flag would pioneer?
Dig: Disaster Amnesiac has been trying to imagine the conversation between Ginn and...who? His inner voice? Dukowski? Regis? In which, he saw that some other entity would own his vision for ever. For me, it's fascinating to ponder this, and the final decision to jettison the Bomp! plan and go completely independent. It seems likely that, had Panic! been signed to Bomp!, they would have put out a few 7 inches, maybe a 12 inch, and withered upon the vine of their boutique aesthetic. As we all know, Black Flag took over their own destiny (or, at least made a bold attempt to do so), got that first single out, and proceeded to carve out a tour circuit that is still extant into the 21st Century. Granted, this is pretty speculative statement, but it seems logical from where I sit. From a historical perspective, the contract is really the most compelling piece in the Panic! book for me.
Anyone interested in SST Records, or Black Flag, or Los Angeles, will likely spend a ton of time with it, should they grasp a copy of Panic! It does not feel as seminal a description of them as, say, Enter Naomi, but they most definitely expose some heretofore obscured views of the very important cultural achievement that they represent.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

United Slaves-United Slaves Live in Paris; Muteant Sounds digital release, 2018

The releases are coming fast and furious from Muteant Sounds, so much so that Disaster Amnesiac is having a bit of trouble keeping up with them! It certainly is a pleasure to attempt to do so, of course, especially when releases such as United Slaves Live in Paris, from the quartet known as United Slaves, comes forth through the 'net.
Consisting of one continuous forty minute blast of heady improvisation, Live in Paris hits several different musical zones as it evolves. It starts out with a few minutes of droning, burbling electronics from Julien Palomo's ARP 2600. Upon hearing this initial passage, I was thinking that the entire set would be a meditation of a mellower sort, but as Michel Kristof on guitar, Yann Geoffriaud on drums, and Vinne Pasternostro on sax join in, it became clear that this set would be leading to a lot more wildly energetic areas. The quartet dives into some seriously thickened sonic interaction, with every voice adding their piece to the collective maelstrom that is conjured. Things settle down for a bit before Geoffriaud's rolling tom tom patterns guide Pasternostro, Kristof, and Palomo back up and out into Stooges level trance energy displays. It's within the mid-to late set times that the full force of United Slaves reveals itself, and it's a powerful improvisational force at that. Disaster Amnesiac has been swooning at the precision polyrhythms of Geoffriaud as it combines with Kristof's equally on point guitar stun attack and Pasternostro's spiritually uplifting tenor wailing. Palomo colors within and beyond his compatriots' collective matrix, sending whirling spirals this way and that.
All throughout Live in Paris, I hear many influences as play: Experimental Lab Music, Free Improvisation, Jazz in all its guises, Heavy Metal. Within the Slaves' hands they are all grasped and wrung into a very effective set of their unique sonic head cleaning praxis.
I couldn't care less what sounds others are listening to, but, if Disaster Amnesiac had to present an example of fiery, freely improvised music to a non-clued in listener, I'd seriously consider United Slaves Live in Paris as that example. It's raw, real, and very, all very exciting. Head on over to Muteant Sounds, and tell 'em I sent you.