Saturday, September 26, 2020

Kramer-The Guilt Trip; Shimmy Disc Records, 1991


It started with a Lida Husik CD. Disaster Amnesiac was rooting around for some tunes to listen to during a long day of driving, and her great Bozo disc made the cut. As it played, I started marveling at Kramer's engineering, and then began pondering Kramer's musical output, until, at the end of the day, I was digging into his powerful 1991 solo record, The Guilt Trip.

As Disaster Amnesiac remembers it, Kramer and Shimmy Disc were at the vanguard of the Psychedelic Music movement of the later 1980's and early 90's. While so many music scenes were solidifying their sounds into pretty easily pinpointed aesthetics, Kramer and his crew were conducing guitar-based experiments into divers manner of approaches. I recall marveling at the hazy, stoned vibes from Bongwater, and the somewhat sharper focus of the Psych Pop of B.A.L.L. Then there's the dreamy ouvre of Husik. And on and on. I recall also being entranced by their soft, grainy, sepia visual aesthetics. These, and, probably with much hindsight for this listener, the ways that Kramer engineered these groups, all combined for a very unique identity emanating from the label and its foreman. An identity that was shrouded in, for me, a very poetic sense of mystery and "differance".

Disaster Amnesiac may have heard about The Guilt Trip when it was released, but I haven't heard it until this recent time spent with it. A shame, really, but most definitely a better late than never scenario. There is just so much music here!

Let's start off with the all-important lyrical arc to The Guilt Trip. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out that the story of a really horrible break up is told on the recording. That, and what seems to be a subtext that is Moby Dick related. As regards the former, Kramer does an incredible job of putting this human experience to words. It's all there: heart rending pain and agony, absurd personal revelations, surreal insights, violent thoughts, feelings of abandonment, sudden unexpected joy; these, and probably a lot more that Disaster Amnesiac is missing. His treatment of the topic is just spot on. If you've not had this experience, you're lucky. If you have, there's a ton of relatable lines on The Guilt Trip. As for the latter, I can't quite seem to place anything for certain, but there are quotes about whales, and titles that have references to them, and stories about them, so.........

Then there's the music. The band, made up of Kramer on bass, Alan Licht and/or Samm Bennett on drums, and Randolph A. Hudson III on guitar, puts down a great performance of Rock trio dynamics. Their playing together is so tight but loose at the same time, and each one of them sounds so adept with their instrument, yet so non-schooled at the same time. They freak out together on the instrumental passages, play great simple parts during the lyric-focused songs, and just rock out in such a great, organic manner throughout. All this, and they never sound as if they're aping any other groups. One can hear myriad influences: Psych Pop, Psych Rock, Blues, Country & Western, but that said, these very adept players take them and make their own group sound with them. It's quite great to hear, and Disaster Amnesiac wishes that they'd have made more recordings. Kramer seasons all of these moves with intriguing found sound snippets at times, giving voice to several seemingly important players in the drama of The Guilt Trip

All told, the music, lyrics, and overall package of this recording are constantly dynamic and immanently listenable. Disaster Amnesiac is really happy to have finally dug in to The Guilt Trip. I hope that Kramer has recovered from that amour fau!

Post Script: for additional reading about The Guilt Trip, I highly recommend Lexicon Devil's great blog post about it from 2008.

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Youth Chairs song production interview!


David Winogrond has always been an important figure in the Disaster Amnesiac experience. I first interviewed him several years back, and since that time he's kept me abreast of his ongoing musical pursuits, especially with Youth Chairs, his sweet Pop Rock group. 

A month or so back, David sent me a copy of their most recent effort, the song A Million Pieces of Glass. With its Laurel Canyon chorus, Mod Beat ending section, and poignant lyrics, it should be a radio hit single. It's that catchy, and all the more so for its intelligence and craft. Disaster Amnesiac wishes that that would be so. 

David told me about the method of Glass's production. Not surprisingly, it was put together by the members of Youth Chairs at a distance. This method obviously is not new, but, seeing as that it was for most of this group, Disaster Amnesiac was pretty curious about how their experience in doing so went. Questions were emailed to David, who in turn distributed them to his band mates. Answers were forthcoming. They are here now. Most of all, I love their witty take on the experience, and respect their flexibility within a new group learning curve. 

Photo taken and provided by David Winogrond. 

Q: I'm assuming that Youth Chairs have never produced music in the way that A Million Pieces Of Glass was produced. How did the decision to do so come about?


David: The pandemic. We wanted to continue recording new songs but rehearsal & recording studios were closed. Basic song demos in the past were also done like this, but with basic drum machine parts just to help establish a feel and I'd take it from there. But in this case, we decided to turn this into a more elaborate demo. It got more interesting from there, so we decided to release it. In early versions, I was playing my knees with my hands. That wasn't quite cutting it, so I bought some midi drum pads and learned how to use Garageband.


Kim: In the past I’d sung musical ideas into my iPhone so that seemed like an option for recording for me given that the rehearsal studio was closed. Necessity is the mother of….Zappa?


Q:  Once the decision was made, what were the logistics like? How did all the parts fall into place?


David: Osmosis.


Larry: Gravity


Jon:  Did you see the cover photo?  


Q: Did any funny occurrences take place during the production of A Million Pieces of Glass?

David: It was all kinda funny.


Larry: Mostly the gongs.  Also David’s knees.


Jon:  My cat could be heard meowing on some of the discarded takes.  She cannot carry a tune. 


Kim: the bathrooms.


Q: Are new works using this method being prepared?


David: Yes. We have one more that just needs a mix. And as long as we can't record in a studio like we usually do, we'll continue with this method. Making it up as we go along.


Kim: It’s a very different style! And a cover, from one of Larry’s fave bands. That’s all I can say without violating client-attorney privilege.

 Q:  What are some upsides to producing music with the distance method?  

David: Cheaper! And we can work on it whenever we want. No scheduling. More individual control before a recording gets added to the master. I don't have to set up or move or tune a drum set... not my favorite things to do.


Larry:  More time to play with the song, and more opportunity to try different things, since we’re not always watching the meter. (You should hear some of the stuff that didn’t make it into the final mix…)


Jon:  Wardrobe choices were easier for sessions, as I was freed from the occasionally withering disapproval of band mates. Also, what David and Larry said.


John: it was, in fact, a relief not having to cope with Jon’s fashion faux pas.  


Kim: I think we all talk more now than ever--albeit via zoom where I can show off my latest virtual backgrounds each week - gawd, the pressure’s intense. And with the rehearsal/recording cost savings we can now pour our monies into the mega marketing budget. And less lipstick on the microphone.


Q: How about some downsides? 


David: There's no replacing the feel of playing a real physical drum set. But I did play the midi drum pads with real drum sticks. That helped with feel. The cymbal sounds suck, so I used almost no cymbals. I used Steve Lillywhite's production (Siouxie & The Banshees, XTC, Peter Gabriel) as inspiration, as his productions that I'm familiar with used no or almost no cymbals. Also Maureen Tucker was inspiring my approach, as she tended to stay away from cymbals, as well.


Larry:  It’s not as much fun to bicker online as it is in the studio, but we’ll just have to make the best of it.  Also, less spontaneity.


Jon: It was more of a challenge to hear how parts were blending until a mix could be made/shared, and the interaction in a live rehearsal was not available to shape the development/mood of the parts.


Kim: In-person kibitzing is more fun, but in some ways this song creation method (from the singer’s perspective) is super convenient. I grab my phone and head to the loo.

Q: . I know that David had to essentially learn Garageband from scratch... a new type of drum set..... How about the other members of Youth Chairs? What were some learning experiences that you had to go through to get A Million Pieces of Glass done? Were there any specific instrumental/vocal challenges or tweaks that you had to make in order to get your sounds recorded?  

John: I had already recorded bass tracks for another band using GarageBand so I was sure this would all come together-somehow. Larry (possibly naively) took on both the producer and mixer roles, which just about caused him to put his law practice on hold while he dealt with multiple gripes from the band and a large number of remixes. He handled the pressure  admirably, at least until the gong tipped him over the edge. 


David: Well, there was also the gong! We were wanting some sort of transition part in the song and Larry thought a gong would work! Sure! Why not? I actually had a gong many years ago and loaned it to someone but never got around to getting it back. Not really something I used a lot. I found a gong sound in GarageBand, but it sounded more like The Gong Show. Kinda clangy. I was thinking something more like J. Arthur Rank would be better. So I searched for public domain gong sounds and found three I liked. I think Larry ended up using all three!


Larry: Yeah, it was hard to get David’s knees to sound like a gong. 


Jon:  Our vocal approximations of the gong also proved wanting. 


Kim: I exclusively used my iPhone7 to record all the lead and background vocals, spoken effects…..and I used 2 different showers in my home as ‘sound booths’….cool acoustics...I hope Tim Cook reads this interview because I ignored my nice Sennheiser microphone and used all his products…..I would play a track on my MacBookPro (2017 issue, Tim….and my keys are rubbing off and my 3-year MacCare just ran out...wink, wink)....using headphones whilst singing into the iOS Voice Memo app....then I’d email it to Larry. On weekend evenings when I was enjoying a nice Chardonnay, Larry got even more recorded ideas and BG vox. Really he’s a saint for putting up with my gazillion layers.


Q: Any closing thoughts? 


David: Time is what keeps everything from happening all at once.


Larry:  Next time, we’re recording everything in Kim’s shower.


John: I’m packing a towel and my Soap on a Rope.


Jon:  It’s the future of performance art.


Kim: Luckily, my showers are quite roomy.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Bruckmann/Djill/Heule/Nishi-Smith-Brittle Feebling; Humbler Records, 2020


Recently, another musical surprise came to Disaster Amnesiac by way of Humbler Records in the form of Brittle Feebling, a recording of improvised music from the quartet of Bruckmann/Djill/Heule/Nishi-Smith. 

These four first call SF Bay Area musicians present five pieces of collective improvisation that stretch their respective instrumental techniques and vocabularies to a great degree. As I've listened, I've thought a lot about the methods of tonal extension that they utilize throughout Feebling. No doubt, there are plenty of examples given. Sounds scrape, and burble, and whoosh, and bubble, leaving the listener to ponder "who did that?" Oboe becomes a theremin. Koto morphs into a squirrel. Trumpet shows aspects of synthesizer control. Floor tom becomes viola. The sounds that emerge within the group playing on this set are pretty remarkable to one who appreciates adventurous musical exploration, that's for sure. One never quite knows which instrument is playing what, and that it's really quite pleasurable to experience. Concepts such as "chops" get left in the dust as these players dig deeply into their individual sound worlds. These worlds then mesh into sublime musical omniverse.

Rhythms get extended way past meter, into more subtle, long form pulses and episodes. This feeling gives Brittle Feebling a very trance-ey character. An attentive listener could feel as if they are peering in upon a very private conversation between people who are discussing matters of subtle intimacy. Any kind of "rush to the finish" is eschewed, as instead Bruckmann/Djill/Heule/Nishi-Smith allow the pace to de dictated within the action of listen/respond/listen. This group is not marching, but swimming.

Disaster Amnesiac dearly wishes that I could see this great group within a live setting. Perhaps at some time in the future, they'll do a release show for Brittle Feebling. Until that time, this document of high-end improvisational thought/music will serve nicely at such times as the need for hearing that type of musical approach arises. Find it and focus!

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Abigail Smith-Indochina Soundscraps; eh? Records #112, 2020


Chances are that if you live in the United States, and possibly Europe, you probably haven't been able to travel internationally for the last few months. We all know the reasons why, so no need to go into that here. 

Good news from eh? Records on that front, especially for fans of Musique Concrete and Southeast Asian culture, has come in the way of a cassette from New Mexico-based artist Abigail Smith! Indochina Soundscraps is a collection of field recordings made by Smith in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos in 2016. It features all kinds of great sounds from that region. Snippets of street level construction and commute noises, radio broadcasts, school sing alongs, and monastic chanting are blended in a fine, flowing, and very organic way that puts the listener smack dab among these various environments. Disaster Amnesiac has particularly enjoyed those latter sounds, with their booming drums and clattering resonant metal tones. As I've listened, my mind has been very satisfyingly transported to what I imagine those locales to be like, and in this time of forced immobility, Soundscraps is much appreciated for that. It would seem likely  that this cassette (with download) would appeal to both the peripatetic and the sedentary alike. For the former, under the current societal conditions it could serve as a reminder of travels planned or executed. To the latter, in could be an imaginary window into distant worlds. 

Either way, Disaster Amnesiac suspects that those who find Indochina Soundscraps, no matter their proclivities, will find this release refreshingly compelling. I sure have, especially in this period of little movement. This release makes me hopeful.