Category Archives: news

Record Store Day Releases from Medical Records

In case you didn’t know, Record Store Day is tomorrow. This is the one day of the year that you are pretty much required to get to your local record store and purchase some music, or to head over to a label’s site and grab some tunes. It’s a day that celebrates music, sure, but it’s also – to me at least – about supporting the independent stores and labels that are releasing music by artists that aren’t getting tons of exposure.

I’m going to help you to do your part tomorrow by presenting to you a few of the albums that Medical Records is going to be releasing tomorrow. The first one up is “Vintage Robotnick,” the early and mainly unreleased work of Maurizio Dami. Listen to the sample video below to hear cuts from each of the tracks. Sleazy synths, electro-beats and sometimes bouncy rhythms permeate. Most of the LP is comprised of tracks recorded from 1982-1984 which have only been released on CD in 2003 on the “Rare Robotnicks” compilation. Check out this celebration of early 1980’s disco synth pop from Italy.

Next up is a collection of ultra-rare 12″ singles – “Electroconvulsive Therapy vol. 2 – Fuzz Dance.” Made up of 12″ singles originally on the legendary Fuzz Dance label, super rare disco, synthwave, Italo crossover, released on striped italian flag vinyl. As you can hear from the sampler below the same krautrock-cum-disco sensibilities as the Robotnick above are present throughout this compilation. This one is packed with a lot more in the way of pop-hooks. They certainly aren’t formed from the same mold as American synth-disco of the same era. Despite any similarities, these Italian artists, to my ear at least, are maintaining a sense of authenticity in their sound. Sure, the studio production is a bit dry, but it still manages to come off as inviting rather than cold. Vintage synths abound. Check out the sampler below.

So there you have it. Keep an eye out for these gems when you are out and about on your record store day shopping spree. If you can’t find them, then of course you should head over to the Medical Records site to pick up some of their other great offerings. Might I suggest Roladex, perhaps?

Of course, you can also find them on Facebook and Twitter.

Video: Squarepusher w/Z-Machines – “Music For Robots”

I had this thought pop into my head for no reason at all this afternoon. I was imagining myself as teaching a one-on-one music composition lesson, just like the ones that I used to have on a weekly basis when I was an undergrad. I was thinking about what the first thing that I would say to a first-time student would be, as I still remember my first lesson, and there are some things that I know now that I wish I had known then, that I wish someone would have told me long ago.

What I came up with was, “Ok, the first thing that you have to realize is this: everything has been done already.” I do believe this is true, and I think that for someone that is just starting out writing music that is an important thing to hear. Just practice and get better, develop your voice and everything will fall into place, don’t spend all your time (or any time for that matter) trying to convince people of how brilliant you are.

Then I happened upon an email from Warp Records touting the forthcoming Squarepusher EP. Of course I was excited. I love Squarepusher, even being lucky enough to have seen him perform live this past Summer. The man is a genius, and a virtuoso instrumentalist. His sound is recognizable  from only a few pitches.

According to the man himself:
“In this project the main question I’ve tried to answer is ‘can these robots play music that is emotionally engaging?’

I have long admired the player piano works of Conlon Nancarrow and Gyorgy Ligeti. Part of the appeal of that music has to do with hearing a familiar instrument being ‘played’ in an unfamiliar fashion. For me there has always been something fascinating about the encounter of the unfamiliar with the familiar. I have long been an advocate of taking fresh approaches to existing instrumentation as much as I am an advocate of trying to develop new instruments, and being able to rethink the way in which, for example, an electric guitar can be used is very exciting.

Each of the robotic devices involved in the performance of this music has its own specification which permits certain possibilities and excludes others – the robot guitar player for example can play much faster than a human ever could, but there is no amplitude control. In the same way that you do when you write music for a human performer, these attributes have to be borne in mind – and a particular range of musical possibilities corresponds to those attributes. Consequently, in this project familiar instruments are used in ways which till now have been impossible.”
Sure, that’s all well and good, but while I was listening to the track my question of “why?” just never went away. The composition is undoubtedly Squarepusher. Everything about it has his voice all over it. But, it’s just off. It just doesn’t sound quite right. Sure his character is in those notes, but the personality is gone. The personality and delicate shading of timbres that, yes, are still possible (and noticeable!) in electronic music, are replaced with rigidity and coldness. Sure, robots can play anything, absolutely anything. I would argue the “emotionally engaging” part though. How can music engage someone emotionally if all of those subtle shadings, the things that are impossible to notate, and impossible to mimic verbatim, and utterly, unmistakably human have been extracted?

Sure, they are playing live instruments. The human, emotional element doesn’t lie in the instruments. Even someone that composes pure, fixed media electronic music, needs to finesse that music so that there is a human connection. They take the machines, and the computers and they sand down (so to speak) what makes them sound like machines. The human element is inserted, it’s not something that just comes out through notes and rhythms.

Yes, it is fun to hear (and watch) music be performed by robots. It’s not an original idea though. The simple answer to the question is, I don’t think that the music created by these robots is emotionally engaging at all. Intellectually engaging, sure, but after about 30 seconds of the stolid, precise rhythms and the wind-up music box timbres, I was done.

Why bother with the robots if you can pull the stuff off yourself?

“Music for Robots” will be released April 8th digitally, on CD and vinyl. Pre-orders from Bleep and iTunes will come with a download of “Sad Robot Goes Funny.”

Stream: Fuzz/CCR Headcleaner 7″

First of all let’s just get out of the way that the opening guitar chords that jerkily shift up and down the fretboard sound an awful lot like (read: exactly like) those of “Bubblegum,” the Kim Fowley track that I, and I’m sure many others, came to know through the Sonic Youth cover that appeared as a bonus track on the CD version of their 1986 release, “Evol.” Well, this is a cover too. Ty & Co. are offering up “Till The End of the Day,” originally by The Kinks. Ty and crew definitely do their best to soup it up as much as possible.

I’m glad that Ty is continuing to release more stuff with Fuzz. He’s really been tearing it up lately, and I think this incarnation of his writing process is his best yet. Similar garage rock sound, but Fuzz moves more toward the stoner-ish, jammy end of the spectrum due to Charlie Moothart’s virtuosic interjections, than his solo stuff (which has been more on the sad-bastard side of things lately). “Till The End of the Day” is a two minute barn-burner blasting through your speakers at light speed and never stopping to rest.

The B-side to this limited 7″ release features the slow, enveloping sound of CCR Headcleaner. Their track “Free the Freaks” stomps through with a mix of distorted guitars with clean steel strings in equal measure; with requisite vocals buried below the surface and left to echo in the distance.

The 7″ is available for order now for $6.60, while the 2 tracks are available as a download for “name your own price.” Don’t be cheap, and here is why:
100% of the digital proceeds going to the Ariel Panero Memorial Fund at VH1 Save the Music – a non-profit organization dedicated to restoring instrumental music education in America’s public schools.
Bandcamp//

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks – “Wig Out At Jagbags”

For some reason there are some albums that I listen to a lot, but refuse to write about. I think that sometimes I just want to try to focus writing on bands and artists that aren’t getting much (or in some cases ANY coverage anywhere else), but I also listen to a lot of music every day, and I develop obsessions with albums that last for months at a time.

One of the albums that I’ve been stopping myself from writing about is the latest offering from Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks. This was probably the first significant release of the new year, and also the first album that I started listening to on a daily basis.

Unfortunately Malkmus is never going to be able to escape the shadow of Pavement, and his solo efforts are always going to be compared to their brilliant albums that have reached the heights of required listening to all up and coming indie music fans. I think that “Wig Out At Jagbags” is just as solid a release as his past solo efforts, each of which should be considered outside the bias that inevitably happens when reviewing his work against that of Pavement.

Lead single “Lariat” is more radio-friendly and just more welcoming in general than some of the more angular material that can be found on “Pig Lib” and “Mirror Traffic.” It seems as though Malkmus is more comfortable indulging his proggier side with a few additive rhythms here and there, some odd phrase structures, maybe a few dropped bars; he’s tinkering with form. Take for example “Houston Hades.” That opening (after the noisy intro) that goes on to become the textless chorus, features a bit of hypermetric irregularity. By that I mean that he’s shifting the measures around 4/4 + 2/4 + 4/4 + 2/4, which all adds up to 2 full bars of common time, but the accents are shifted around. That idea carries through to the outro section as well.

Malkmus’ songs make shifts like this, and all sorts of other aberrations of typical structures, sound smooth, and they are hardly noticeable unless you really make an effort to focus a bit on them. The buzzing, sustained guitar lead line that opens the album is placed over one such aberration, with the rhythm section chugging along in a protracted additive rhythm that blends right into the first verse. Sure, it sounds a touch off-kilter, but it is certainly not the focus of the section.

What I find particularly interesting about the songs, on this album as well as on past solo efforts, are Malkmus’ lyrics. Words strung together that partly resemble free association, followed by internal rhymes, allusion, word play and assonance (check out the line that leads into the titular line on “Independence Street” for example). At first listen it might just sound as though the words are thrown down as he sings them, without a care. The truth is is that his lyrics are regularly brilliantly constructed. It’s poetry done right, all of which is sung (with terrific prosody, mind you) in a natural, almost conversational delivery.

Well, I guess I take that back. Lyrics aren’t always delivered as such in every song. In fact, on “J Smoov” Malkmus does his best blue-eyed soul, singing in falsetto, supported by horns with the guitar pared down significantly.

Standout tracks, for me though, have to be “Chartjunk” and “Cinnamon and Lesbians,” the former of which features more use of horns, some rolling, bouncy guitar work and 3-part backing harmonies. “Cinnamon and Lesbians” is just a fun tune with a great deal of the aforementioned wordplay (as is the track “Scattegories” that precedes it), and of course it also has a (terrible) video that interprets each of the lyrics literally.

Malkmus has more tunes than he even knows what to do with. He makes everything sound so effortless and carefree, but if you dig a little bit it’s plain to hear that there is a lot of attention to detail within every line of every song. “Wig Out At Jagbags” came out last month on Matador and they just started the North American leg of their tour a few days ago, so make sure to get out there and see SM and Jicks. Apparently they are going with the hashtag #wigoutacrossamerica

Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks “Wig Out Across America”

Fri Feb 14, 2014
Columbia, MO | Mojo’s |

Sat Feb 15, 2014
St. Louis | Old Rock House |

Sun Feb 16, 2014
Omaha | The Waiting Room |  *

Tue Feb 18, 2014
Minneapolis | Cedar Cultural Center |  *

Wed Feb 19, 2014
Madison | High Noon Saloon |  *

Thu Feb 20, 2014
Chicago | Lincoln Hall |  +

Fri Feb 21, 2014
Ferndale, MI | The Loving Touch |  +

Sat Feb 22, 2014
Toronto | Lee’s Palace |  +

Sun Feb 23, 2014
Montreal | Cafe Campus |  +

Tue Feb 25, 2014
Boston | Paradise |  +

Wed Feb 26, 2014
NYC | Bowery |  +

Thu Feb 27, 2014
Brooklyn | Music Hall of Williamsburg |  %

Fri Feb 28, 2014
Washington DC | Black Cat |  %

Sat Mar 1, 2014
Philadelphia | Theatre of Living Arts |  %

Mon Mar 3, 2014
Carrboro | Cat’s Cradle |  #

Tue Mar 4, 2014
Atlanta | Terminal West |  #

Wed Mar 5, 2014
Birmingham | Bottletree |  #

Thu Mar 6, 2014
New Orleans | The Parish @ HOB |  #

Fri Mar 7, 2014
Houston | Fitzgerald’s Upstairs |  #

Sun Mar 9, 2014
Dallas | Granada |  #

Sat Mar 15, 2014
Portland | Star Theater |

Thu Mar 27, 2014
San Francisco | Slim’s |  &

Fri Mar 28, 2014
Los Angeles | El Rey |  &

Sat Mar 29, 2014
San Diego | Casbah |  &

Sun Mar 30, 2014
Pioneertown, CA | Pappy and Harriet’s |  &

Tue Apr 1, 2014
Phoenix | Crescent Ballroom |  &

Wed Apr 2, 2014
Las Vegas | Beauty Bar |  &

Thu Apr 3, 2014
Salt Lake City | Urban Lounge |  &

Sat Apr 5, 2014
Missoula | Top Hat |  &

Mon Apr 7, 2014
Calgary | Republik |  &

Tue Apr 8, 2014
Edmonton | Starlite Room |  &

Thu Apr 10, 2014
Vancouver | Rickshaw Theatre |  &

Fri Apr 11, 2014
Victoria | Lucky Bar |  &

Sat April 12, 2014
Seattle | Neptune |  &

( * with Tyvek)
(+ with Disappears)
(% with Endless Boogie)
(# with Purling Hiss)
( with Sun Foot)
(& with Speedy Ortiz)

Guided By Voices – “Motivational Jumpsuit”

Well, here it is. This is going to be the most useless post that I have ever written.

Why? Well, because if you are a Guided By Voices fan, then you are a fanatic. I really don’t think that there are any casual GBV fans out there. This is just one of those bands. Shellac is another, and maybe Stereolab is yet another. The point is, they are all bands that inspire completist culture. And, Guided By Voices tends (or at least tended to) take advantage of this by releasing about 50 albums a week. Or maybe it’s more than that. I think at this point basically every sound that Robert Pollard has ever made has been recorded and some fan somewhere is in possession of it, listening to it with their equally fanatical friends, analyzing it, fitting it into the larger picture of Guided By Voices apocrypha, and then insisting that everyone around them listen to it. The point being: the internet doesn’t need a review of a Guided By Voices album. The only the internet needs to do is to let people know that there is a new Guided By Voices album coming out. That’s it. And it only needs to be said once.

Guided By Voices doesn’t need album reviews anymore at all actually, their fans are going to buy it. I would be willing to bet that the band has sold the exact same number of albums for the past 10 releases. And if Robert Pollard and co. released a cassette tape recording of the band discussing the weather, it would sell just as well.

Of course these are my own very biased opinions. In reality I do know that there are some really amazing GBV albums and songs. The first album of theirs that I ever had (bet you didn’t see that coming. That I was going to reveal myself as a GBV fan) was “Universal Truths and Cycles.” Not too long afterward the band released their “final” album “Half Smiles of the Decomposed.” It looked like they were going to go away forever, but we know now that that is very not true.

Well, now they have re-formed. There has been drama, excitement, thrills and chills, and I’m sure that this album is going to carry on the trajectory.  Hit. Miss. Too much. Whatever. Rob Pollard can certainly be prolific that much is true. But say what you will, the guy can sure write a tune. Often times those tunes are tightly packed into 2-minutes or less. Get in, say what you gotta say, and get out. Don’t overstay your welcome. What other band can fit a catchy, exciting verse-chorus-verse-outro into a 35 second long song? And on top of that who would dare to make that the first track on the album? Answer: none. (see: “Wire Greyhounds”). That right there sums them up. That is the thesis behind Guided By Voices. But they aren’t just cranking out songs in less than a minute. When they do stretch out with a song that is over 2 minutes, or sometimes even pushing closer to 4 (“Christian Animation Torch Carriers,” for example) they can really floor you.

Anyway, they have a new album coming out. Here’s a link. February 18.  CD/LP/MP3/FLAC.

 

Stream: Chad Vangaalen – “Where Are You?”

It’s been a few years since we’ve really heard anything from Chad Vangaalen, and the void has been noticeable, at least to myself. In my opinion, Vangaalen released one of the best albums of 2011, not to mention one of my favorites that has held a place of heavy rotation on my turntable since before it saw official release, the strangely titled “Diaper Island.” I can’t help but think of him as the Canadian Steve Albini, not because of his outspoken nature or aggressive attitude (because he is neither outspoken nor aggressive), but because his production style is immediately recognizable as his own. His fingerprints are all over Women’s “Public Strain,” undoubtedly one of my favorite albums of all time. And since “Diaper Island”s release the only thing that we’ve gotten was an EP (an EP, by the way, that was as long as some albums, and just as good) released through Altin Village, which is also worth checking out if you haven’t already.

The new track, “Where Are You?” features Vangaalen’s quavering and distant voice that echoes through the din of reverberant drums and guitars wrapped up in ominous synth tones.  It’s doing the job that it is supposed to do, that being getting me excited to hear more new material. His forthcoming album, “Shrink Dust” (cover art seen above) is set to be released on April 29th on SubPop.  And speaking of that “Green Corridor” EP, from the tracklisting posted to Consequence of Sound, “Weighed Sin,” the EP’s standout track, will appear on “Shrink Dust.”

As an addendum, as I was searching through the internet for this post I came across some stuff of Vangaalen’s that I hadn’t heard before. Apparently after “Diaper Island” was released, an EP was also released containing out-takes. “Your Tan Looks Supernatural” is posted to the artist’s bandcamp page that apparently hasn’t been updated in several years. There isn’t anything too exciting here, but the songs are worth a listen for the completists out there. That one can be downloaded immediately for as little as $5 CAD. You can listen to that below.

And finally, there will be a very small tour in support of “Shrink Dust” beginning in May in the US. Details about that can be found at the Consequence of Sound post.

 

 

Chad Vangaalen//Facebook//SubPop//

Re-release: Glenn Branca – “Lesson No. 1”

Whenever I think about Sonic Youth (which is a lot, as you can probably tell) I can’t help but link it all back to Glenn Branca. When I was first introduced to Branca’s work I came to think that he is where Sonic Youth got all of their ideas from. In Branca’s symphonies appear the larger (much larger) versions of Sonic Youth’s descents into chaos. It’s not that just those parts recall one another, but the guitar tone in general, and the visceral, defiantly experimental energy all do as well.

I’m sure by now that the two are sick of being linked to one another, as both have gone in completely different directions; Branca’s language has drawn him to increasingly bold ideas of gargantuan scope, while Sonic Youth (before their dissolution), for the most part, went the “song” route.

But Branca’s work is not all captured in his symphonies. In 1980 he released his first solo work, “Lesson No. 1” that featured two tracks, that is one for each side. Side A consists of a single chord, gradually and continually growing, adding little bits and pieces while the static harmony remains. It’s similar to his later, larger, symphonic work, yet distilled to the basic essence. Minimalist music with distortion. It’s a mix of several conflicting ideas; meditation and tension, focused and loose, contemplative and aggressive, celebratory and intimidating. It’s all there, packed in to 8 intense minutes.

Something completely different is found on the B-side. The contemplation and focus derived from the steadily growing and singular harmony has given way to a jagged part structure, increased dissonance and pounding percussion. “Dissonance” is exactly what it says it is, wild and aggressive, grinding, dissonant. Where “Lesson No. 1” continually picked up the pace, growing to massive proportions, “Dissonance” chugs to a near halt, with the ominous bass and drums beating out “and-1, and-1, and-1” throughout. Melodies clash and ring, strings rattling against guitar necks, psychotic strumming on the high strings play against the low wobble and tenuous pitch of a 2nd guitar. Everything explodes in the end, and one can just picture various scattered bits of wood and metal where drums and guitars once were.

Thankfully all of this beautiful early (No) New York is being resurrected, and rightfully so. It’s really important that music like this, that was way ahead of its time in its brazen originality, gets another release. Though collecting old and rare records may be great for some, there are also those people that just want to have it for their own for the first time. People need to experience this music, no matter how they came to it, and now they can. And, of course, to bring everything back full circle to Sonic Youth, Lee Ranaldo and Thurston Moore were two of the guitarist used in the “bonus” (you can think of it as a bonus, but really it was originally a separate release entirely) track “Bad Smells,” another side-long expedition into the noisier side of things, though those noise filled moments only last so long before an awkward, stilted kind of groove begins to set in.

Superior Viaduct is re-releasing “Lesson No. 1” in an expanded edition, set to hit stores on February 18th. It’s currently available for pre-order from the label. You can hear “Lesson No. 1” on the pre-order page of Superior Viaduct. Give it a listen and then scoop up the vinyl.