Hard hitting 2 song 7″ from Olympia, Washington’s Survival Knife. The “Divine Mob/Snakebit” 7″ will be released through Kill Rock Stars on October 15.
The band consists of Justin Trosper and Brandt Sandano from Unwound, Meg Cunningham from Blues Druid and Kris Cunningham from Western Hymn.
The quick one-two punch starts with the slightly sinister sounding riff of “Divine Mob,” that turns out to actually be upbeat, only to turn again after the addition of the vocals (and with the help of some palm muting). The great thing here is the way that the band shows themselves finding ways of adding to the basic initial idea. A contrasting guitar line is added as the song opens up, eventually landing in an extended bridge. The overall sound of the track is heavier than hardcore punk, bordering on metal.
The heaviness is brought out even more in the second track, “Snakebit,” which has Meg Cunningham taking over vocal duties. The choppy cut of the guitars moves to angular dissonant sounds, alternating throughout the verse. The highlight, for me, is the extended coda that takes us through the last minute of the song. Noisy, driving, and energetic.
Those three words actually nicely sum up the 7″ as a whole.
Check it out above, and then head to the Kill Rock Stars bandcamp page at the link below to pre-order the download for $2. Vinyl pre-orders are expected to begin shipping the week of October 15.
Anyone that has been paying attention to this blog for the past couple of months already knows that I have been eagerlywaiting for this album to come out.
Well, tomorrow is the day that Kill Rock Stars will officially release Quasi’s 9th studio album. “Mole City” is not only the band’s 9th studio album, but also an album released on their 20th year as a band.
The album is stacked, for starters. Not including the bonus EP of cover songs that comes along with the album there are 24 tracks spanning over an hour of music. Right out of the gate after the brief initial organ solo opening of “*,” the track “You Can Stay But You Gotta Go” begins with a low rumble and charges through with ultra-fuzzed, guitar that (I think) has been run through a whammy pedal, or something similar, to send the pitch down an octave. I mean, it could be a bass guitar, but there are times when the line goes above the range of the bass…of course I could be wrong.
Anyway, that’s not the point. I’m getting off track here. The album amps up Quasi’s early rock influence with several tracks built upon a bar-room piano riff foundation overtop of which squealing, howling guitar noise is placed. This is exactly the structure of “Fat Fanny Land,” with the added shuffling backbeat laid down by Weiss. It’s built on a standard 12-bar blues form, with Coomes’ vocals and rhodes piano adding a nice dose of grit to the mix. And there’s even more blues piano on “Headshrinker,” which presents an interesting case. The song builds so slowly, taking the majority of its 4-plus minutes to get to it’s wildest. And what is done during that slow, steady build is even more interesting (to me at least) in that this build consists entirely of one chord. When the Brian May type doubled guitar sol enters toward the end of the song it’s a real breath of fresh air. That solo is also the only part of the song that really moves away from the primary chord.
That’s quite a feat. It’s a challenging thing to create a song on a single premise without straying from that idea or adding to it while at the same time holding interest, avoiding monotony. Coomes and Weiss, however, manage this with relative ease.
There are some other blues based rockers, such as “Nostalgia Kills,” a song that also benefits from the slap-back echo on the vocals. “Nostalgia Kills” would be right at home on classic rock radio, with a guitar riff that sounds like something straight out of Molly Hatchet, or Lynyrd Skynyrd. Another country/blues guitar jam, “Bedbug Town,” features the spot on harmonies of Janet. Their voices work so perfectly together, and Weiss’ harmonies are always spot on. Speaking of Weiss’ voice, she has the chance to take center stage, singing the lone vocal on track “R.I.P,” with only a country style finger picked steel string guitar. Later in the album the track “One and Done” matches the sound of “R.I.P” with its quick guitar work in a similar finger-picked style, though this time considerably brighter with the addition of the slide guitar doubling.
Because of their inclusion of the honky-tonk style piano and ultra fuzzed out guitars or the distorted Rhodes, those songs often sound like they are coming out of a saloon in the wild west on acid. Though, lyrically, the songs are often dark and/or heartbreaking. That darkness is often hidden behind bouncy piano lines and early blues rock guitar hooks. In “The Goat” Coomes sings, “where’s the crime in tryin’ to get you to love me again?…I’ll be the goat if it makes it any better,” obscured in exactly this way. There are moments, such as in “Geraldine,” where the darkness is let to sound loud and clear.
Short bursts of noise such as “*,” “Chrome Duck,” and the sound collage of “Mole City” break the album up nicely, serving to create convenient divisions in the album that serve as waypoints guiding the listener through the album.
Finally, the addition of the covers EP (available to those that pre-ordered “Mole City”) makes total sense in creating the connections between the Quasi sound with bands like Queen and Black Sabbath, as well as Marvin Gaye and Nick Lowe. Come to think of it though, after listening to the dark lyrics of the preceding album Queen’s lyrics “don’t stop me now, I’m havin’ a good time, havin’ a good time” can’t help themselves but sound a bit ironic. But anyway, if you haven’t heard their cover of “Heaven and Hell” that appeared as a bonus track on 2010’s “American Gong,” then do yourself a favor and check that one out. Janet’s ability to replicate Keith Moon’s style couldn’t be closer to perfection.
Mole City is out October 1st (ie tomrrow) on Kill Rock Stars and can be found at your local independent record store or at the link below. The album is available on vinyl (coke-bottle clear while supplies last, otherwise black) CD or as a digital download.
You wouldn’t think that the abrasive and angular music of Shellac would have much to do with Marnie Stern’s music, or that either of them could be linked to one of the most prolific, brilliant, thought provoking and curious concert pianists of the 20th century, but they are. Canadian pianist Glenn Gould has influenced generations of pianists, but I don’t think that anyone has ever discussed his influence on artists outside of the concert hall.
Gould was a Canadian pianist, born in 1932. Even those with just a passing knowledge of his work are at least somewhat familiar with at least one of his recordings of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. Those recordings work like the bookends of his recording career. When he was first given a record contract he decided that the then seldom heard, obscure Bach piece would become his debut recording. That was in 1955. Some 26 years later his re-recording of the same piece would lead to heated debates in the music community for decades. Those two recordings only give a tiny bit of insight into the way that Gould’s mind worked. He was constantly deep in thought and concerned about his role in the interpretation of the works that he performed. Without a doubt the man was a genius.
Not only was he obsessively driven toward pushing himself, he was intensely interested in pushing the bounds of how music could be realized in the age of new recording technologies. Gould would often remark that the state of recorded music (keep in mind when he was alive, from 1932 to 1982) would not only allow musicians to push the bounds of music, but that people at home would soon be able to create and modify those recordings through their own “knob twiddlings.” Of course he was talking about the way that music could be manipulated on home stereos via various volume, balance and equalizer controls.
It was his contemplations on the effect that the recording studio would have on music that drove him to be one of the first true “recording artists.” In documentaries such as The Alchemist viewers can watch as Gould endlessly annoys the recording engineer, constantly telling him where to cut the tape while referring to the score. Gould’s score had indications for not only the usual dynamics and articulations, but also indications of where the sound would be. Would part of the score sound distant and reverberant while another sounded more up front? How would those things be able to work together. Gould was truly able to use the recording studio not to simply preserve his performances, but also as an extension of his abilities as a pianist and musical mind.
Gould was not only interested in recording the works of Bach, Webern, Scriabin and others, but he was also interested in composition. His compositions came in the form of a 3 part “contrapuntal radio documentary” called the Solitude Trilogy. “The Idea of North,” “The Latecomers” and “The Quiet in the Land” explored Gould’s interest in the northernmost part of Canada, which reflected his own comfort in solitude and singularity.
When Steve Albini says that Shellac only writes songs about two things “Canada and baseball” it could very well be true, most notably in the song “The Idea of North.” This one is kind of obvious, being that the song takes its name directly from Gould’s radio documentary. Perhaps the same desolate mood of isolation and prohibitive environs that Gould explores in his documentary are interpreted by Shellac in the opening of their song. The sparse, spacious bass line invites listeners to consider the ambience that surrounds it. Perhaps Albini’s vocals that near complete obfuscation are meant to evoke the image of someone thinking outloud (barely) to themselves as a representation of the inquisitive, often self-obsessed way that Gould would.
On the other hand we have Marnie Stern, with her song “Patterns of a Diamond Ceiling,”takes the idea of Gould’s radio documentaries a bit further. In this song Marnie creates a tone poem of sorts where after narrating the actions of characters those actions are then assigned an idiosyncratic sound or motive. She begins by explaining “I will paint you a picture that’s inside my head.” Following that introduction she begins to describe that you are now standing in a room while “around you is a solitude trilogy,” and a bit later “you sit down and start to think of ideas of the North,” which is followed by it’s sound that is a chromatically ascending line. After the narration is complete and the scene has been set she begins to place the motives on top of one another, creating a contrapuntal sound collage much in the same way that Gould did with his intercut ambient sounds and multiple interviews at once. In this way Marnie is creating a bit of a miniature homage to Gould’s radio broadcasts.
We can now see how these two artists have made their influence blatant, but it still remains to be seen why they chose to do so. What is the deeper connection between Gould and his work and that of Marnie Stern and Albini and Co.?
Gould’s singular personality broke down a lot of the barriers that existed between classical music and popular music in his day. He was famously quirky and thoroughly interesting, not to mention self-aware. He knew that people were sometimes more interested in the spectacle of Glenn Gould, the character that was Glenn Gould perhaps more so than they were interested in the performances of the man himself.
Glenn Gould was punk rock before punk rock was punk rock. He did things his way and he couldn’t possibly care less what people thought of that. He knew that he was brilliant enough to do his own thing, to do things his way, and not to let anyone else dictate to him how his art should be presented. He was obsessed with his own perfection and never stopped wondering how he could better express himself. This much is clear simply by listening to (as mentioned up a few paragraphs) his two renditions of Bach’s Goldberg Variations. He didn’t just perform and record a piece to leave it behind. No, those pieces, everything that he played, stayed with him and he was constantly thinking about them and learning to think about them in new ways.
This sort of work ethic and perfection is mentioned several times by Marnie Stern across all 4 of her albums. Obsession and a focus on her passion are a consistent theme in Marnie’s lyrics. In “Grapefruit” the lyric “keep on keep at it, keep on, keep at it” is repeated like a mantra. On her most recent album “The Chronicles of Marnia” in the song “You Don’t Turn Down” she states, nearly a cappella that she’s “Got to get obsessed and stay there now.” “Keep on, keep at it, keep on, keep at it” from “Put all your eggs in one basket and then watch that basket!!” cover these themes in both its lyric and the song’s very title.
I think that Shellac’s awareness that they are a band unlike any other band around today, and that they staunchly disassociate themselves from the music industry as much as they can, supporting Touch and Go since the begining. And I think that this anti-industry stance is pretty well known because of Steve Albini’s famous tome against the corporate music world. In addition to all of this It seems that they relate more to Gould’s overall attitude, whereas Marnie Stern relates more to his obsessive desire to improve.
I’m sure that there must be other examples of Glenn Gould’s influence, even in slightly more indirect ways, can be found throughout independent rock music. It’s clear that, as Alban Berg famously said to George Gershwin, “…music is music.” It doesn’t matter how it is classified or how it is created, and perhaps the clearly constructed borders between genres that one imagines are in fact not there at all.
For more information on the life of Glenn Gould, and to hear the entire Solitary Trilogy follow these links:
“The Idea of North,” “The Latecomers” and “The Quiet in the Land” can all be heard in their entirety at the CBC’s site as part of their legacy audio collection. “The Idea of the North” was commissioned by the CBC as a way of introduction for themselves and have become a large and important part of Canadian culture, just like the man himself.
There are several books on the life of Glenn Gould. The first “biography” written about him was less of a biography and more a study of what made Gould the genius that he was. His habits, his practices, how he thought about music. It’s by Geoffrey Payzant and is called “Glenn Gould: Music and Mind“
You should also check out the documentary by Bruno Monsaingeon called “The Alchemist.” He actually did a whole series of documentaries about Gould, but this one is my favorite for showing Gould at work in the studio after he had permanently left the concertizing life to focus on his recording career.
Finally, my favorite movie of all time “32 Short Films About Glenn Gould.” It mixes interviews with Gould’s contemporaries alongside vignettes depicting his life. Colm Feore does an incredible job at portraying Glenn Gould.
If you couldn’t tell from my earlier post, I am excited about the new Quasi album. I always get excited when I first get into a band and they decide to release an album – let alone a double album – not long after. That they have been together for 20 years now is something that blows my mind. I guess that I’ve been missing out for some time.
Now that we have two songs we can start to get at least a little bit of an idea of how this album is going to come together. Maybe that’s a long-shot, as there is a 24 song track list. But “See You on Mars” (track 2 on the player above) at least gives us an idea of the diversity of the album. It starts off as a bit of a straight ahead, bass-thumping pop-tune (ok, when I said “straight ahead” I was lying, it’s in 7/4, more specifically in alternating bars of 4/4 and 3/4, but straight ahead within that framework. Ok, hey, the point is that every beat in the measure is accented) before breaking off into a bar-room rock tune that reminds me more than a little bit of a tune that could be on Sloan’s “One Chord to Another” or “Between the Bridges.” Of course the ending features a bass guitar glissando that slides up to #4 (sharp 4, not number 4) and never resolves to 5, which is going to drive me crazy every time I hear the song. If the next track doesn’t start with a C# somewhere in the opening chord I might just loose my mind.
“Mole City” is out on Kill Rock Stars on October 1st. Pre-orders for the limited edition vinyl are still available and a lot of the other packages are up for grabs too. You can also download this track as well as “You Can Stay But You Gotta Go” from the band’s bandcamp page. Check out the links below.
You should also know that the entire 20 year output of Quasi is available for streaming on spotify, and of course I would suggest checking it out. “Hot Shit” and “When The Going Gets Dark” are also among my most listened to of their albums. Sloan’s entire discography can be found there as well.
Quasi on tour:
October 3 – Omaha, NE @ Slowdown
October 4 – Kansas City, MO @ Record Bar
October 5 – St. Louis, MO @ Off Broadway
October 7 – Birmingham, AL @ The Bottletree
October 8 – Atlanta, GA @ Drunken Unicorn
October 9 – Chapel Hill, NC @ Local 506
October 10 – Washington, DC @ Black Cat
October 11 – New Haven, CT @ Cafe Nine
October 12 – Philadelphia, PA @ Boot And Saddle
October 13 – Brooklyn, NY @ Knitting Factory
October 14 – New York, NY @ Mercury Lounge
October 16 – Allston, MA @ Great Scott
October 17 – Buffalo, NY @ Tralf Music Hall
October 18 – Cleveland Heights, OH @ Grog Shop
October 19 – Chicago, IL @ Schubas
October 20 – Minneapolis, MN @ 7th St. Entry
November 3 – Boise, ID @ Neurolux
November 4 – Salt Lake City, UT @Kilby Court
November 5 – Denver, CO @ Hi Dive
November 7 – Denton, TX @ Dan’s Silverleaf
November 8-10 – Austin, TX @ Fun Fun Fun Fest
November 11 – Phoenix, AZ @ Rhythm Room
November 12 – San Diego, CA @ Casbah
November 13 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Echo
November 14 – Santa Barbara, CA @ Soho Restaurant and Music Club
November 15 – San Jose, CA @ The Blank Club
November 16 – San Francisco, CA @ Bottom Of The Hill
November 21 – Vancouver, BC @ The Biltmore Caberet
November 22 – Seattle, WA @ Tractor Tavern
November 23 – Portland, OR @ Doug Fir Lounge
I understand that this album came out 5 months ago, but I also a.) don’t care and b.) think that this is not only her best album to date, but probably one of the best albums to be released so far this year.
There has been a constant and steady development across Marnie’s releases beginning with “In Advance of the Broken Arm” from 2007. That album was a great statement as a debut. The guitars were mindblowing, the melodies were catchy and the lyrics were deeply personal. That the album starts with a barrage of lightning fast guitar and Zach Hill’s bat-shit insane drumming set the tone for not only that release, but for Marnie’s sound as a whole.
With each album her overall sound has gotten tighter. The roughness in the production of earlier releases has been replaced with cleaner, more intricately layered guitar lines, with her voice alternating between the familiar highs with the increasing presence of more relaxed and effortless singing in her lower range. For example, on the track “Noonan,” we hear the line “don’t you wanna be somebody, don’t you want to be, don’t you wanna be somebody?” sung in the latter part of the song almost unaccompanied, save for a few dropped in guitar chords.
And, sticking with that song, it creates a good deal of space in the verses with different layers of guitars taking prominence, rising and falling in the mix. Marnie is in control of an entire ensemble of guitars. It no longer feels like the guitar tapping that she has been recognized for (and recognized for good reason) is felt to be the primary element of each of the songs.
Though, there is (immediately following “Noonan”) “Nothing is Easy,” that sounds a bit more like something that would be on an earlier release, but finding places to stretch out, once again. Some of the structures of earlier albums, like the terrific despite its blockiness “Roads? Where We’re Going We Don’t Need Roads,” from her album “This is it…” are abandoned for more standard verse-chorus fair. That is part of what makes this album sound all the more polished. It’s the tightening of these structures into more palatable forms that gives “Chronicles” a higher degree of accessibility.
There were always prog-ish elements to many earlier songs that explored tricky meter changes and several otherwise disconnected sections. And though these things worked well in those album, were interesting and part of the overall sound due in no small part to Hill’s drumming, the focus throughout “Chronicles” really shows what a great songwriter and vocalist Marnie can be. That is to say that a hint of prog remains, for example in “East Side Glory” and “Hell Yes,” but they hardly beg to be noticed, or take anything away from the overall cohesion of the track.
There does remain a degree of experimentation across this record. Stern is shown to be tooling more with the recording process, finding new ways to create textures with an array of different techniques, never relying too heavily upon one over another. As a result the album is more balanced. Perhaps this is partly a result of the departing of Zach Hill on drums, which are also, as a result, trimmed back a little bit. Again, this leaves not only a bit more space but also means that the songs don’t always feel the need to be super busy guitar vs. drums affairs. Songs are able to grow and take shape in much different ways.
Each previous release has pointed in this direction. There haven’t been any absolutely drastic changes in style from one album to the next, it’s just that with each album the elements that have always been present continue to grow and to be improved upon, while shedding a bit of the excess. On the surface the music still sounds and feels complex, but at its core this album is full of songs that are more stripped down but no doubt just as powerful as always.
As an added bonus, Marnie has released a new track for the previously mentioned Adult Swim compilation, “This Was It,” which can be heard below. As an added added bonus Kill Rock Stars has put all of Marnie’s albums on sale at her bandcamp page for $5 until the end of August. So head over there and download everything. There are also some upcoming tour dates throughout September that are posted below.
09/05 Raleigh NC Hopscotch Festival
09/09 Minnapolis MN Fineline (with DEERHUNTER)
09/10 Chicago IL Metro (with Deerhunter)
09/11 Cleveland OH Beachland Ballroom
09/12 Toronto ON Phoenix Concert Theatre with Deerhunter
09/13 Columbus OH Skully’s
09/16 Boston Ma Royale
09/20 Lexington KY Boomslang Festival
Portland duo Quasi has announced a follow up to 2010’s fantastic “American Gong.” The new 24 track double-LP called “Mole City” on Kill Rock Stars is currently available for pre-order in a variety of formats from standard CD and vinyl to packages that include t-shirt, zine, Quasi recording an outgoing voicemail message for you and other goodies. Also included with pre-order is a bonus CD-R “Covers” EP featuring Quasi versions of “Dont’ Stop Me Now” (Queen), “Let’s Get It On” (Marvin Gaye), and “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love & Understanding” (Elvis Costello and the Attractions). “Mole City” is set for official release on October 1.
If you are not familiar with Quasi, first of all don’t think of it as “Janet Weiss’ other band,” because this is a whole different animal (not to mention that this year marks the bands 20th year together). Quasi rocks a little harder, with lyrical content that remains, for the most part, rather dark. Always hook-laden melodies with great instrumental work and plenty of noise and feedback.
Check out the dizzying video for the ultra-distorted and heavy track “You Can Stay but You Gotta Go” off of “Mole City.” If this song is a sign of what’s to come on the album then expect to find more heaviness and noise. Sounds good to me. Video posted below and also check the tour dates and catch them when they come to your town.
And if you so desire, check out their website (but it is truly terrible).
10/3 Slowdown, Omaha NE
10/4 Record Bar, Kansas City MO
10/5 Off Broadway, St. Louis MO
10/7 Bottletree, Birmingham AL
10/8 Drunken Unicorn, Atlanta GA
10/9 Local 506, Chapel Hill NC
10/10 Black Cat, Washington DC
10/11 Café Nine, New Haven CT
10/12 Boot & Saddle, Philadelphia PA
10/13 Knitting Factory, Brooklyn, NY
10/14 Mercury Lounge, New York NY
10/16 Great Scott, Allston MA
10/17 Tralf Music Hall, Buffalo NY
10/18 Grog Shop, Cleveland OH
10/19 Schubas Tavern, Chicago IL
10/20 7th St. Entry, Minneapolis MN
11/3 Neurolux, Boise ID
11/4 Kilby Court, Salt Lake City UT
11/5 Hi-Dive, Denver CO
11/7 Dan’s Silver LeaF, Denton TX
11/10 Fun Fun Fun Fest, Auditorium Shores, Austin TX
11/11 Rhythm Room, Phoenix AZ
11/12 Casbah, San Diego CA
11/13 Echo Lounge, Los Angeles CA
11/14 SOhO, Santa Barbara, CA
11/15 Blank Club, San Jose CA
11/16 Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco CA
11/21 Biltmore Cabaret, Vancouver BC
11/22 Tractor Tavern, Seattle WA
11/23 Doug Fir, Portland OR
12/5 The Fleece, Bristol UK
12/6 Brudenell Social Club, Leeds UK
12/7 Broadcast, Glasgow UK
12/8 Deaf Institute, Manchester UK
12/9 Hare & Hounds, Birmingham UK
12/10 Colchester Arts Centre, Colchester UK
12/11 Shepherds Bush Empire, London UK
12/12 Norwich Arts Centre, Norwich UK
12/13 Cargo, London UK
12/14 The Haunt, Brighton UK