Released last month, Bam Spacey’s “1998” is an album of layered synths and minimal textures. One moment we’re left floating in a hazy realm emerging from warm extended tones, for example in the opening introduction. Other moments are much more clearly built around pop structures with clear harmonies sung over top of those layers of ambience. A track like “Markbildning (II)” floats lazily between these two worlds; it’s ambient and minimal, while the vocal melody holds to its own regular phrasing, tracing strophes, spaced out with ambient interludes.
Echoes of Tim Hecker, from a timbral standpoint, pop up through the texture from time to time, such as on “Markbildning (II).” That dark ambience is, however, mostly left behind on “Upplyst,” a track featuring prominent drums and a pulsation that approaches traditional electronic dance music. This is also the case with “Ropar Från En Avgrund;” it actually breaches the line straight into more dance oriented territory.
Most of the album drifts across slowly, enveloping the listener in pure sound that languishes for extensive periods nearly undisturbed. The layers of synths are ripples on the water and Bam Spacey uses a delicate hand to slowly add more to those ripples while making sure that they don’t turn into overbearing waves. The ethereal quality of the atmospherics is maintained throughout the album, forming a cohesive whole that manages to straddle the boundaries of synth-driven ambience and dance music.
“1998” is available now as a download from the Ceremony Recordings bandcamp page, and is also available as a limited vinyl release. There will only be 300 copies in the first pressing, so head over to the Ceremony Recordings website to pick up a copy.
I know that I have mentioned before of my recent conversion over to the cult of the cassette tape. This has lead to some great discoveries, of course forcing me to ask the question, “What have I been keeping myself from for the past couple of years?”
It was through another tape purchase that I discovered the band Chat Logs. Maybe part of my love for this batch of songs is partly because of the element of surprise. I wasn’t planning on buying this album, didn’t even know that it existed, and now I have it here with me
What I got was an aggressive bass assault with grinding guitars and menacing vocals. The perpetual, circular bass-line of “Eat Your Heart Out” is intermittently interrupted by a heavily echoed, distorted and pitch shifted guitar that’s doing it’s best interpretation of a blues break, but is run through a experimental noise-rock filter. And many of the songs take on a similar structure, with persistent bass holding everything together while the guitars and vocals buzz, screech and echo all around it.
“Am I Right, Or Am I Right?” clocks in at just over 19 minutes with its 4 tracks, the perfect EP length. Personal favorite “Mooks” is mostly instrumental (or at least has a lengthy instrumental break in the middle) with a great winding lead guitar line that sounds like a more unrestrained Constantines track.
The album is available now through Already Dead Records and Tapes, a limited run, specialty press label run out of Chicago that is absolutely worth checking out for fans of sometimes obscure, experimental, electronic, hard-edged garage and all other genres in between.
Glenn Branca’s 6th Symphony “Devil Choirs at the Gates of Heaven” has been my go-to large scale work lately. It brings to mind several thoughts that I have about music in general and about a composer’s intentions.
As I listen to a symphony by Branca (and I think that I have listened to most of them, and of the ones that I have listened to I have done so several times) I often find myself wondering what the score looks like. Immediately after trying to imagine the score I ask myself if that even matters. The next thing that comes to mind, especially when listening to this work in particular is how a composer (it can be any composer) can manage to have such a firm hold on their style, where their music is instantly recognizable, like Stravinsky or Webern or Ravel, yet still manages to say different things.
I guess that might be an assumption, that the composer has to be saying different things with each work that is produced. For example, listening to each of Branca’s symphonies, each (for the most part, No. 9 is an anomaly) calls for an army of guitars, and a drummer. There might be some other instruments mixed in there, but the most noticeable thing (and I think that it’s the thing that everyone that has every listened to Branca’s music, or at least knows about his music) are the guitars.
The cloud of noise that is created throughout the 6th symphony accomplishes different goals in each of the movements, yet it still (on the surface) remains just that – a cloud of noise. Of course, we can get into the argument about what noise is or what is considered noise, for days. For my purposes I’m going to say that noise in Branca’s symphonies is that cloud of sound. It’s so pitch saturated that it becomes pitchless and there are so many performers on stage, each of whom are attacking their instruments in a wild tremolo, that the intense, dense layers of rhythm become rhythmless. The music is recursive, and in being so creates a situation where everything that is becomes nothing, and everything that seems like nothing on the surface is what the piece is all about.
This might sound a little too vague, or faux-philosophical and lofty, but allow me explain. Let’s go back to how the cloud of noise is used in a couple of the different movements. Take the opening of the symphony: it starts quiet enough, but as the movement begins to take off the strummed guitars’ monotony severs itself into two different layers where one layer forms a consistent harmonic backdrop while the other layer allies itself with the percussion, providing sharp stabs of accent every so often. That “every so often” becomes more and more often as the movement progresses, yet the layer of harmonic noise continues underneath. It is steady and omnipresent. The growth of the movement occurs via the interplay of these two layers. So we could say that the cloud of noise, as it pertains to this movement, provides the backdrop. It is the base of sound, the music has no choice but to grow continually louder. By the end of the movement the layers come together again, combining their pitch and rhythm material into a dense haze.
As with all minimalist music the more that the piece repeats the material the more that the listener is allowed to search “inside” the sounds that they are hearing. Lines start to peak out from the cloud, some interplay comes into focus.
In the second movement an infinitely ascending line continues for the first four and a half minutes. The pitch material exists on its own, and there is no evidence of any guitar strings being attacked, or any strumming of any kind going on. All there is is pitch, and at the same time there really is no pitch. As soon as you are able to put your finger on it it is gone. There are some tones buried within that remain constant, while the upper limit continues to expand. It is music that describes infinity in many ways. Infinite space, infinite time (timelessness). Listening to this ever ascending line that seems like it is never going to reach its destination, it simply floats there, hanging in space. But there is motion, there is motion without direction. Sure it is ascending infinitely, but we have no idea as to the ultimate destination of that ascending line. The listener is left with no frame of reference, and that is exciting. There is a tension that is built up throughout the movement that is the result of all of this uncertainty. We begin to start listening for something specific to happen, we want there to be a great big arrival point. The longer that this ascent continues the more that we want to hear it and the greater our expectations become of something increasingly spectacular. It’s the same experience of needing to have a leading tone resolved, only this leading tone goes on for almost 5 minutes. When it settles down, and we decide that we have indeed reached a point of arrival there is an immediate release of all the tension that has been building up.
I feel that this is something that more traditional composers aren’t able to harness. That tension. The ever growing intensity. Branca is able to create such a high degree of it here without any change in dynamic (it remains fairly loud consistently throughout the movement) and once again there are several other things that he is doing “without.” There still isn’t a clear statement of pitch. Instead we are presented with all of the pitches at once. That mass of pitch becomes, once again, cloudy and formless. The shape, however, changes and moves through time. The movement is more about an idea and a depiction than it is about pitch relations. It’s the development of one idea that fits into the work.
The third movement uses more monotony than anything else. Consistent chords ringing out with a steady pulse. Everything sounds like a downbeat. Again, as with minimalism, we have rhythm that is so persistent that it becomes anything but a rhythm. Our ear treats all the repetition as if it is something that can be ignored. This movement is also maybe the most abrasive of the symphony, and the most exciting, in my opinion. The final cadence brings us to the loudest caterwaul of sound that we have so far experience.
There is some dizzying contrapuntal work during the opening of the fourth movement, and finally we have some shifting layers of sound, where there was pretty much none in the first 3 movements. Two different lines bounce back and forth, a constant blanket of activity over which haunting and thin ephemera passing in and out of each channel in turn.
That there can be such contradictions in a single work is interesting enough to think about. That they can be achieved in exactly the opposite way that one would first think is another thing altogether. Creating a work with no discernible use of pitch, by using all pitches all the time; and a work with formless rhythm while having a persistent rhythm throughout. As I’ve said a million times before, it’s about learning to hear differently, it’s about making sense of the apparent contradictions that are presented to us in a piece of music, the things that we never thought were possible, ideas that can not be expressed in any other way. Listening to music, such as a symphony by Glenn Branca, requires the listener to consider something that they have not only never considered before, but never thought about considering before.
MGMT is finally releasing a follow up to 2010’s superb “Congratulations.” The new eponymous album is set for release on September 17 and is available for pre-order on iTunes, where it is referred to as the “optimizer deluxe edition.” The pre-order comes with an instant download of the song “Your Life is a Lie,” which can also be heard/seen below.
Since we don’t have much of the album to play, I can relay to you how caught off guard I was when first seeing the album cover. When I went to school in Western New York (Fredonia, to be exact) I lived in the neighboring city. The album cover was taken across the street from what was my bank when I lived there. I remember riding past “Stylz Unlimited” on my bike all the time. It more often than not looked like a garage sale exploded on the front lawn. My apartment was maybe a half-mile away.
The reason that they were in that shithole of a town is that Dave Fridmann’s Tarbox Road Studios is not very far away in the other direction, in neighboring Cassadaga. This is also the reason why I accidentally walked into an MGMT show in 2006 at BJ’s, a bar in Fredonia. A few months later their song “Kids” become hugely successful, and because of that success MGMT opened for of Montreal when I saw them a few months later in Buffalo.
The Flaming Lips also record at Tarbox Road, which is why often times while standing in line at the Starbucks on Fredonia’s campus one will find themselves standing behind Wayne Coyne. But I digress.
Pre-order the album. Check out the songs. “Your Life is a Lie” is instantly catchy, and much more upbeat than the title would suggest. And so far the album has 5-stars on iTunes, apparently based off of this song alone. So there’s that. Oh, and check out the link below to Tarbox Road Studios, where Fridmann keeps a daily log of the goings on at the studio.
Hurricane Bells has released a fantastic full length and and equally fantastic EP in the past couple of years. The latest release, “Tides and Tales”, will be released through Steve Schiltz’s own Invisible Brigades imprint.
I’ll let him do the talking:
I and we have made a new Hurricane Bells record, named Tides and Tales. The album was recorded in much the same way as the last one: I produced, recorded and mixed nearly all of it over the last few months. This time, I asked a few of my friends to play on it. If you’ve seen a Hurricane Bells show in the last 6 months/year, then you’ve seen the group who recorded most
of the new album. We had a great time and it sounds awesome.
For you Blue October fans, I was able to get Justin Furstenfeld to play on a couple of tracks. And for you Scout fans, Ashen is singing, too. We also have Dave Doobinin from the band Son Of George singing on one track.
My manager Chris and I have talked a lot about how to release the record. And in the DIY and independent spirit, it will be coming out on my label, Invisible Brigades. We do most things ourselves, but when releasing an album and hoping to tour around it, we need some additional support. So
we have decided to use PledgeMusic to help. With them, you’ll be able to Pledge support and then you get stuff – exclusive vinyl and shirts, signed discs, a house concert, album prints/posters, “Twilight” DVDs, one of my beautiful old Gibson guitars… all kinds of things.
And yes, again, we are doing vinyl this time 🙂
Your pledges will directly help us master and manufacture the new record…but more importantly, it will help us tour and promote the record. This is where most of the money goes, for an indie band like Hurricane Bells.
So don’t wait! Head on over to Pledgemusic.com and front some money, get your hands on the limited edition vinyl, or if you want to lay down the big bucks you can get your hands on one of the guitars that Steve used in the recording process.
I can guarantee you will not be disappointed.
If you need convincing, here is a page that I found that has collected on it most of the videos that Bill Moldt has directed for Hurricane Bells (and Steve’s previous project, Longwave).
And below is the video for “Freezing Rain” which holds a special place in my heart as it was shot in my (our) hometown of Rochester, NY.