Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Interview with Sound Artist Tanner Garza

The night I finished my year-end list was the night that I first heard Tanner Garza's album Lucid. I had actually been talking to him at the time, and told him that I was finishing the whole thing up. And then I started to feel really awful. The album clearly should have been not only on my list, but in the top five albums of the year. It's Basinski-esque with tape loops and lush ambient arrangements. I now listen to it almost every night when I read before going to bed. It's a hauntingly beautiful anti-anxiety pill.

Tanner Garza is a sound artist who has collaborated with a bunch of incredible noise artists, but is possibly best known as being a part of Texas harsh noise collective Black Leather Jesus, created by Richard Ramirez many moons ago. Tanner's music, though, covers the range of noise music from the harshest to the most soothing to everywhere in between. I have a bunch of his cassette releases and listen to them regularly.

You can check out his recordings on his BANDCAMP and I strongly suggest Lucid as a starting point. You will love it.

Jordan: When did you start making music? How did you know that you wanted to make music?

Tanner Garza: I started making music when I was about 13 years old, but became exposed to experimental music in 2008.
It was never a conscious decision to make music. Just something that came naturally. 

J: Do you do any other artistic activities?

TG: Oh yeah. I enjoy analog photography a whole lot. Especially with the older Polaroids. Something about the aesthetic of it relates to improvised music for me. 

J: How did you know that you wanted to make instrumental/noise music?

TG: Ha. I'm very uncomfortable with my voice even though some say I can sing. Kind of had to default to instrumental music early on because of that and because of a lot of the music I liked at that time in my life. Lot's of instrumental guitar-shred bullshit... I was a teenage metalhead. So, yeah. With experimental music, most of it is "instrumental" in nature.

J: Who all has influenced your work?

TG: Björk, King Crimson, The Marx Bros., Edwin Land, LIGHTS, Brian Eno, Oval (early 90's), Derek Bailey, DJ Screw, Martin Denny, Bruiser Brody, AMK, Damion Romero, MF DOOM, William Basinski, Venetian Snares, Kool Keith, Salvador Dali, Terry Funk, D'Angelo, and the city of Houston.

TG: Probably a lot I'm forgetting.

J: Your solo releases are so varied. You have some more ambient music as well as some harsher music. How do you know what you're going to make?

TG: Eh. It depends on my mood in that moment. In recent times I've gravitated more towards making weird ambient-minimal sort of music. Simply because it seems everyone has a "noise" project. I'd rather be the black sheep in a very cliquish scene. Also, with my involvement in Black Leather Jesus I feel there is very little for me to prove as far as being the most brutal. haha

J: What is the process for making music for you? Do you use any specific program or pieces of equipment?

TG: Early on it involved nothing more than my laptop. Now it revolves around my handbuilt loop cassette tapes, a tascam 4-track, and a few effect pedals. 

J: You’re in Black Leather Jesus, legendary harsh noise group. How did you get involved with that?

TG: Well, I had been attending the noise shows for quite awhile in Houston. Usually kept to myself. One day I approached Richard and asked him if I could play a show. What a nightmare of a performance that was. That was my introduction to a lot of the BLJ members, though. Not just Richard, but Zach, Sean, and Thomas. I became pretty good friends with them after awhile and one day in 2012 I was asked to join the band. Couldn't be happier. 

J: BLJ recently had a kickstarter for a European tour. Can you talk a little bit about that? How did you decide on kickstarter? Who all will go tour?

TG: Of course. It was decided that would be the easiest route to go instead of asking for straight donations. Simply put, all funds gained from the Kickstarter go towards us getting from city to city, meals, places to stay, etc. 

TG: At this moment it's still a bit in the air who all is going. All depends on who can afford it.

J: How often do you get to play live? Does your live set change up as often as your kind of music?

TG: At least once a month here in Houston. 

TG: I learned a long time ago that you don't need a mountain of constantly changing gear to make different sounds. If you can learn your set-up then you can usually pull any sound from it that you want.

J: A lot of your releases are put out on cassette. How did you decide to use that medium of release?

TG: It’s nostalgic, not digital, cheaper to do than vinyl, and it sells better than CD/CDr's. That's about all I can say about that. 

J: You also run a small label. Tell me a little bit about that? How do you know what you will put out on the label?

TG: I run the Bookend Recordings label. Between release I tend to take my time, and am very selective of what I put out. Usually it's invite only, which tends to make some people mad. 

TG: But it's something I do for myself. All funds just go back into making more releases. That's it. 

J: What are some of your favorite musicians/band?

TG: Lately I've been jamming a lot of LIGHTS, Brandi Carlile, BANKS, Poliça, UGK, Astromero, Scott Walker (60's), and Brian McKnight.

J: Are there any local musicians down in Texas that people should know about?

TG: B L A C K I E, Sandy Ewen, and Screwed Anthologies.
J: What are some of the best Mexican food restaurants near where you live?

TG: Lupe Tortilla, Pappasito's Cantina, Ninfa's, Chacho's (Tidwell), and Los Cucos (Spring Cypress). Chacho's has the best salsa selection! NOMNOMNOM

J: Anything else you'd like to say?

TG: Thanks for asking me to be a part of this. Much appreciated.

Interview with Folk Artist Eric Luplow

A while ago, I heard someone say that it made him or her angry that each person nowadays can think that he or she is an artist. Like it was a bad thing. It was really a turning point for me to hear someone say that - I think it was someone in a high position in some corporate music company thing and it infuriated me, but at another level it made me really happy. When I hear people say things like that I hear a trickle of jealousy or maybe even intimidation behind the words. Maybe even the thought "why can't I do that?" It's a destructive cycle of thought in my opinion both on oneself and those around. But the notion of being intimidated by people who are unintimidated is really awesome. It's like the myth of sisyphus. To a certain extent, everything is pretty pointless, but if you're going to shove a rock up a ramp only to have it come back down, you might as well make it a really pretty rock.

Art for me serves the purpose of knowing oneself and others. It's an expression of the human condition. In my opinion, the more artists there are, regardless of medium, the more creative lenses there are through which to see humanity.

That's how I got interested with Folk Art. I'll go into thrift shops or hole in the wall places just to see the art that people throw out. There is art everywhere.

One of my obsessions is MARY THE ELEPHANT. It's one of the few examples of an animal being executed - except it was an elephant so big that not guns, nor electrocution could stop it. The animal was bigger than most means to destroy it, which is a fascinating idea to itself. There are a lot of other people who have given reverence to Mary, and many folk artists use her as a means of expression. It was while looking through Southern artists that I stumbled upon Eric Luplow surprisingly, since Eric is not from the South.

Eric practices something called sur-folk watercolor, a phrase of his own that combines surrealism, folk art, and watercolor. His paintings take on a sort of mystical presence. There are many religious implications in his work, as well as a worship for the natural world. He combines these and other ideas from worlds long gone to create his artistry. Here's his WEBSITE.

I shot him an e-mail to buy some of his work and asked if there were any chance that he would be interested in an interview. He was super prompt and got back to me. This is what he said.

Jordan: When did you first start making visual art? How did you know that you
wanted to?

Eric Luplow: I started as a very young child, even before I started school. I think the reason for the visual art, drawing and painting is because it was a place I could escape to ---it was like all mine - being as I had a speech impediment and learning problem -I took comfort and joy in my art

J: Have you always made art in the same medium?

EL: I’ve been working in watercolor medium for over 40 years -- from High school - it picked me. It was an easy medium for me to grasp

J: You call your style of art sur-folk. Which parts are surreal and which parts are folk?

EL: My technique is more folk art and the images are surreal.

J: Do any artists or ideas inform your art in particular?

EL: Yes. Just recently for example I picked up a box of Dylan CD's which inspired the painting of Dylan titled “Columbia," which is on my website.  The changing of the seasons changes my color palette.

EL: Artists that  inspire me are Schiele, Jim Vogel, Picasso, Scholder's native images, Miro - this list could go on forever. Dali, of course, but especially some artists like Guy Clark and Terry Allen and Nathan Hamilton.  These are musicians whose songs inspire a vision that helps me paint; I listen to music the whole time I paint - like always.  I do a lot of paintings of musicians.

J: How would you define folk art? What do you see as the appeal behind folk
art? Do you see it as having any shortcomings?

EL: Folk art is "art of the people" - with little or no formal art school training. The rawness of the individual who created the work is the appeal. There are no more shortcomings than any other art.

J: It seems that there's a lot of art happening in different areas and the internet allows people to get to see more obscure stuff. What do you think about that ability to showcase your art to people who may not get to see it?

EL: I think more people get to see it but I don't think it is a lasting impression because it's too easy and I think people don't take the time to really look at it. It's fleeting

J: What sorts of ideas do you try and tackle in terms in your art?

EL: There’s always a story behind every painting; so my painting is considered narrative work but this story line  may be as simple as a line drawn on a page in my sketchbook that inspires me to paint from it. It may also be complicated as being somewhere around me. Things going on around me, like the people, events, night or day, changes of the seasons. I try to convey what's happening to me or around me.

J: Tell me a little bit about where you come from and where you live now. Does geographic location affect your work? If so, how?

EL: I was raised in western New York - a little place called Batavia, NY. Now I live in Northern New Mexico on "The High Road,” a Spanish land grant village called Truchas; in the mountains at 8,300 ft elevation. A land of beautiful sunsets, though isolated to some. It shows a lot of beauty to me in the colors of it and the solitude.

EL: Yes, my geographic location affects my work a lot, especially when you sweat; it doesn't work good with watercolors!  The colors that you see in this desert area - the Spring with all the new colors, new grass green to the colors of the Aspen trees in the fall. All these things, these colors show up in my work.  Even the starkness of the winter.  One year we had a lot of rain up here and after some months I looked back and realized that I had done three paintings with corn in them. The crop of corn was really plentiful that year and it showed up in my work.  Then there was a painting inspired by the drought and our waiting for the monsoon rains to come in. Recently I finished a piece, "We Three Kings" that was totally inspired by the drought and the fall colors here in Truchas. The reds and yellows of the sunsets come into my work and of course that often comes from wildfires that fire up the skies. The folklore of the area that I am in also comes through my work; I have painted in South Texas, Mexico, Italy and all over. The mural, "Dias de los Muertos" that I painted in South Texas really illustrates that.  It's reproduced on the opening page of my website.  I do a lot of skeleton paintings andlots of paintings with musicians; I guess I'm really best known for these subjects - and my buffalo paintings.

J: Do you get to have exhibitions ever?

EL: Yes, most recently was a museum show at the Harlingen Arts & Heritage Harlingen, Texas

J: How often do you get to create art?

EL: I’m creating art everyday - creating doesn't mean that you are actually painting - creating to me means getting the thought so I'm creating all the time. I try to paint every day, even when I am on the road because it's like any other professional; you have to do it so you don't lose your skill, your stroke, and because it's watercolor it's easier to paint every day. You can start and stop more easily due to the cleanup - it's so much easier

J: Do you have a day job you need to support your art?

EL: No - my art is my day job.  Many years ago I was an industrial electrician - that was my day job, but that was over 20 years ago.

J: What all is in the future for you?

EL: Enjoying life with my wife, family and friends - seeing our grandkids grow up and being a good person and doing my art

J: Anything else you'd like to say?

EL:….and to be open enough to be influenced by all of this  and just to make someone think - really think - that's a beautiful thing

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Interview with Chris Clavin of Plan-It-X Records

Sorry Chris - took this from facebook
I got into Plan-It-X records a few years back. My friend Billy gave me a big list of folk punk bands that I should check out that included some early Pat the Bunny bands, Operation: Chris Clavin, Ghost Mice, Defiance, Ohio, and Rosa. I really liked what I heard because it was unpretentious and focused on honest lyrics. The first song that I really took to was "Whiskey is My Kind of Lullaby" by Johnny Hobo and the Freight Trains. From there I started listening to any folk punk I could get my hands on. That's when Plan-It-X was having a blow out sale and I think for $20 I got two DVDs and 10 CDs, which was awesome. 

Those were the CDs that I had in my car at all times. I got my first Bananas record then, as well as a Rosa record and a Wingnut Dishwasher's record. There was a ton of variety in instrumentation and songwriting, which was something I valued. It was basically because of these records that I decided that I could actually write songs and got into DIY, an ethos I still believe in and support.

Plan-It-X has been around for a while and is based in Bloomington, IN where Chris Clavin, its owner, creator, god lives. He also has been in a ton of really great bands that seem to always be playing somewhere. It's amazing that this guy can do so much.

He recently put out a really great split 12" with Ramshackle Glory that was funded by Kickstarter. It's a really incredible record called Shelter that focuses on the idea of where a person can find shelter or a home. In a DIY punk community where punk squats and house shows are pretty much the lifeforce of a the music scene it's an important topic that has a lot of interesting stories. His band Ghost Mice continues to perform and make great music.

He recently also put out a book called Free Pizza for Life, a book about the creation of Plan-It-X and his experiences. His website can be found HERE. You should buy his stuff. It's always cheap, but expensive in quality (that's a phrase, right?)

I e-mailed him to see if he'd get hip to an interview and this is what he said.

Jordan: How did you get into punk rock?

Chris Clavin: What's punk rock. Just kidding. It was by accident. I started a band and we couldn't really play music, so people said we were pop punk. They I found out about the DIY touring network and I've never looked back.

J: Have you always lived in Indiana? What is the music scene like there?

CC: I've lived here most of my life. I moved to Olympia in 2006 and then to Gainesville in 2007 then to Cairo Illinois in 2009 to try and create a punk rock utopian community (cairo is a ghost town). I moved back to Bloomington in 2011. Bloomington has a great music scene. Lot's of styles. Lot's of different scenes here. 

J: When did you start first playing music? Did you grow up with it?

CC: I started when I was 19, I guess. I wish I had started sooner. I grew up with 80s music and heavy metal and my moms old 60s singles. 

J: What all bands have you been in? Which ones do you currently play in?

CC: Green Tea, The Ted Dancin' Machine, Lost August, Drowner, Operation: Cliff Clavin, The Trolls, The Coug, Pink Ass Flowers, Dude Looks Like A Lady, The Sissies, I like japanese hardcore, The Devil Is Electric, The Dragonflies, Ghost Mice, Captain Chaos, The Jammy Dodgers, Tooth Soup, Inky Skulls, Imperial Can, By Blood. --- Current bands: Ghost Mice, Tooth Soup, By Blood, Inky Skulls, Captain Chaos. 

J: Lyrics seem to be a big part of your music. Which lyricists, poets, or writers inspire you? What topics do you typically cover?

CC: Bad Religion, Fifteen, Bob Dylan, The Cure, The Smiths, The Mountain Goats, Kurt Vonnegut. 

J: How did you decide to start a label? When did you start Plan-It-X records? Did you start it alone? 

CC: This info is all on the PIX FAQ... Its too boring to talk about again... I started a label as a joke, to release my own band, with my friend Samantha! ...

J: What were some of the first releases that you did?

CC: Operation: Cliff Clavin, Against Me, This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb, The Bananas. 

J: How did you get the name Plan-It-X?

CC: Sam was taken by aliens to a moon of mars from her years of 10-15. The aliens called it planet X. 

J: How was it using Kickstarter to get funding for the Ramshackle Glory 1st album repress and the split that Ghost Mice did with them? Do you feel like it's a sustainable model for new releases?

CC: Yeah, I guess. It's dark times for record labels. We do whatever we can to survive, but it's starting to feel weird to me. I think I'm gonna quit soon. I don't want to beg people to buy music. 

J: DIY is a big part of your ethos. What do you think the role of DIY has or should have on music? What do you think of people or artists who don't adhere to DIY?

CC: I love the DIY scene. I love seeing great bands playing in houses. To me it makes the music so much more real. I hate stages and rock lights and backstage rooms where the bands can hide before and after they play. I love the DIY scene because the bands and the "fans" are totally equal. I also like non-DIY bands. I just don't like the bands that use the DIY scene as a stepping stone to the next level of music. 

J: Do you do any other sorts of art other than music?

CC: I draw and make comics. I paint sometimes. I do art for records for other bands sometimes...

J: How was it writing "Free Pizza for Life?"

CC: Easy. I wrote it in a few months. You can tell by the mistakes... I just wrote down all the stories that I bore my friends with all the time. 
J: You've been touring around a lot and so I'm sure have eaten at a bunch of different places. What is the best Pizza you've ever had?

CC: That's a hard question. I guess I'll have to say it was in Rome, by the train station. It was so good I didn't even notice it was vegan. 

J: What all have you been listening to lately?

CC: Bad Religion and Amanda Palmer. 

J: What all is in the future for Chris Clavin?

CC: I have no clue. 

J: Anything else you'd like to say?

CC: Quit your job, become an environmental terrorist. 

Top 20 albums of 2013

Just A Pictcha of Ya Boy - These Posts Won't Lean on Themselves
2013 was kind of overwhelming. In general, I try to listen to three or four new albums a day, which is easy to do since I can listen to music at work. When I mean new albums, I don't necessarily mean albums that just came out, but albums that I haven't heard before. One of my pet peeves is not knowing about a certain style of music, but it's also one of my greatest joys because it means that there's a ton of really awesome music that I haven't heard. 

This year I discovered that I knew nothing about Crabcore (attn: Chris Defusco, Corbie Hill). Just kidding.

The kinds of music I've been trying to get to know in my back catalog are neofolk, industrial, japanese psych, noise (japanese and others), new wave, and minimal synth. I realized that I knew next to nothing about these genres and so I've been trying to learn about them and made a ton of new friends on the way, which is another great part of the music community. People love to introduce you to things they love. It's why I started this website for pete's sake!

This is going to be the first installment of my year-end list of music. I'm trying to bring as much attention to people who really rocked my socks off this year, so I'm starting with a typical "top x albums from this year" list. I'll do another list on EPs and 7 inches, one on cassette releases, and one on reissues and archival releases.

In addition, I'm super proud to announce that I'm going to be putting out a list of top albums by some of my favorite people in the music scene. Honestly, it's mostly just so I have some recommendations for things to listen to, but I figured other people may want to know about them too.

Without further ado, here are my favorite records of the year.

1. Kurt Vile – Waking on a Pretty Daze

Face it. Any year that Kurt Vile comes out with a record, it will probably be my favorite album of the year.  Kurt Vile’s drawn-out Americana is laced with stoned wisdom and seriousness. It is easy to discount Vile’s lyrics as they are mumbled into existence. Upon closer inspection, there are some downright heartbreaking lyrics. The first song, for instance, is about a friend killing himself. “Phone ringing off the shelf/I guess he wanted to kill himself” transitions to later “Don’t worry about a thing/It’s only dying.” But the lackadaisically meandering guitar tone and delivery disguise the emotion. It’s a recurring theme throughout the album that ultimately can become unsettling. But there’s a startling beauty in the undertow, which is the real draw.

2. Jacco Gardner – Cabinet of Curiosities

I had no idea what I was getting into when I heard this album. There’s a feeling of swirling magic spells that whisper throughout this album, pulling the listener into Gardner’s psychedelic-tinged imagination. It’s like you’re simultaneously underwater and airborne. See, I’m not even making any sense. This album is gorgeous and has some memorable transitions between lighthearted verses and deepened choruses. Gardner is a master at changing chord progressions. There were some melodic lines that I had never heard in my life in this album. Diminished chords mix with majors and minors like a baroque pop Philip Glass. “Clear the Air” is the obvious single of this album, having been released in anticipation of the full-length and is a great introduction to the fantastic miasma of Jacco Gardner.

3. Mountains – Centralia

Easily the most realized Mountains record as well as the most organic. The album starts on somewhat familiar ground with “Sand,” an ambient drawl with reverberating tones and synth lines before going into my personal favorite song “Identical Ship,” a finger-picked acoustic dream that seems to drop the listener in the middle of a desert littered with sand dunes for three minutes and five seconds. On a personal note, I listen to this album when I am overcome with anxiety and it really helps me. Naturally, it has a special place in my heart.

4. Hoax – Hoax

I don’t know how many times I listened to this record with my friend Jeffrey while we were touring around with Death in June. During this time, Jeffrey, his dog Ahlfa, and I spent a few nights in Sean Ragon’s record shop Heaven Street in Brooklyn because we didn’t want to pay for a hotel. One night, after we went to a show at Don Pedros, Jeffrey and I went back to Heaven Street and put on Hoax’s record and blasted it as we pogoed around the room screaming “I’m sick/I’m sick/Lost control/Lost control.” For me, this record is tied to that week or so that we drove 3500 miles around the East Coast and back. I guess I should talk a little bit about the record. It’s the best hardcore record of the year and you should listen to it. That’s what I got.

5. Culo – My Life Sucks and I Could Care Less

I think that the guys in Culo inject a speedball into the vinyl as each LP is pressed. This record is oozing with drugs and self-loathing. You don’t really have to go further than noting that there’s a song called “I was supposed to be an abortion” to realize that. This band is Chicago hardcore royalty and I got to see them a few times last year. The first time I saw them was in what was arguably the best show all year, the day-long Not Normal Showcase at the Albion House and Swerp Mansion in celebration of Nor Normal’s “Welcome to 2013” compilation. Culo plays a frantic, anxious vein of hardcore that is both fun and nerve-racking. This record is full of exciting hooks and dangerously cheesy verses. The record is made of twenty songs, impossibly long for a hardcore album, and yet it doesn’t seem so. Rather, the band expertly weaves hilariously self-deprecating lyrics to catch the listener a little off guard each time the song changes.

6. Iceage – You’re Nothing

Iceage is a band that has matured quickly. Their first LP New Brigade was interesting, but only gave us a clue as to what the band would become. The band’s second album is a demonstration of just how much young musicians can accomplish in two years. You’re Nothing possesses a variety of songs from the new wave-inspired “Ecstasy” to “Morals,” the first song in Iceage’s repertoire to feature a piano. “Coalition,” for me, is the best song on the album and maybe the best song that the band has done. “Somehow things last till I die/For a show to feel animated/That face is integrated/Some figure out the coalition we chose/excess, excess, excess, excess.” There’s a fascination with ephemera in Iceage’s lyrics, but also a fixation on a final destruction, which, of course, results with Elias screaming “excess.” The album is a whirlwind of search for answers and blame disguised by music. I doubt they found any answers or who to blame, but judging by their age, they have a while to figure it out.

7. Mikal Cronin – MCII

Mikal Cronin was one of the first people I ever interviewed for my blog a year and half or so back. He was really nice to me, which goes a super long way in my book. He’s also from the same place that I was born, which is Orange County. At the time, Cronin had released his first self-titled LP, Reverse Shark Attack, and been touring with Ty Segall. That first album was much more garage-heavy than his second album. MCII begins with a piano and soft goading. The songs here focus on orchestration, but retain the property of pleasant pop. This should be no surprise as Cronin, a master multi-instrumentalist, studied music in college. That said, there are still more punk-infused ditties for those who love his first LP like “See It My Way” or “Change.” The path of the songs lead to “Piano Mantra,” a piano ballad with strings and light drums. It’s the slowest of Cronin’s songs and a great peek into the talented songwriters abilities.

8. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push the Sky Away

Nick Cave is interesting. You know he’s old, but he retains this hip, languid ease to his music and performance. When I saw Cave at the Chicago Theater this year, I kept thinking that he looked like an acrobatic scarecrow. Nick Cave possesses an uncanny demeanor where you know that he is human but has an otherworldly unease to his personage and music. A sort of mysticism. This legacy continues on Push the Sky Away with songs like “Mermaids” or “Jubilee Street,” where familiar terrain becomes ground for fairy tales. “I got a fetus on a leash,” Cave croons before the climax of “Jubilee Street,” where he professes he’s flying. Where does Cave fly to? Does he float to the final heavenly sphere or does he simply vanish once again into Neverland? Stay tuned, sportsfans.

9. Chvrches – The Bones of What You Believe

I didn’t expect to like this album as much as I did, but I gave it a chance mostly because I find Lauren Mayberry fetching and I liked what she said about women in the music industry. When I heard the song “Recover,” though, I was a believer. When I listened to the whole album, it took me a few listens. I just thought it was pop. And that’s when it hit me. It IS just pop! Really really well done pop with an awesome vocalist and interesting synthesizer textures. It’s an album that is so unpretentious that you forget that it’s trying. The songs are expert crafts of songwriting and this is a textbook of song structures for the aspiring indie pop artist.

10. The Knife – Shaking the Habitual

Shaking the Habitual is an exercise in amalgamation. “A Tooth for an Eye” begins with a seemingly simple syncopated rhythm before a challenging vocal emerges from its tectonic maw. The Knife have outdone themselves in creating something novel but familiar. There are remnants of pop sensibility lurking in the outer limits of their traditional songs. And then there is “Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized,” a twenty-minute drone piece right smack dab in the middle of the album. It’s so perfect! In my opinion, it ends up making the album complete. The Knife continues its trajectory of making drawn-out, hypnotizing songs and succeeds, which ultimately makes an entrancing album that constantly challenges and changes its listener.

11. The Haxan Cloak – Excavation

Get a subwoofer before you listen to this. If I ever saw someone listening to this album on tin-sounding laptop speakers, I would break that computer. I would take the laptop out of the person’s reach, snap it in half, throw it into the wall, eat a slice of pizza, and stomp all over the bastard. That’s not how we enjoy to Haxan Cloak. Upon first inspection, Haxan Cloak is an experimental project that makes drone music. I see it as a dance record. A dance record that’s spinning into a black hole. Excavation is chock full of jarring beats that seem to jerk the body into submission. After a couple listens, it becomes familiar. The cover shows a noose-like rope dangling in oblivion. Except it isn’t a noose because there is no knot. It merely resembles a noose. The same sort of questioned darkness permeates Excavation.

12. Locrian – Return to Annihilation

This is new ground for Locrian. As opposed to some of the earlier Locrian releases, Return to Annihilation is made of pieces that could be concretely called songs. “Obsolete Elegies” is one of the best things I’ve heard all year – it spins out from quietude before the widening gyre takes hold. Return to Annihilation is set up like a suite or an opera. The liner notes make this clear: there are even different movements in songs, emphasizing its thoughtful layout. There’s magic too. This album seems to have influence from an older world. No, that’s not right. This album seems to be from an older era. No, that’s still not right. I don’t know where this album came from and I don’t know what I’m trying to say. But this is what I want to rule the world to.

13. Ty Segall – Sleeper

Sleeper is a different Ty Segall album. It’s a slow acoustic question drawn across forty minutes or so. Sleeper is the first Ty Segall album to come out after the passing of his father and his estrangement from his mother. It’s lonesome and uncomfortable. “Sleeper” has a heart-destroying chorus: “I dream sweet love, I dream for you, from your baby for you/ I dream sweet love, I dream for you, from your baby for you /Oh I wanna sleep all day, oh I wanna go away/Okay I want to sleep all day with you.” There’s real pain and it pervades the album. “Crazy” is a song about his mother and her mental illness. There are no lighthearted songs. Even the last song “The West” is an open thought as to where be his home now that his mom and dad are gone from his life. It’s a personal album with the ever-present hooks, but it becomes truly rewarding when Segall’s story tags along.

14. Vampire Weekend –Modern Vampires of the City

Each time Vampire Weekend releases something I think I’m too punk. But goddammit I never am. Their classically-trained virtuosity and inspired vocal lines consistently impress me. Few bands use falsetto as effortlessly or weave together strains of music history. “Every time I see you in the world, you always step to my girl” is an example of classic sampling from Souls of Mischief. Classic sampling is a hip hop technique often used to give reverence to an artist – like when Kanye says “When I reminisce over you my God,” in “Can’t Tell me Nothin’,” he is paying homage to the line in Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth’s “T.R.O.Y.” It isn’t done as much in rock-based music so it’s cool to see Vampire Weekend sampling a hip hop song in their music. Vampire Weekend know their music history and this collection of songs continues to demonstrate their abilities.

15. Steve Gunn – Time Off

Steve Gunn released two albums this year. One was his solo album Time Off on Paradise of Bachelors and the other was a collaborative album he did with Hiss Golden Messenger for Record Store Day. Both are worth a listen, but I chose to put this one on the list. Simply put, Steve Gunn is one of the best guitar players around. I saw him a few times this past year at a different capacity each time. I saw him solo. I saw him play with Kurt Vile. And I saw him play with Lonnie Holly. Each time, the performance was different. I am still astonished how he can play such complex guitar parts in tempo and sing. Time Off doesn’t quite do it justice since it may have been recorded in two parts, but he can do it live! The witch-fingered guitar parts with a soothing voice make for a stand out album.

16. Broken Prayer – Broken Prayer

The members of this band have been in so many awesome groups it’s unfair. There are people from Libyans, Manipulation, Civic Progress and more. I’m really proud to have these guys as a Chicago hardcore staple. I saw them at my first Chicago punk show after I moved back from North Carolina, which was at the Mouse Trap with Double Negative. Later, they released this album on Sorry State Records. “Settle for Less” is my favorite track on the album –I love the synth line throughout the song and the guitar break at the chorus. The synthesizer appears frequently in the album, which differentiates it from other hardcore records.

17. Oozing Wound – Retrash

These dudes are a hoot. One of the song titles is “Welcome to the Spaceship, Motherfucker.” But the band has some serious chops when it comes to making thrash metal. Take their song “Call Your Guy.” The song begins with sludge infested guitar and bass parts before blasting off into more familiar thrashing ground. The album clocks in a little over thirty minutes, but it’s a trip that gives back. The lyrics in the songs are really fun and a reminder that metal doesn’t have to be all serious in order to be good.

18. The Men – New Moon

Musicians take note. This is how you start an album. “Open the Door” begins with an ambling piano progression before a friendly guitar joins in. Each album by The Men gets a little more cohesive. New Moon takes ideas from their previous efforts, like the twang of “Candy,” and scatters them through the songs on the rest of the album. We get some familiar rock n roll with songs like “The Brass” and “Half Angel Half Light,” but there’s a lot more folk in this album than in previous works. These guys also work nonstop. They toured around pretty much since this album came out and just announced a new album coming out on Sacred Bones next year, after which they will tour. Dreams really do come true.

19. Crowhurst – Memory Loss

Jesse’s been more or less of a pen pal for about a year and a half. When he makes music (or pretty much anything I guess), he usually goes by the alias Jay Gambit. He is the only consistent member in his group Crowhurst. It’s a motley crew that works with him. Crowhurst makes a Merzbow-like amount of recordings. I’ve listened to most of them and a lot have been really good, but Memory Loss is the one that stands out the most to me. It’s cohesive. It has a consistent theme. It sounds like an album rather than a collection. It’s an album that you can pay extreme attention to or just be in for the ride. I’m helping put together a show for Crowhurst in Chicago in March and am super excited. So hop on in. The water’s great.

20. Taxpayers – Cold Hearted Town

I first started listening to this band this year after seeing that they were going on tour with Ramshackle Glory, one of my all-time favorite bands. I had heard rumors of a band that recorded and practiced in a storage box from the Northwest. It was this band! This album is what happens when you combine goofpunx with Bruce Springsteen. The first two songs on this album, aptly titled “Cold Hearted Town pts. 1 & 2, sound like they could have been on Greetings from Asbury Park, which is my favorite Springsteen album if anyone cares. I got to interview them too and Rob Taxpayer was a totally awesome guy. There’s depth in his lyrics. This whole album is about a really messed up town and the background of folk-driven punk rock makes the whole album uncannily appropriate.

Stay tuned for more of the year's best stuff!!!


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Interview with Copenhagen's Lower

I first heard of Lower through an interview Elias from Iceage did. He was talking about bands from Denmark and mentioned Lower. I kept the name rolling around in my mind before ever actually hearing the band. The first time I got to hear them resulted from a Cult of Youth show. During one of their shows at the Empty Bottle, Sean had brought a bunch of records from his label Blind Prophet Records and I hadn't realized that there was an American version of the Walk on Heads EP. I had seen the 7" from Escho online but I had not wanted to pay international shipping. Being able to buy the EP at typical 7" price was pretty awesome, so I picked it up.

And it was really really good. Lower brings a lot of different sounds together. There's an 80s post-punk edge, obvious notes from hardcore, pop sensibility, and impressively inclusive lyricism. I was listening to it once again the other day, when I just thought of shooting an e-mail to the band to see what they were up to and if they would be down to be featured on my blog. At some level, I was simply curious to see what the progress on their upcoming full-length album was. The guys in the band were really great and ended up doing an interview with me, in which all my questions got answered (and pretty much in record time).

Unfortunately, I missed the band when they were in Chicago as I was traveling, but they talk about extensive touring once the new album is finished (which pretty much made my day). If you haven't listened to them yet, you should change that.

You can check them out on their FACEBOOK or their BLOGSPOT and pick up one of their records at your local record shop.

Here's what they had to say to me.

Jordan: Who all is in Lower? When did you start? How did you guys start the band?

Anton: We are Kristian (bass), Adrian (vocals), Simon (guitar) and Anton (drums). We started the band in 2009, I think. We all wanted to get busy in one way or the other, so starting a band was a good solution.

J: What all have you guys released so far?

Anton: So far we’ve released a demo tape, two 7”s and a live split 7” with Iceage.

J: How do you guys write songs? Does one person primarily write them or do you all fill in the parts?

Anton: We help each other out collectively. Simon does not necessarily write all guitar parts, and I do not necessarily write all drum parts. In the end it just have to sound as good as possible.

J: What topics do you guys cover lyrically? 

Adrian:  I try to aim at more general feelings that people experiences in life. Of course it also touches on my own life but that be because I'm a human being. But I try to aim for more general feelings.

J: Who are some of your favorite lyricists?

Anton: I know that Adrian’s very fond of Scandinavian writers and poets like Tom Kristensen, Cornelis Vreeswijk and Inger Christensen for sure.

J: what was the process behind recording your new record?

A: We recorded it with Escho main-man Nis Bysted, who also produced the Someone's Got It In For Me 7" and a man named Michael Fischerson. It was a way different process since we had a real studio booked, instead of just recording in a rehearsal room. We also took advantage of the seemingly endless possibilities of a studio, to incorporate other instruments than just the classic drums/guitar/bass combo. But this is not an actuality right now, since the LP is not out yet. 
J: For the "Walk on Heads" EP, how was it working with Escho and then turning around and working with Blind Prophet? Were there many differences?

Anton: Sean is a friend of mine and he wanted to help us with an American version of the EP. That’s basically it. Not many differences.

J: You guys are working on a full-length record, correct? How is that going? Do you have any plans on where to release it or when it's going to come out?

Anton: There’s an LP in the final stages of production, so it won’t be too long until it’s out. I know for sure that Escho is releasing it in Denmark. That’s all I know right now. Not sure when it’s out, but we’ve waited for a long time now, so hopefully very soon.

J: How was your recent tour in the United States? Is playing in the US much different than playing in Europe?

Anton: It was very exciting to play for people we’d never met before. The US is a very big country and people change from state to state. It was like playing many different countries.

J: Were there any highlights from that tour?

Anton: We met some nice people and played with some good bands. Especially Total Control from Australia and Final Grin from Chicago (maybe people you know?) stood out. They play rock music in very exciting ways. The best shows were in Austin, New York, Montreal and Philadelphia, I think.

J: How would you describe the music scene in Copenhagen? What bands stick out the most to you?

Anton: Our scene or circle or what you might call it, consists of bands that play a lot of different genres, from punk rock to power electronics. So it’s not very uniform or homogenous, sound-wise. Yet there can be found traces within the bands that make up a union-like feeling. Right now I personally think the best bands are Lower, Communions, Forza Albino, White Void and Age Coin.

J: What other bands are you guys in right now?

Anton: Simon and Kristian play in Age Coin – I play in Marching Church. Adrian’s busy with Lower.

J: Are there any records that you guys have been listening to a lot lately that have stuck out?

Anton: Lately I’ve been listening to Echo and the Bunnymen – Heaven Up Here once every other day or so. Earlier today I listened to Crazy Spirit’s old demo tape, which is good and stupid.

J: What all is in the future for Lower?

Anton: A month ago I broke my hand, which forced us to cancel a bunch of European tour dates. My hand is in a cast as I type this but in three weeks or so I should be ready to get it off. This unfortunate break has resulted in a vital need to play again. The future holds a lot of shows and the release of the LP, which I personally can’t wait to get out there.