Thursday, December 31, 2015

Release of the Day: Jim Ghedi - Home Is Where I Exist, Now To Live and Die

Home Is Where I Exist,Now to Live and Die, the debut LP from Jim Ghedi, English finger-picking extraordinaire, begins with the sounds of interaction: interaction in commerce, interaction between people, and interaction between musician and instrument. That may seem confusing, but to the discerning listener, immediately taken in by field recording and sonic tinkles of percussive guitar, it makes sense. In the scope of Ghedi’s work, it also makes sense, as his music tackles both external and internal interaction.

Let’s talk about repetition, specifically in terms of its erosive and nullifying ability. This is both a pro and a con. In language, it can be a disarming autodidactic parlor trick to repeat one word until its meaning is lost in place of total phonetic stimulus – while we may be alarmed by this, the corrosion of meaning, it is also liberating. In Zen Buddhism, this effacing effect is used to reach heightened states of profundity, a spiritual ground zero where the mind goes blank, and things are, perhaps for the first time, utterly quiet. All forms of repetition, when done correctly, can achieve this effect.

On Home Is Where I Exist, Now to Live and Die, Jim Ghedi’s fingers pluck strings thousands of times – and each time, at a microscopic level, skin particles flake off, which is to say that each pluck is a sacrifice, a literal exaltation and imparting of self.

Favorite Records of 2015

1. Rectal Hygienics – Ultimate Purity (Permanent)
2. Circuit Des Yeux – In Plain Speech (Thrill Jockey)
3. Destruction Unit – Negative Feedback Resistor (Sacred Bones)
4. Bichkraft – Mascot (Wharf Cat)
5. Mommy – s/t 7” (Toxic State)
6. G.L.O.S.S. – Demo (Not Normal/Self-Released)
7. Prurient – Frozen Niagara Falls (Profound Lore)
8. Obnox – Boogalou Reed (12XU)
9. Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty)
10. Eartheater – Metalepsis (Hausu Mountain)
11. L.O.T.I.O.N. – Digital Control & Man’s Obsolescence
12. Uniform – Perfect World (12XU)
13. November Novelet – The World in Devotion (Galakthorro)
14. Diat – Positive Energy (Iron Lung)
15. Kamasi Washington – The Epic (Brainfeeder)
16. Koufar – Lebanon For Lebanese (Fusty ****)
17. Bjork – Vulnicura (One Little Indian/Sony)
18. Titus Andronicus – The Most Lamentable Tragedy (Merge)
19. Obnox – Know America (Ever/Never)
20. Heather Leigh – I Abused Animal (Editions Mego)
21. Round Eye – S/T LP (Ripping)
22. Broken Prayer – Misanthropocentric (Sorry State)
23. Pedestrian Deposit – The Architector (Monorail Trespassing)
24.Total Abuse – Excluded (Deranged)
25. Inferior Passions – Any Day (Chondritic Sound)
26. TALsounds – All The Way (Hausu Mountain)
27. Pye Corner Audio – Prowler (More Than Human)

Monday, December 28, 2015

Interview with Pawns

Photo from Bexcellent Media
Some afternoon a few months back, while I was no doubt lying on my couch and humming “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now,” I received a text from my friend Jeffrey saying that I needed to hear a new deathrock/punk band called Pawns. A quick Google search returned two self-released seven-inch records, each three songs long. The band had recently finished a United States tour, including the stop in Chicago where Jeff saw them: the unfortunate reality of living dangerously close to mile marker zero is that Miami residents often lose out on touring acts, so I frequently have to rely on friends from more tour-friendly cities.
That said, I’m in a bit of a privileged position as I have the luxury of often traveling for both work and play, which was the case in October when I got to bum around New York for a few days: my label had a day-long CMJ showcase at Palisades, all the reason I needed to jet on over. The same night as our showcase, Destruction Unit played at Alphaville with Snakehole and Horoscope. Much to my delight, Pawns were also on the bill.
Pawns are a fucking joy to watch. Gage Allison writhes and wraiths, incanting darkness while bassist Jenna Rose leers into the audience and Noel Mateus snakes sinister guitar lines through Matt Sullivan’s plodding rhythms. Tight but explosive, Pawns draw their power from theatricality as well as auditory prowess, rather than forsaking one for the other. Totally great band - highly recommended!
Jordan Reyes: I love New York - I've never lived there, though I had a short tenure living on an air mattress in the studio at Heaven Street Records, but I enjoy visiting quite a bit. There's so much going on at all times. Is it ever frustrating or difficult to differentiate yourself there? Does that matter to you?
Gage Allison: I wouldn’t consider it frustrating or difficult. That being said, I don’t think any of us go out of the way to really differentiate ourselves. There is a lot going on but one of the redeemable things about all the oversaturation you’re subjected to is that there is a niche for everything.
Noel Mateus: If you have a good scene or friends supporting you, then that's what sets you apart from most of the people playing music in this city, and that can go a long way in making it less frustrating and more enjoyable.

Jenna Rose: I have a very different problem. I tend to be a loner so I don’t get out much, which makes it difficult for me to affiliate with any particular scene. I have a practice space and a little recording studio where I spend most of my time. I like to hang out with my cat. When I do make it out I experience a lot of overlap and camaraderie between the separate music communities, even though I don’t quite fit the bill in any given scene.

JR: When I think of Pawns, I can't help but think about the nascent L.A. Deathrock scene, coexisting with the punk scene - it sort of mirrors your punk/hardcore background and overlap. There's a co-mingling, which is somewhat inescapable, but did Pawns come from a desire to break away from old habits, so to speak, or to move them forward?
GA: I’d have to say for me personally it’s about moving forward. I’ve been playing in punk/hardcore bands since I was a little kid and never really branched out from that until now. I definitely consider Pawns to be a punk band, though we obviously take more influence from the darker side of the genre, but there’s no doubt that a lot of the same bands that influenced me then still do today.
JR: What relevance do you think "punk" as an ethos has in the modern era? Are D.I.Y. ideals more important now that the creative playing field is more flat, meaning more people have access to making and distributing art?
GA: To answer that you kind of have to define punk as an ethos before you can really touch on its relevance. These days everyone defines it differently and I guess there isn’t really a right answer. For me, punk is a culture that I have been ingrained in since I was very young and it will always have relevance in my life whether I identify as such or not. In a lot of ways it made me who I am today. That being said I couldn’t express more how important DIY ethics are to the punk scene and if punk culture moves away from that I think it would be safe to say that punk finally is dead (haha).
JR: I got to see you all play with Destruction Unit, Snakehole, and Horoscope in October. It was a great show. I was sort of transfixed by the mask you wore - the one with the three faces. It reminded me of Satan's appearance at the bottom of hell in Dante's Inferno. Who made the mask? What's the significance, if there is one to speak of, in wearing it?
GA: I made the mask a few months ago out of papier-mâché and wire. There were a few influences in coming up with the idea but I think it would be boring to really touch on the significance of it. I’d rather have that be up to interpretation.

JRose: I’m happy to hear it be compared to Satan in Dante’s Inferno. He can’t see shit through it. He thinks it’s funny to smash through me on stage while wearing it.

NM: I love it when he stumbles all over my pedals while wearing it...

JR: Let's talk about performance as an imparting of self. I find myself hearing two schools of thought: that performance is an act, a character or story being told, and I've also heard that it's an exorcism, or expulsion of truth. Is either of those applicable to Pawns?
GA: That’s funny that you mention this because Jenna and I discuss this all the time. I really find myself unaware of my actions on stage. It’s hard to tell if whoever I become when performing is a different person or merely an honest exaggeration of self, but every now and then someone will mention something I did while playing a show and I’ll be like “I did that?”
JRose: For me it is most certainly an exorcism. I remember the first time I read Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty and how immediately my life changed. He had given me permission to express that which I am unable to say, and furthermore, with purpose. (I’ve been told it is inappropriate to assault others outside of a theatrical context).
JR: Is truth important in music, art, or performance? Can something be genuine and also fiction?
GA: I don’t think there is such thing as “truth” so elaborating on its importance in art is futile. Everything we believe, say, make or do is molded by our surroundings and those surroundings were built on foundations of the same scenario for generations all the way to the beginning of time. When it comes down to it, being genuine in art and music is bullshit.
JRose: Gage has been reading too much Sartre.
JR: So far you all have released two 7"s - one from about a year ago, if I'm not mistaken, and one from a few months ago, which you toured recently. Do you think that the band has changed in the short but not insignificant interim period?
GA: We have definitely grown a lot between our first self-titled 7” and Eternal Return. I think we’re getting more comfortable with the kind of music we are playing and have more of a shared consensus on the direction we want to take the band.
JR: Do you guys have any desire to make or have you started writing/working on a full-length record?
NM: That's the plan as of now. We're taking a break from shows and trying to focus on writing new material that so far we're very excited about. Some of it has been played live, but a lot is still in the works. In a way the direction we're going in takes us back to our roots; to the more punk/anarcho influences that got us playing this kind of music in the first place.

GA: Yeah we’re planning on recording this Winter and will ideally have our first full length out sometime next year (2016).

JR: I'm a fairly big horror junkie - I pretty much only watch horror, sci-fi, and movies from Japan - do you guys have any favorite horror flicks?
GA: I’m a pretty big zombie nerd myself. Dawn of the Dead and Night of the Living Dead are great. Can’t forget about the classics like The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby too. Have you seen any good contemporary horror movies lately? They’re few and far between but I couldn’t recommend House of the Devil and It Follows more.
NM: Hausu was cool.

JR: What about books? Read anything of note lately?
NM: Gabriela, Cravo e Canela by Jorge Amado. I grew up in Brazil and went to school there up until 6th grade, so every once in a while I like to brush up on my Portuguese and read some. Thanks mom for keeping me cultured.
JRose: Camus is my all-time favorite writer. Lately I’ve been reading some Baudelaire and Anthony Burgess’ M/F, if you’re looking for something funny to read…
JR: What all is in the future for Pawns?
GA: Not exactly sure yet. Like we said, we plan on putting out a full length next year that will pull us in a slightly different direction. Very excited to see where that takes us.
NM: We self-released our first two 7"s and that was cool and all, but we’re hoping to release our full length through a label we like. We're all very happy with how we've done so far, thankful for all the support from friends, and excited for what the future holds.

JR: Anything else you'd like to say?

GA: Black lives matter! Free Palestine! Etc

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Release of the Day: Mommy - s/t EP

As with their demo, on their debut Toxic State Records EP, Mommy takes on institutionalization and alienation from the perspective of being numb, unwanted, and self-loathing. The band's unorthodox vocals, bass, and drums setup is backdropped by intense swirls of noise, which make the brooding music all the more claustrophobic and disquieting. "Gross thighs, gross legs/walking the edge of towers/anyone that's nice enough/to want to touch me/usually thinks twice before/spending the night," Mike Caiazzo maniacally huffs in his half-gurgle, half-scream on the record's first track. It's an uncomfortable, masochistic listen and Caiazzo wields his voice like a whip, flagellating himself and anyone foolish enough to breach his personal space.

The EP also comes with a zine-like insert featuring song lyrics, notes from California hospital system "Contra Costa Health Services," and adorable childhood photos, rendered totally perverse by the surrounding content. But Mommy hasn't created a shock-inducing record so much as an unflinching one; something in the lyrics, photos, and delivery lead me to think this is an intensely personal and honest record. It's not a cheap thrill, but an exorcism, and, for my money, the best hardcore record of 2015.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Release of the Day: Crown Larks - Blood Dancer

Crown Larks, Chicago four-piece freak outfit par excellence, manages to weave together the skronkiest free jazz, the deepest krautrock grooves, the most expansive psychedelia, and an ethically sound DIY backbone to create a work of startling beauty and intrigue on Blood Dancer, their debut LP. While a less-maniacally-driven-to-tour band would most likely sound sloppier crafting such a diverse sound, Crown Larks manage to impart wonder in their compositions. As such, the surprises are near constant, which, once again, could easily allow for slip ups, but the band is as tight in its performance as it is ambitious.

The songs that fill Blood Dancer are big - I mean really big - but it's also an album that should be viewed through a Gestalt lens: the whole is actually bigger than the sum of its parts. That said, there's a clear moment when everything reaches this sublime watermark. On the closer "Overgrown," about two-thirds of the way through the meandering pilgrimage, a massive noise section interjects itself, all of the song's parts gyrate in an imploring miasma, and the vocals take on a desperate note, like David Bowie shouting "Give Me Your Hands!" at the peak of "Rock n' Roll Suicide." This is the most powerful point in the record, a reflection on what has gone before, and showcases every strength in the band's exciting repertoire. It's magical and elusive - a moment most bands never get to write or experience, but one that Crown Larks fucking nail and we're all artistically richer for it.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Interview with Sean Bailey of Lakes

Lakes began about a decade ago, and it has gone through quite the metamorphosis since. Early releases saw Sean Bailey utilizing keyboards, tape decks, and drum machines, as his songwriting and equipment became more elaborate and orchestrated. While Sean has played the States a handful of times solo, August 2015 marked the first time that his whole band, himself, Lee Parker, and Justin Fuller, could make the long jump, playing shows both on their own tour and with fellow Melbourne postpunks Total Control in Los Angeles.

Deeply rooted in psychedelia and esotericism,  Lakes’ new album Arms in Twilight is a step further into orchestration and fidelity. The familiar string slashes and plucks are more striking than ever, providing an evocative backdrop to Bailey’s commanding howl as heavy rhythms bounce from tautened floor toms. As with other Lakes releases, Arms in Twilight continues the compelling blend of postpunk and folk, through a lens, darkly, but it’s also more filled out. A track like “Dragon Current” boasts a lithe flute part that quickly becomes sinister before a vocal duel takes center. Not to be overly simple, but there’s just more going on than on other Lakes records, which makes an already rewarding listen that much more satisfying.

Arms in Twilight comes out soon on Thomas Ekelund’s Belaten

Jordan Reyes: Lakes is certainly a postpunk band, but there's a neofolk influence, both in your logo and in your actual music. Do you draw much inspiration from neofolk music and history?

Sean Bailey: Since the very early days of Lakes, I was influenced by Australian and NZ post punk but also by dark and psychedelic folk bands, and psychedelic music in general. Coming from a punk background, I fused the two things and began to get more experimental with lakes. When I first heard bands like Current 93 and Death in June, I could see that they were influenced by the same things as me, so I was attracted to neo-folk because it was exactly what I was interested in. I was completely drawn to it! That was when lakes started to take a different turn. Neo Folk and post industrial music inspired me to take the early experimental sound and approach to a different place, to take my song writing and production more seriously but maintain the essence of lakes, which is also the punk spirit. I wouldn't consider Lakes a neo-folk group, but those groups had a profound effect on me. The lakes logo is part of this growth, but having these visual cues was a point where lakes was strengthened. I needed to have a stronger visual presence to help push the music forward, so it made sense to create the sigils and it worked.

JR: One of the things that has always caught my attention in neofolk is the reverence for Northern Mysteries and Runology. I know Australia is a Far Cry from the Asatru religion or any religion of Pagan origin, but do you have interest or take any influence from these ideologies?

SB: That's a very attractive element to neo-folk. Its magical angle is one of the things that drew me in. I was experiencing an initiation of sorts when neo folk came into my life so its reverence for Germanic Paganism really resonated with me and showed me that it was something I should add to the tools. Australia is far away, but that is no reason to ignore what makes sense.

JR: Is there a defining theme, idea, or ethos in Lakes?

SB: Lakes is a spiritual project that I have nurtured for over a decade. It's very intuitive and that's the way I've always worked with music and also my painting practice. I have my views and experiences and they all go into lakes in some way: love and esoterica have been major themes, but life just gets into the songs and sometimes it only comes to me later what they are about, and that's what I love about working in this way. I think this is what attracts me to neo folk, post industrial etc. - it's the intuitive process, which I can really relate to.

JR: It was cool getting to see Lakes as a three-piece twice in L.A. I picked up a copy of your latest LP Blood of the Grove and have been jamming it. I know Lakes began as and largely continues to be a solo project, but do all three of you guys play on recordings?

SB: It was great to play those shows in L.A.! Total Control are good friends and such a great band. It was amazing to be able to play with them in the U.S and we felt very grateful for the opportunity. I write and perform everything for the studio records. I will get guests in to play on one or two songs, but it's mostly me playing every instrument. I find it easier that way and it's what I'm used to with lakes, I can have complete control over every aspect of recording and song writing and the only person I have to organize is myself and my engineer, Jack Farley. It's weird - I really need that control with lakes but don't need it with our other band Tol, which is a collaborative thing. I then teach the new songs to my band Lee Parker (percussion) and Justin Fuller (Bass), the songs will then evolve a little more and get a new life for the live performances. I really love what the band brings to the live thing: it's more aggressive and heavy when performed live, which is how I want it.

JR: A lot of your records previously came out on your Inverted Crux label. Is the label still active? Are you glad to have less of a hand in the actual vinyl/CD production of a record? 

SB: I started inverted crux in 2005 to document music that I and my mates were making. In 2008 I decided to use the label to only release Lakes recordings. I just got tired of being an organizer of other people and it was really hard to get any distro for what I was doing. I eventually shut the label down in 2010. Once I shut it down I could focus more and leave the releasing of records to people who know what they are doing!

JR: Lakes started back in the mid 2000s if I'm not mistaken - the first LP was almost entirely a solo affair, although a few people guested on it, I think. Obviously, collaboration has had a bit of a place on all Lakes material, even if minimal, but your songwriting has been done individually. A lot has changed since 2005 - how has your songwriting changed?

SB: Yes, so much has changed! Lakes started at the very end of 2002 as a solo project. I was sick of being in bands. I was playing in a Melbourne post-punk band called The Vivian Girls from 1999-2001, which ended badly. I didn't really want to deal with being in a band anymore so the idea for lakes began around then and came into fruition about a year later after not doing all that much. It sounds very cliché but I was in my first year at art school when Lakes started. I was studying painting at The Victorian College of the Arts and the first Lakes show was for an Art School event! It was really meant to be a one off performance but I kept it going and it just evolved from there. My main intent at the time was to be as self-sufficient as I could and use minimal instruments. I had a keyboard and a drum machine so I used that. I was a drummer but had always had a hand in arrangements of songs. I knew how I wanted our band to sound and that frustrated people I think. I had never played any other instruments in bands before, though I could play most of them, but I was also a little naive. In the beginning Lakes was informed by early Australian post-punk and was very minimal but not all that interesting! The first record got weirder and I had a few guests and the recording is really raw. It was quite psychedelic but also industrial, a bizarre mix looking back now. I was just throwing experiments out there and seeing what happened. My song writing changed naturally I think. With each new song I wanted to evolve my sound, which was very raw in the beginning. It maintains the same intent and essence but has become more focused on actual song writing rather than experimentation.

JR: What about the equipment you play with? Has that had much of a change?

SB: The equipment I use has changed so much since the beginning. Like I said, earlier I was only using a keyboard and a drum machine. Over time I started to bring in tapes, percussion, and guitar. Since 2008 I began using a guitar to write the songs and playing live became a more complex operation. In a live situation I used cassette tapes and a drum machine to add texture and a beat. I explored this way of playing live for a few years until it became unenjoyable for me and just plain stressful! I wanted people to aid me in a live setting. I learned over the time I was playing solo that I need to be able to adapt to the live situation no matter what equipment issues I may be faced with. Even with the band, we can adapt and still have a strong live performance. The live thing is a really important element, I really want to be a strong live group and that couldn't happen with a solo project so I recruited a full band in 2010.

JR: You guys haven't played the States all that often, have you? How was the recent West Coast tour?

SB: We haven't played in the States much at all. I’ve been the U.S a lot but this was the first time I brought the full band. If it weren't for Beserktown, we wouldn't have even been able to come, so we are very very grateful for that. All the shows we played had their beauty, and as a unit we are good at finding the things that work and focusing on that. It gets hard when shows aren't well attended or when other humans are being hard to deal with, but in the end we put all of our energy into playing the best show we can. Some of the best shows we played weren't necessarily to our audience, which can make for a good energy or make things a little more interesting for us too. 

JR: Blood of the Grove came out in 2013 - are you guys currently recording or writing new music? Any plans for a new LP?

SB: Blood of the Grove seems like so long ago now! I attempt to release at least something once a year. Be that a cassette, 7" or whatever. I did the Carved Remains 7" in 2014 and the Lakes 'Chant from above: Live in Melbourne' in 2015'. During the last two years I've been really focused on my painting practice. I find I need to separate the two disciplines sometimes. In 2013 I decided to dedicate myself and most of my time to painting as I had received a studio residency in Melbourne. It was a really productive time and helped my painting practice a lot, I found a new kind of devotion to it, so it was an important two years, but Lakes had to take a bit of a back seat. I put the brushes down briefly early in 2015 to record the new LP 'Arms in Twilight''. Thomas from Swedish death industrial group Trepaneringsritualen is releasing it on his Label Beläten. Thomas and I have a mutual appreciation of each others’ work and started to write to each other, which is how that came about. I couldn't be happier working with him, and I'm very excited to get this new LP out there.

JR: What all is in the future for Lakes?

SB: I really want to take the full band on a European tour. I've been writing new songs and want to do a 7" sometime next year. I just want to keep it all moving along. I hate being idle.

JR: Anything else you'd like to say?

SB: Thanks for the interview!