Play One Note

Psychedelic music blog covering psychedelic, folk, drone, metal, and all other forms of out music.

Circulatory System – “Forever”

May 26, 2012

Here’s the final song off of the best album to come out of that whole Elephant 6 thing.  ”Forever,” off of Circulatory System’s self-titled, is as useful a summation as there can be for an album as sprawling and messy and brilliant as Circulatory System absolutely is, encapsulating that record’s twin themes of innocent exuberance and the inexorable passing of time in 86 dissipated seconds.

And what a perfect way to cap it off: After nearly an hour of psychedelic highs and maximalist excess, we’re left with a stoned campfire singalong dirge, wasted friends accompanying a single strummed guitar, chanting the song’s only lyric: “We will live forever and you know it’s true,” until everything fades away to black.  Perfect (click below):

Circulatory System – Forever

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Cynic – Carbon-Based Anatomy EP

April 10, 2012

cynic carbon based anatomy epAnd now it’s time for something a little different from our usual, spare Play One Note fare.  It’s Carbon-Based Anatomy, an absolutely gargantuan deluge of busy ideas careening between arpeggiation, aggression, and calm from Miami’s Cynic, a band that got its start and made its name with an unabashedly weird and aggro blend of early death metal and jazz fusion, and now makes music that sounds like…this.

What “this” means is difficult to say, because antecedents for this record’s sound are few.  So I’ll cop out and say that this EP is an uncommonly wide-ranging take on contemporary progressive rock.  Atmospheric and peaceful at times, crushing and aggressive at others, Carbon-Based Anatomy also reaches tremendously emotional highs and lows, ranging from the expansively triumphal to the helplessly fragile.  All of which is to say, Cynic covers a lot of ground on this brief EP.

Speaking of brevity: Carbon-Based Anatomy consists of only six songs, three of which are bookends or interludes that improve cohesion while serving as necessary palate-cleansers.  I write “necessary” because stuff this massive is often taxing after a while, an effect frequently compounded by the bloated album lengths that typically accompany all-in, in-the-red records of this nature.*   Blessedly, Cynic hits the perfect length here: It’s easily digestible in one sitting, and feels cohesive and satisfying to play through.

That’s more of an accomplishment than it sounds.  On the three fully-fledged songs, there’s hardly a stray shaft of light or a breath of fresh air among the torrential onslaught of sounds Cynic throws at us.  So while Carbon-Based Anatomy may be unapologetically huge and emotionally open, it’s never a drag.

The EP’s mass may nevertheless raise other concerns, especially because the in-your-face maximalism of the whole thing (and I mean the whole thing: the music, the conceptual framework, the grandeur, the scope, the naked emotionalism of it all) might come across to some as excessively self-important, music made by blowhards who like talking about (their own) capital-I Ideas.  Furthermore, Cynic makes music with a seriousness that, positioned against today’s default stance of ironic detachment, is deeply uncool.**

However, though it’s evident that Cynic is thinking very big thoughts with a very straight face here, their fearless experimentation and commitment to originality never gets in the way of Carbon-Based Anatomy‘s consistently high quality.  This is moving music made by guys who just so happen to mean every damn second of it.  Don’t be fooled by their band name: on Carbon-Based Anatomy, Cynic is refreshingly earnest.

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*I have never ever willingly put on a Dream Theater album (and I am so disdainful of that band that I’m not even gonna look up if you spell it “Theater” or “Theatre”), but I’m absolutely sure that their tiring atrocities plod on for hours on end, for example.  For a less contemptuous comparison, consider your average marathon Hawkwind record.

**This is something that shouldn’t be understated.  My roommate, who had never once complained about my wide-ranging listening habits during the two-plus years we’ve lived together, finally snapped when I was listening to Carbon-Based Anatomy the other day, calling it “emo” and begging me to turn it off.  I didn’t help my case at all when, after she asked me who Cynic was, I described them as “death-metal fusion from Miami.”  Strikes one, two, and three are all contained in that brief phrase.

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John and Philipa Cooper – The Cooperville Times

March 31, 2012

john & philipa cooper the coopersville timesI normally shy away from ultrarare psych nuggets.  The fetishization of a recording’s rarity can and often does obscure any clear-eyed assessment of the music itself, and when discussions about a record revolve around the object and not the music, well, those discussions are more appropriate for Antiques Roadshow than, say, here.

The Cooperville Times, a 1969 record by South African psych-folk duo John and Philipa Cooper, would seem to fit that bill pretty well.  It appears to be the only recording by that group, about which there is precisely nothing substantial online beyond the fact that they shared a surname (husband/wife?  Brother/sister?  Happy coincidence?) and were from Johannesburg, South Africa.  So, yes, discussing the The Coopersville Times would be entirely conducive to crate-digging one-upsmanship (look what I found!) and nothing more, except for the insignificant trifling issue that its first four songs are actually stupendously deliciously excellent.  It’s true: Even when considered on their own merits and not as crate-digging artifacts, these songs are great.

Even better, these four songs are sonically diverse, not just four variations of the same successful theme.  Indeed, they succeed because of John and Philipa Cooper’s organic and subdued approach to psychedelia, which relies on judicious use of unexpected instrumentation throughout these songs.  A distended organ here or a buried guitar solo there contributes volumes on The Cooperville Times.

For example, opener “The Mad Professor” is a fairly standard axe-wailer recast by its explosive intro and unusually funky drum pattern (which is absolutely begging to be sampled by the RZA) into something at once odder and more engaging.  Meanwhile, “Gipsy Spell” is a charming cast-off spiked with surprisingly accomplished and otherworldly Balkan-influenced fiddling, not the sort of detail you’d expect on a record of this provenance.  ”Wild Daydream” blends a jaunty clarinet and clusters of what sounds like a trilling harpsichord into a swinging shuffler.

The highest point in The Cooperville Times‘s beginning run is “I’ll Be Much More Than Satisfied,” a beguiling piece layering flute, upright bass, a deliberately picked acoustic guitar line, and a spectacular vocal performance by Philipa, who sings in that clear, piercing, affectless way common to many of her psych-folk contemporaries.  It’s not a very original way to sing, but she absolutely nails it, hitting her notes with a sort of precise coo that renders her soaring vocal range small and approachable.  I’ll happily open myself up to criticism by admitting that I’m actually kind of moved by the lyrical content of “I’ll Be More Than Satisfied,” as saccharine and naive as it is, but Philipa’s stunning delivery could make grocery lists give me chills.*

Taken as a whole, this album is merely very good, not great.  With the exception of the haunting “Singing In My Soul,” a song very similar in mood and construction to “I’ll Be More Than Satisfied,” the remaining material after the first four songs is forgettable.  But those opening songs more than make up for the unremarkable remainder of The Cooperville Times.  Grab it.

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*Though I must admit that there’s something about over-the-top homages to undying love, however divorced from reality they may be, that gets me.  The most moving song in this tradition is the Byrds’s rendition of “John Riley,” which routinely wells me up.

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Seaworthy + Matt Rösner – Two Lakes

February 17, 2012

seaworthy matt rosner two lakesTwo Lakes, a collaboration between Australian sound artists Seaworthy + Matt Rösner, is among the most immediately immersive and engrossing drone records I’ve ever heard.  Seaworthy + Matt Rösner have wefted together documentary recording and improvised drone collaboration into a seamless, arresting, long-form piece as arresting as it is stately.  That last sentence wasn’t review-speak.  This is quite an achievement, something this duo manages to accomplish by exhibiting a steadfast dedication to patience and to judicious movement when employing elements from their carefully chosen palette.

On Two Lakes, there are few sounds at any given moment.  Those that are present at said moment compose a gorgeously wrought vignette of nearly austere reserve.  However, what gives the record its considerable power is the deliberate movement between these sounds, how and when certain pieces fade into and out of the track.  The mixing on Two Lakes is impeccable: The resonant burbling churn and slosh of water on “Meroo Rockshelf,” for example, dissolves into the clean, pastoral drones of “Meroo Sedgeland Pt. 1″ in a way that’s surprising and gripping, yet somehow still feels inevitable.  And the album is nothing less than a succession of these revelations from the beginning to the end.

Music like this—and by “like this,” I mean music that’s designed to be beautiful, peaceful, contemplative, and impressionistic—is rarely actively engaging.  If it weren’t for albums like Two Lakes, it would be easy to assume that listener engagement and drifting, naturalistic, minimalistic ambient music are mutually exclusive.  The fact is, few albums reach this level of imposed contemplation,* but Two Lakes is certainly one of them.

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*Two other albums I can think of that do are the Olivia Tremor Control’s Explanation II: Instrumental Themes and Dream Sequences, one of the most unfairly forgotten ambient records of all time, and Taylor Deupree’s Northern.

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The New Mummies – K-l-a-n-g-!

February 13, 2012

K-l-a-n-g-!new mummies klang, a new record by Austin-based, Rochester transplants the New Mummies, is sequenced like a nocturnal diver’s upward drift through black water towards air, beginning in murk and ending in (relative) clarity.  The album begins with three noisy drones—”Bridges Out,” “The Servants Call,” and “Delayed Response”—that progress from deeply abstracted tracks that approach musique concrete into a humid, delay-drenched menace reminiscent of Zelienople’s more diffused moments.  There’s more activity in these drones than you’d expect, given that genre signifier.  Rather than constructing pieces built around glacial progression, the New Mummies opt for more rapid crescendos.  Sounds identifiable and otherwise—disembodied chants, burbling tones, guitar arpeggios released on slow, careening trajectories—churn through the mix.

Elsewhere, as on “Caught in the Underfield,” songs (more or less) coalesce out of a swampy haze, during which the New Mummies channel No Wave-primitivism through a particularly bleak form of outsider folk to create a sort of desolate dark pop.  These songs, with the exception of the anthemic closer “Campaign for Wellness,” feel lucid only in relation to the trio of drones that open K-l-a-n-g-!.  Indeed, the New Mummies take every opportunity to tear these songs apart, plunging them in cascading reverb, ripping out the low end, tightly wrapping vocals in rapidly decaying delay, and subjecting them to the microphone-on-the-other-side-of-the-room lo-fi recording methods of early Magik Markers.  The result is a series of particularly emotionally direct songs made moreso by their obvious fragility, their precarious cobbling-together.

Given multiple, divergent threads of influence, it would be easy for the New Mummies to try to do to much here.  But  like Sparklehorse’s classic Good Morning Spider*, K-l-a-n-g-!‘s willfully de(con)structive production methods serve as a crucial binding agent, providing the common thread that runs through these quietly unsettling drones and dirges.

Enjoy it on their Bandcamp.

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* Which, despite sounding absolutely nothing like K-l-a-n-g-!, is a surprisingly handy signifier for it, being an album similar in fractured lonesomeness and fractured construction.

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Storm Shelter

January 9, 2012

storm shelter ep austin band

Leave it to me to find a new gem, spawned from my hometown, by reading a Poland-based psychedelic blog.*  The release in question is Austin-based quartet Storm Shelter’s self-titled EP.

On her website, Storm Shelter drummer Michelle Devereux labels her group an “apocalypse inspired chick band.”  The “chick band” part is true enough: Four women grace the release’s cover—but the apocalypse-inspiration part is no feint either.  This EP is entirely unapologetic in its worship of low tom beats and basic blues-scale guitar ambling, the perfect soundtrack to a post-urban witch’s coven.

Storm Shelter plods menacingly through these three tracks, purposeful tempos doing absolutely nothing to disguise this release’s shamanistic aggression.  Drumming is more spirited than precise, and unnecessary nonsense like “chord progressions” are unceremoniously shunted aside.  What we’re left with is some seriously bare-bones Road Warrior incantations, airs and dirges for post-civilizational shindigs and sacrifices.  Yes, Storm Shelter is positively elemental in its construction, and there is an undeniably elemental joy in listening to these perfectly primitive stoner pop jams.  You try listening to the swampy, grimy churn of “Stoneatopia”† without getting all fist-pumpy.  You shall fail.

That’s all I got.  I’m mighty proud to live in the same town as these supremely talented ladies, and I earnestly hope to be able to catch them live one day soon.  Until then, I’ll be smearing soot on my face, gorging on grilled flesh, and jamming out to the deliciously tribal Storm Shelter EP, which you can stream on the band’s site.  It’s getting gross over here, people.  Come revel with me.

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*That just ain’t right, gawdammit!

†Surely the national anthem for the baddest land around.

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Bvdub – I Remember (Translations of “Mørketid”)

December 11, 2011

bvdub i rememberAs we find ourselves firmly ensconced in winter’s dreary frigidity, Bvdub’s I Remember (Translations of “Mørketid”) is an ideal record for those who, like myself, use music as an aural mirror.  This record accurately reflects the chilly milieu with compelling, often devastating, accuracy.

I Remember echoes the downcast widescreen panorama of downbeat beatsmiths like Burial and Gas, sounding not unlike some long-lost collaboration between those two artists.  At times, as on “We Said Forever” or “Would it be the Same,” clinical house beats occupy the foreground, and the resulting sound is reminiscent of a Luomo track wrapped in suffocating layers of heartache and hiss.*  Usually, however, Bvdub untethers his loops and haze from rhythms.  The resulting sound is aggressively immersive and consuming, at once powerfully bleak and gorgeous, strongly reminiscent of the dramatic, windswept snowscape that is I Remember‘s cover.

Regardless of the elements Bvdub employs, the tracks on I Remember are uniformly monolithic and relentless and unapologetically heart-wrenching, echoing the hopeless, ruined beauty of another emotionally unflinching work of loop-based music, William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops.  ”A Taste of Your Own Medicine” closes the album on a particularly naked note, in which shards of shattered, bleak drones insistently threaten to obscure the fragile, despairing melody at the piece’s heart.  I Remember is undeniably harrowing, but its emotional heft, while considerable, always engrosses and never overwhelms.

Grab a blanket (or Kleenex):

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*And if that doesn’t sound awesome to you, I can’t help you.

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Labradford – Labradford

November 9, 2011

labradford self titledIt has been a year of rediscovery for me, and Labradford ranks as one 2011′s two most breathtaking re-unearthings.*  Prior to giving them another listen, I’d categorized them in the same mental box I put Jessamine, Third Eye Foundation, Quickspace, Cul de Sac, and so on:† servicable, moody, and occasionally (but not consistently) fascinating.  I thought I appreciated them, and I listened to them on occasion, but I never really fell in love with anything I heard.  I would visit and revisit Labradford’s Mi Media Naranja perhaps yearly, find its spaghetti Western-tinged bleakness arresting at times and overly mannered at others, and then forget about it.  But that staid, prim respect I paid Labradford is no more, and I have their self-titled album to thank for that.

To paint it with an extremely broad brush (more of a roller, really), Labradford’s career is a progression from the deliberately rough to the finely burnished.  There were variations and gradations within and among albums that bucked this trend, but again, by and large, that’s how their career worked.  And Labradford caught them right in the middle of this transition, presenting the late, great band in a particularly versatile and varied light.

Now, I mentioned Labradford’s ever-evolving career arc, but there are more constants between records than there are differences.  These include a masterful sense of pacing as deliberate as it was inexorable, a deep and abiding affinity for particularly dust-blown Spaghetti Western guitars, and a resolutely nocturnal atmosphere.  And when I say “nocturnal,” I mean it as much as I’ve ever meant that used and abused word and then some.  This stuff is dark, begging to accompany a solo behind-the-wheel nighttime exploration, wan headlamps vainly casting their guttering arcs into the monolithic inky void, marking time against some serious internal thought processes hashing themselves out.  Car washing music this is most certainly not.

The mood on Labradford ranges from the sinister nocturnal menace of “Midrange” to the lovelorn nocturnal dissipation of “Pico” to the stately nocturnal melancholy of “Lake Speed,” but Labradford is hardly monochromatic.  Rather, the band mines the fine gradations of nighttime introspection as good as anyone, assembling an aural case study examining the subtleties of each shade of black.  The result is an engrossing, hypnotic exploration of an already-preoccupying set of emotions.

Don’t forget to turn off the lights:

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*The other being rediscovering Zelienople.  It was truly a year of stumbling across forgotten gems.  Also, I understand that there are still almost two months left in 2011, but my appreciation for these bands has been deep, long, abiding, and consistent, and unless I happen across something in these final 100 days that, I don’t know, fundamentally alters my socioeconomic beliefs or makes me want to get like facial tattoos, I feel comfortable sticking with the asterisk’d statement above.

†I really could go on, but that’s the point: Labradford was another member of a perfectly fine but otherwise undistinguished crowd of dark, textural post-rockers.

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Psychedelic Blog Roundup

October 31, 2011

Hello, all, and a most happy Halloween.  I figured I’d give a shout ‘n’ tout* to some of the blogs that keep me informed and fascinated and blown into the next goddamn week with psychedelic yumminess.  That’s right, into the next week.  I am currently in the future right now, and I can report that it’s pretty chill over here.

Enough of that.  Here we go, in the totally arbitrary and frankly lazy order that the feeds are in my Google Reader:

exp etc: Not a whole lot going in the way of commentary (oftentimes you have to use a combination of the album art and the post’s tags to guess at what the album you’re downloading will sound like) but a pretty consistent flow of largely experimental psychedelia, noise, drone, jazz, and avant-garde jams.  That isn’t all, not by a long shot, as they really cover all their bases.

Dr. Schluss’ Garage of Psychedelic Obscurities: A total classic, featuring witty, conversational ramblings on psychedelic music new and old (mostly old).  Blessedly, Dr. Schluss avoids a lot of the barrel-scraping you find on a lot of blogs that revisit the 60s that seem to favor rarity over quality.  None of that baseless snobbiness here!  If he writes about it, it’s probably pretty damn good.  Bonus points for the dual metrics he uses to rate albums (“Quality” and “Trip-O-Meter”).

soundweave: The blog generally focuses on post-metal and post-rock, but throws enough curveballs to keep it interesting.  It’s basically the only blog I use that mines those areas, so it’s my go-to for keeping abreast there.  Post frequency is down lately, but I’m not really one to complain, so…

Weed Temple: Weed Temple is my absolute jam.  Jacob (aka Panzerfaust) posts primarily (but by no means exclusively) drone tapes.  It’s a ridiculously rich resource for two reasons.  First, you are not finding 90% of this music anywhere else, so you get a lot of absolutely left-field gems (like this brilliantly humid Ocelote Rojo record) that you wouldn’t have found any other way…unless you, too, maintain a blog focusing primarily (but by no means exclusively) on drone tapes.

Deleted Scenes,Forgotten Dreams [sic]: Thankfully, as of yesterday, they appear back after a two-month hiatus.  It’s all beatless ambient drone and New Age bliss here, and the best, most comprehensive blog I’ve found that tackles that area.  One minor quibble: They recommend everything as HIGHLY,HIGHLY RECOMMENDED [sic] which, like, is nice if you say that in contrast to other records, but if that’s your default comment, it’s kinda extraneous character typage, ya know?  But the music on here is largely unimpeachable.

Sharing is Caring <3: Posting has currently been reduced to a trickle for the Sharing is Caring bro (lack of a consistent internet connection, apparently), which is a shame, because when his blog was kicking, it was a great catch-all resource.  No real rhyme or reason to what was posted, but that was part of its necessary charm.  Great for helping me break out of the psych/drone box I often find myself.

GLOWING RAW: This blog posts in batches, and when I wake up and see four unread GLOWING RAW posts, I feel like someone just showed up at my desk at work with a Taco 12-pack all just for me, you know?  I feel all warm and special-like.  Alex’s obsessions are minimal/dub techno & microhouse, ambient/drone, psych of all flavors and assorted other experimental genres.  Though he doesn’t do much pigeonholing, he is a nearly peerless curator: Of all the blogs I follow, his is the one I trust almost instinctually.

Raven Sings the Blues: This guy posts what he likes, and he likes komische, psych folk, and garage rock.  Well, two out of three ain’t bad.  I scan all the posts and if I see “garage” anywhere in it I just pretend it didn’t exist, and with good reason: The other stuff he posts is largely spectacular.

WE FUCKING LOVE MUSIC: Yeah, they really do.  Absolutely no genre-imposed limiting here.  The last five albums posted include a popular film soundtrack, modern classical remixed by Detroit techno artists, a Ventures album, classical piano, and the Dismemberment Plan’s Emergency & I.  That basically says all you need to know about this fantastic blog.

And that ought to do it!  I follow a couple other magazine-type sites, but those are all the blogs.  Have I missed any awesome ones?  Lemme know!

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*I totally thought I made this unfortunate phrase up.  A Google search proves otherwise.  Darn.

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The Chaw – EP

September 16, 2011

the chaw epA quick hit for the the Chaw, a Concord, CA-based psych band responsible for a delicious little morsel that came my way earlier this week.  Their new EP is dark and you know what I’m gonna be frank here it’s honestly some pretty bonerrific music, plenty well-suited to trysting and heavy make-outs.  It’s true.  What’s more, listening to the Chaw has made me re-realize how much damn fun that uniquely sexy dark strain of late-aughts psychedelia is,* and how I need to listen to approximately 900% more of it stat.  This stuff is made for charged hip-shaking and is practically begging to be paired with a really badass party populated by people cooler than me.

So: The music is fun.  Highlights include “The Road,” which is deliberate and menacing and nocturnal and is bound to get someone pregnant one of these days, and “Horizon,” a magesterial, surf-tinged ballad characterized by all sorts of tasty crescendo and catharsis.  The EP sounds absolutely great, too.  Everything is appropriate huge and hazy and smudged.  Guitars brightly chime and blearily soar, leaving brilliantly arcing psychedelic chemtrails in their wake.  The vocals have an affected, brash confidence about them, situated in that commanding, sexualized space occupied by Elvis, Nick Cave, and Chris Isaak.  It’s well-suited to this kind of dissipated, sultry psych.

In the spirit of forthrightness begun by my use of the adjective “bonerrific,” I’m gonna say that the Chaw sounds pretty cocky on this EP, and I’m usually—usually—more the introspective type.  But you know what?  They have every right to sound that way.  Because that cockiness, that swagger, makes this EP a goddamn blast.  I can imagine it kicking all kinds of ass live.  (Yo, Black Angels, put these fools in Austin Psych Fest pronto!)  Here’s the Chaw’s Bandcamp and website.  Get some.  No, really, get some.

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*I’m talking about the Black Angels, Black Mountain, the Warlocks, Sleepy Sun, et al.

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