Play One Note

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

Posts tagged with ‘play one note’

Blondes – Touched EP

January 28, 2011

blondes touched epThere are times, when suffering from the jagged angularity of your day-to-day, when you need enforced limbo, a sort of pleasant mental suspension and insulation from the unexpected, the harsh, and the real.  Blondes, with their Touched EP, provide that perfect humid, mathematical immersion needed to achieve a happy internal stasis.

The five tracks that make up Touched all consist of variations on that easy-breezy Balearic drift that took peaceful hipsters by storm in 2007.  It’s all mellow synth washes, earnest, buried melodies, and charmingly lo-fi beats on the slow side of mid-tempo.  It’s house music for a humid summer’s night: leached of all drama, devoid of urgency, languid, and warm.

You can point to all manner of contemporary referents, because this Balearic/chillwave sound is definitely a “thing,” but I’m not going to do that because a) I don’t have the sort of complete or even particularly well-informed knowledge of that scene to feel like I can pick influences w/o consulting Wikipedia and Pitchfork and Grooveshark and making guesses, and b) the much more interesting (at least from my perspective) reference point is Manuel Göttsching’s guitar geometries from the late 70s and early 80s.

To tell the Göttsching story the right way would involve a serious digressionary swerve, so I’m gonna just avoid that tarpit and say that he was an ex-Krautrock psych lord who moved away from the acid-drenched, mind-melting experiments of his youth in Ash Ra Tempel toward a progressively more ordered, elevated, and clear-eyed approach, one embodied by albums such as Ashra’s* 1976 album New Age of Earth and epitomized by Göttsching’s own brilliant 1984 effort E2-E4.

E2-E4 is a true rarity, an electronic album that’s over 25 years old and doesn’t sound dated.  It’s a masterpiece of repetition, all fractal guitar figures and stately rhythms and luscious layers of synth.  It’s nearly an hour long, and it’s endlessly engrossing.

Enough about that, though.  (Actually, not enough about that.  I should probably write about E2-E4 soon.)  Blondes continues that aesthetic tradition set forth by Göttsching, and they do it proud.  Even if Touched doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before, it’s still more than worth spending an hour drifting in its hypnotic, amniotic warmth.

*Yes, that’s a name change.  Sometimes you just gotta reinvent.

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HAPPY NEW YEAR

December 31, 2010

2010 WAS GREAT!  2011 WILL BE BETTER.  FORMAT CHANGE: FROM NOW ON ALL I’M GOING TO WRITE ABOUT IS MUDVAYNE OVER AND OVER AND OVER IN ALL CAPS.  SOUND GOOD?  WOOOOOOO LET’S GO

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Festival – Come, Arrow, Come!

November 28, 2010

festival come arrow comeOur latest entry in faerie-and-druid New Weird America folk comes from Come, Arrow, Come!, the debut album by sister-sister duo Festival.  It fits right in with Language of Stone’s other artists, which include Greg Weeks, Sharon Van Etten, Mountain Home, and Orion Rigel Dommisse, and it bears the hallmarks of a host of other albums in the genre regrettably known as “freak-folk.”  Those hallmarks, of course, being deconstructive studio experimentation (a la Sparklehorse) applied to pre-rock American and British folk traditions—or at least the idea of American and British folk traditions.

A bit of critical griping and clarification: As much as I loathe the “freak-folk” genre categorization,* yeah, I suppose it designated a moment, one that I felt a deep affinity to.  The output of music categorized as such in that 2004-2008 era was, to me, as rich, fascinating, and affecting as any in recent times, perhaps second only to the post-rock movement of the early- to mid-90s.  Bands and songwriters as diverse as the Tower Recordings, Nic Castro, Six Organs of Admittance, Charalambides, the Skygreen Leopards, and Sunburned Hand of the Man all released classics of the style.  I count their efforts as some of my favorite records of all time.

Festival’s Come, Arrow, Come! is not at the level of a Dark Noontide, a Galaxies’ Incredible Sensual Transmission Field of the Tower Recordings, or a Headdress, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable in its own right.  When listening to it, there’s a bit of a sense that the Powell sisters are doing a bit of opportunistic scene piggybacking, taking tried-and-true elements from other, greater New Weird America albums and suturing them together.  Though that really sounds rather damning, trust me, it’s not.  Festival, generally, does a superb job of blending together their influences and presenting something that’s very well-crafted, if not particularly original.  When at their strongest, as they frequently are on Come, Arrow, Come!, Festival can put together some of the most eerie, doomy free folk around.

And their strongest definitely comes in a three-song stretch—”Zebulon,” “Bind Us All,” and “Return”—in the middle of the album, all of which explore the spookier, more unabashedly dramatic side of their sound.  “Zebulon” begins the sequence with an arresting blend of ominous drones, the Powells’ clear, high voices, and a mincing melodic figure.  It leads into “Bind Us All,” a breathtaking piece, the best thing on the album.  It’s a deliberate, percussive slow-burner that depends entirely on the impressive melodic dexterity of the Powells’ singing.  This brilliant run grows progressively more unsettling, culminating with the lengthy, cacophanous unraveling of “Return.”  The song begins with simple, earnest guitar figure and ghostly, lonesome vocals.  The effect is hypnotic, but instead of letting this play out, Festival opts to explode the song, unleashing a torrent of seesawing electric guitar squeals, dissonant caterwauls, and thundering percussion.  It’s surprisingly heavy stuff, completely brave and frankly uncalled-for, and suggests that Festival is actually serious about their mossy darkness, not simply aping for aping’s sake.

…And that’s precisely why the album ends on a rather disappointing note.  The remaining three songs, like the call-and-response sing-along stomper “Valentine,” follow safe hipster-pop tropes a little too closely for my blood.** I suppose I can see why Festival felt the need to lighten things up, but it would have been more daring and rewarding if they didn’t take the foot off the throat. It’s when Festival explores their Renfest roots that they seem strongest.

Overall, Come, Arrow, Come! is what it is, and that’s a sort of leavened, lightened version of Fern Knight.  Which is high praise, I hasten to add.  Sometimes you want your crown-of-daisies-wearing forest maidens to avoid full-on nightmare mode.  Festival does a great job of that.

*FUCK YOU, PITCHFORK.  FUCK YOU.

**With “Come Outside,” in particular, sounding like it was written and sung by a female Hamilton Leithauser doppelganger and fairly reeking of Williamsburg, making for a pretty deflating two-song conclusion to Come, Arrow, Come!

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David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name

October 29, 2010

david crosby if i could only remember my nameIt’s a chill Friday.  I’m relaxing, trying out my new headphones, sitting in a ridiculously comfy ergonomic chair.  Sipping on tea.  Basically feeling transcendentally mellow.

It’s chill outside, as well.  I mean, chill for central Texas.  I biked home from work in 55-degree weather.  Yes, folks, there’s a nip in the air, and it’s times like these when we turn inward ever so slightly, finding enjoyment in our own quiet thoughts and maybe, just maybe, if we’re lucky, those of one we love.  Let’s face it, peeps: ‘Tis the season to get mellow and sexual.

Maybe I’m talking out of my ass.  I probably am.  And I’m okay with that.  The point I want to make, in typically elliptical and roundabout fashion, is that I’m listening to David Crosby‘s debut album, If I Could Only Remember My Name, and it fits these chill times like a warm, easily distractible glove.  This is easily the best thing David Crosby ever put out, and the best Crosby, Stills & Nash solo album by far.  It’s lightly druggy, abstract, introspective, and exquisitely calm and languid—perfect sweater weather music, perfect post-sex come-down music.

I’d give this album more words than this but I’d rather just let this particular album speak for itself.  Put it on and chill out.

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Guided by Voices – Static Airplane Jive

October 19, 2010

guided by voices static airplane jiveI’ll get around to it, but permit me a brief and related digression: I recently saw Guided by Voices here in the lovely city of Austin.  The performance was excellent, about what you’d expect from Robert Pollard.  There were high kicks, microphone twirls (did I just make up a term there?  Microphone twirls?), and spectacular between-song banter.  There’s a reason Pollard has a live album consisting solely of his rambling observations, 2005’s Relaxation of the Asshole (to which I say, hurr).  There was also lots and lots of Pollard-centric beer guzzling, the upshot of which was the charismatic singer’s slurred demand for “Austin pussy” during GBV’s first encore.  A demand that, I’d like to point out, was met with throaty cheers by men and and tepid snorts by women.

Oh, and they played songs.  Great songs, in fact, largely culled from their classic, early-to-mid 90s lineup that featured Tobin Sprout’s George Harrison to Pollard’s Lennon/McCartney.  They played “hits” (which, by GBV’s standards, means “songs that more than 100 people have heard”) off of Alien Lanes and the untoppable Bee Thousand alongside phenomenal(ly) deep cuts off of Tonics & Twisted Chasers, Clown Prince of the Menthol Trailer, and I Am a Scientist.  Each EP rarity was prefaced with an announcement of its origins.

This reverential, real-time crate-digging is not uncommon for Guided by Voices, but they didn’t play anything off of my favorite release of theirs, 1993’s Static Airplane Jive.  Though their song catalog probably runs into the thousands, I had reasonable hopes they’d drag out a tune or two from the EP, simply because when I’d seen them before and they’d done so, playing the 51-second, loopy acoustic ballad “Hey Aardvark” (more on this later).  No luck this time, though.

The show did, however, impel me to revisit Static Airplane Jive, and my decade-old love for the relatively obscure little EP was rekindled. I still stand by my assertion that Static Airplane Jive is the greatest thing Guided by Voices ever laid to tape.

Bold, I know. But I’m one bold bro. From an exposure/historical significance perspective, Static Airplane Jive doesn’t hold a candle to Alien Lanes, let alone Bee Thousand.  However, taken as a document divorced from its context, Static Airplane Jive stands as Guided by Voices’s most powerful, clearly distilled statement.  Consisting of six incredibly brief songs (only one passes the three-minute mark, and only one more the two), Static Airplane Jive blasts through a surprisingly diverse array of genres in exhilarating fashion.  They run through anthemic, fist-pumping arena-pop (“Big School”), trippy, circular incantations (“Damn Good Mr. Jam”) and blistering psych-punk in various iterations (“Rubber Man,” “Glow Boy Butlers,” “Gelatin, Ice Cream, Plum”), all in under 11 minutes.  Every second is absolutely essential listening.  Nothing here is wasted.

Oh, and there’s also that aforementioned little acoustic ditty, “Hey Aardvark.”  I’ll be blunt, as I too infrequently am: The song is perfect, one of my 10 or 15 all-time favorites by any artist.  It’s simultaneously bittersweet, longing, and carefree, effortlessly folding each of those emotions into its brief, modest span.  It’s also sonically fascinating, featuring incredibly warmly recorded acoustic guitars and an in-the-red Pollard intoning sweetly simple, vaguely surreal lyrics, and bookended by subtle, difficult-to-place percussive touches.  Blah, blah, blah—it’s impossible to describe “Hey Aardvark” using the reverence it deserves.  You have to listen to it.  You just have to.

Now, Guided by Voices probably doesn’t fall into many personal definitions of what a psychedelic band sounds or behaves like,* especially today, with our glut of strung-out, droning star- and navel-gazers.  But that glosses over that weird little moment in the early-to-mid 90s where a handful of bands like Aspera Ad Astra, All Natural Lemon and Lime Flavors, the Strapping Fieldhands, and the Olivia Tremor Control fused Nuggets-era garage rock’s anthemic brevity with post-punk’s penchant for damaging and uglying up perfectly good pop songs.**  The music these bands made was alternately weird, catchy, unsettling, sugary, and strung-out.

Guided by Voices isn’t often thrown into that lot, I wouldn’t think, but a document like Static Airplane Jive makes a good case for doing so.  Brief, tinny, fractured, burnt pop.  Sounds about right.

*And yes, I’m getting sick of quibbling on my own damn blog, so maybe I’ll stop doing it soon, but here I go anyway.

**Succour: The Terrascope Benefit Album compiles a number of these bands (along with some others) to give an excellent snapshot of mid-90s out-psych in many of its iterations.

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Pram – Sargasso Sea

September 1, 2010

pram sargasso seaA Pram review!  The first of many, I’m sure.  This one’s about Sargasso Sea, their third album, and the first that consistently mines the sound they’re now most closely associated with.  That sound is, of course, their own incredibly unique, underappreciated thing, and it consists of jazzy exotica, light, Krautrock-derived electronic experimentation, and loungey film music, all tinged with equal parts of childlike whimsy and childlike dread.  That’s not all, but that’s as close as I can come.

There’s one important thing that I’d like to point out that my valiant description neglects, and that is the effortless groove at the heart of Sargasso Sea—actually, of all post-Helium releases.  There’s an effete and mannered swing that’s fundamental to these songs, and it’s incredibly addictive and inviting.  Incidentally, it’s a also a big part of what makes Pram so easy to lump in with fellow British post-rock band Stereolab.1 (Like any one-to-one band comparisons, as far as Pram’s concerned, though, it’s a lazy one.  Instead of the komische rhythms and the Francophone/chanson influence that are Stereolab’s hallmarks, there are exotica and soundtrack echoes.)

Back to that groove: It’s important to point out that the key adjectives I used to describe it were “effete” and “mannered.”   Pram hardly trades in rough, sultry, Keb Darge-approved deep cuts of funk.   There’s no shouty call-and-response, no handclaps, no chickenscratch guitars.   What there is is a stately, reserved head-nodding-inducing swing much more suited to langorous body-swaying than a sweaty dancefloor workout.   I’d be tempted to use the term “white funk” if that didn’t conjure up just the most awful connotations of spastic post-punk specialists like Gang of Four, James Chance, or, more recently, Out Hud and the Rapture.   Nothing against those bands,2 but Pram couldn’t be anything farther from that sound.   Remember, we’re talking effete and mannered, not anthemic and angular.

This implicitly groovy sound is one of Sargasso Sea‘s (actually, Pram’s) winning traits.  It’s what makes the luxuriously paced, bubbly meander of “Little Scars” and the cutely ramshackle percussion and burbling bassline of “Loose Threads” so alluring.   It deepens the mystery of the resolutely spooky “Serpentine,” and it makes the breezy (or should I say Air-y) “Crystal Tips” more than just a pleasant diversion.

Sargasso Sea is an excellent record, one I can listen to from beginning to end with pleasure, but it’s not on par with Pram’s subsequent masterpieces, The Museum of Imaginary Animals and Dark Island (and is a couple notches below The Moving Frontier), as there are a few missteps.   Though Pram is known for childlike aesthetics, “Three Wild Gorges” gets a little too cutesy, and features an embarrassingly corny horn sample.   And the band seems a bit unsure of whether to steer “Crooked Tiles” back toward their noisy, Gash-era days, or to keep it in line with Sargasso Sea‘s overall mood.

Bah.   Minor quibbles hardly worth writing down.   The overarching point is that Sargasso Sea is great, often approaching brilliant, with its defiantly unique toybox/mini-cinema/exotica/lullaby aesthetic.   Pram would go on to do much better things than this, but this marks the first time the band really brought everything together.   Pram’s sound might be a difficult one to describe (which, I have to say, is a testament to their uniqueness), but it’s a treat to listen to.

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1Though I go on to downplay the value of this comparison, there is an explicit connection between the two bands with the collaboration project Monade, which combines the songwriting efforts of Pram’s Rosie Cuckston and Stereolab’s Laetitia Sadier.  And let’s just say Monade’s worth checking out, y’all.   Trust me.   Monade’s debut fulfills everything you want out of a side project.  It’s small-scale, adorable, sounds like it was fun to make, and represents a perfect halfway point between the two collaborators.

2Well, except for the Rapture.  Lots against that band.

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Andrew Douglas Rothbard – Exodusarabesque

August 20, 2010

andrew douglas rothbard exodusarabesqueChalk up Exodusarabesque, the 2009 album by Andrew Douglas Rothbard, as one of the two most unique, defiantly genreless efforts I’ve heard all year.1 A stupefyingly complex melange of blistering psychedelia, mystical folk, chamber pop, synth pop, trip-hop, and general noisy bastardism, all generously served up with a healthy dollop of sensory overload, Exodusarabesque is a delectable, sinfully rich earful.  Another way of putting it: Listening to this record is like looking at one of Louis Wain’s psychedelic cats.

(How hard is it to describe this shit?  I used the word “melange.”  You don’t EVER see me use the word “melange,” because it’s a fucking awful word, but that’s how scraping-the-bottom-of-the-critical-cliche barrel Exodusarabesque makes me.  Hell, I’m floored and practically drooling right now just listening to it.  You try writing well when you’re floored and drooling.)

The weirdest thing about Exodusarabesque is how out of left field it is, at least to me.  You see, I’m already somehwat familiar with Abandoned Meander, Andrew Douglas Rothbard’s previous release, and, well, it ain’t like this.  What was it like?  Oh, thanks for asking!  It was, in brief, shamanistic out-folk.  Some of the songs had an ecstatic, incantory fever to them, almost like an alarmingly dexterous iteration of Current 932, or maybe Six Organs of Admittance on an ADHD-aided sugar rush.  It was difficult to place exactly, but very easy to paint broadly.  Part of “that whole thing,” as it were.

More Current 93 similarities: There was a seriously apocalyptic edge to the whole affair, a really earnest, panicked edge to everything.  The intensely busy production work definitely played a part; at  times, it sounded as though Lubomyr Melnyk had picked up a guitar and teamed up with Kevin Shields and a doomsday street prophet.  It was pretty good, but ultimately too weird for me to return to with any regularity.  (If you don’t know ol’ Tom very well, rest assured that the “too weird” thing, coming from me, means a LOT.)

As for Exodusarabesque?  None of the above applies.  Sure, it’s a busy, cluttered, at times incredibly bizarre record, but it’s an intensely inviting clutter.  The record is overstuffed with ideas, rife with unexpectedly vibrant clashes between genres.  Blown-out folk weirdness blends effortlessly with seductive instrumental trip-hop rhythms.  Lush, textured psychedelia meets propulsive house touches.  Occasionally, what sounds like two totally different songs played simultaneously will occur, and it will sound awesome.  At its finest moments, I’m reminded of what would happen if early (good) Animal Collective and Luomo got together, huffed Day-Glo paint fumes, and made a pop record.  It’s fucked up and wonderfully addictive and I’m quite confident in asserting that Exodusarabesque is like nothing else you’ve ever heard.

Speaking of confidence, that’s another thing all over Exodusarabesque that was nowhere to be found on Abandoned Meander, or at least not in such obvious quanitites.  That’s right: This is a profoundly confident record, one clearly made by someone assured in his abilities.  How else can you possibly explain the fearless originality all over this album?  There’s touches everywhere, like the jarring cut-ups that mimic a negative beat all over “Wisely Wasted” or the lush, almost sonically luxuriant psychedelic breakdowns (in both senses of the word) that characterize “Cypherbets.”  And if you want a true display of out-and-out balls, look no further than the absolutely monstrous, four-minute wall of backwards drums and razor-wire shredding that ends the title track.  The strident, quavering seer from Abandoned Meander is clearly gone.

There’s more.  “Elief,” with its brooding bassline and mumbled falsetto harmonies, sounds like the best outtake off of the Flaming Lips’s Embryo ever.  “Lil’xmoke” takes a languid Kim Hiorthøy or Four Tet track, detonates it, and seductively emotes all over the glued-together fragments.  I could go on, but I’ll spare you.

With Exodusarabesque, Andrew Douglas Rothbard has made something unexpected, brave, and important.  The transition from willfully obscure, deranged backwoodsman to brilliant genre alchemist/beatsmith is complete, seamless, and gratefully accepted.  Everyone: Listen to this man.

1The other is Lists by Colorlist.  Lists, from 2008, is an absolutely astonishing, gorgeous, and compulsively listenable slice of jazz-inflected electro-acoustic composition.  It’s one of three records by the band, and if anyone—ANYONE—knows where I can hear more from this fantastic Chicago duo, let me know, because I’m kind of a desperate fan over here.

2It really, really pains me to reference Current 93, because I fucking loathe that band. I just do. I’m sorry, but I find them almost comically unlistenable.

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I’m looking to steer the ol’ psychedelic music blog towards writing about, y’know, psychedelic music.  Exodusarabesque is a hell of a start.  We’ll see, though.  I have a pretty bad attention span.  If I can think of anything neat in the pipeline, I’ll put it in here.

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In Bb 2.0

July 30, 2010

By my calculations, there are 1.5511210043 × 1025 songs available on In Bb 2.0, a collaborative music project spearheaded by Darren Solomon from Science For Girls, which I’m gonna go ahead and show that I’m not a musical omnipotent presence and say I’ve absolutely never heard of.  Regardless, with In Bb 2.0, Mr. Solomon has hit on something wonderfully elegant and gorgeous.  (For the record, my figures are probably really damn wrong.  I just calculated 25!, which, I mean, sounds about right.  Mathlords, feel free to correct me.  Or not.  To paraphrase the immortal words of Mr. Whitney Houston, it’s your prerogative.)

You like this buried lede?  You know you do.  Here’s what In Bb 2.0 is all about.  It’s 25 video clips of various performers playing different instruments in the key of Bb.  They are user-triggered.  That means, when I navigate to the site, I can pick and choose which ones play, when.

Most of the clips operate in the same vein, with performers opting for ambient textures over concrete melodies.  That’s a blessing, since none of the performances dominate the proceedings, and the user can layer at will without making something sounding overly busy.  The results, though I have admittedly only heard a minuscule fraction of them, become a subtly engaging ambient piece that lasts as long as you, the user, want it to.

In Bb 2.0 is a fundamentally user-controlled musical endeavor, more akin to an instrument than an album one passively listens to.  Even though you may just be clicking randomly to begin with, due to the brief nature of the video clips, it’s virtually impossible to listen to In Bb 2.0 for any given period of time without tending to it.  With apologies to Ron Popeil, you can’t set it and forget it.

With my first In Bb 2.0 experience, I started hesitantly, triggering videos more or less at random.  Like one’s first experience with any tool for music-making, my first clicks were ones of discovery.  I would play one, maybe two, videos at a time, determining what was played when. After they all loaded, it was on.  I spent a good half-hour just sitting there, clicking different videos, and seeing what sort of unexpected beauty I could create.

Of course, I had my favorite performances and ones I wasn’t as keen on.  In particular, I kept returning to the first video I clicked on, of Solomon playing the glass marimba.  It served as the backbone for the rest of my ever-changing, quietly reassuring drone-song, and provided continuity to my experience.

Some people will obviously have different videos they favor.  Some people may hate the Solomon’s marimba playing, near to my heart as it was.  But that’s exactly the beauty of In Bb 2.0.  Anyone can sit down, click on whichever videos they want, and listen to what they created.  It’s crowd-sourced, user-directed ambient music, and it’s beautiful.

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Chronicling Domestic Disputes

July 18, 2010

Yeaaaaaah, maaaaaaan.  I’ve been writing music as opposed to writing about music, which, I think, is the superior endeavor, if you’re comparing endeavors, which, sometimes, I’ll do, even though it’s really a fruitless exercise to do so, usually, in my opinion, since you’re apples-and-orangesing at that point, and we need both, though, obviously, the former is much more important than the latter, since you quite literally cannot have the latter without the former.  Right?  Right!

I watched The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia last week with the hunnypot:

Yup.  Incredible.  I watched that trailer all slack-jawed and astonished and giddy, and then I recorded “Lawnwars.”  It’s pretty good, I think, if you don’t mind me buzzing my own vuvuzela.  Here it is: Lawnwars.  Anyway, the movie is every bit as shockingly fantastic as that trailer makes it look, and Hank Williams III shows up to perform a few shit-kickin’ tunes, and Jesco White tap-dances along to them like an organ grinder’s monkey, and I do mean that in the best way possible, Jesco, please, put down the broken bottle, I’m being flattering here.  In other news, I’m loving abusing serial commas right now, apparently.  Also awesome: Recognizable Electric Wizard and Earth songs up in that soundtrack.  “Vinum Sabbathi” and some fucking stone-cold jam off of Hex: Or Printing in the Infernal Method, which, I mean, c’mon, is almost embarrassingly excellent.  All in all, lots to rec about Wild and Wonderful.  Cannot complain.

Stuff in the pipeline: Pram and Spacemen 3 sheeit.  Also, gonna write about In Bb 2.0, which my main man Aaron turned me on to the other day after I showed him some Lab Andre Michele stuff.  I suspect it’s a little on the old side in internet years, but damn it, its age has got nothing on George Brigman or pretty much anything else I’ve written about on here, so fuck it.  I’m writing about it anyway.

Okee!  Here’s to hoping you all desperately love the song.  I do.

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Pram and Their Lonely, Exotic Carnival

May 13, 2010

Pram nominally operates in post rock, which is–or, at least was, for a long time–a critical darling of a genre.  In post rock, bands are known for their willingness to experiment and hybridize nontraditional influences in rock.  It’s kind of the point.  Right?  (We’re talking about the first-wave stuff here, that proud and brave and aurally delicious era from about 1992-1997.)

pram band

Anyway, within a field already packed with unique-sounding bands, Pram is a long-running one whose influences–John Barry-esque soundtrack music, Martin Denny-esque exotica, dub, light 60s psychedelia, & nursery rhymes, all filtered through a uniquely childlike sense of unease–blend together to form something absolutely like nothing else.  On paper, they’re the perfect band for some serious critical wanking, but if they’re ever given a positive writeup, it’s almost always faint, reserved praise.  Just as often, they’re torn apart, or worse, ignored.

You ready for this question?  Okay, here it is: why?

I have some theories, but they all kind of depress me.  Perhaps the biggest thing holding Pram back from wider critical acclaim is that the music the band makes is not capital-i Important.  Rather than constantly reaching for any serious-faced major artistic statement, Pram makes resolutely small-screen and unselfconsciously strange music, traits that don’t typically earn awed respect.  We want our Artists to make Statements, and Pram doesn’t do that.  (That what they do is at once entirely unique, immediately recognizable, and yet consistently fresh over a nearly two-decade career is beside the point, of course.)

Which brings me to a second point about the general dismissal of Pram as a major force: they are not groundbreaking in the sense that there are a legion of followers tilling away at the path they blazed.  You can’t point to a scene or band of note that’s indebted in any overt sense to Pram.  This also works against them, because, again, “important” bands spawn other bands.  Pram hasn’t done that yet, and after 17 years of being around (and with post rock being, for all intents and purposes, a legacy genre), I doubt they will.

Many “important” bands that don’t receive a lot of credit are “difficult.”  Is Pram “difficult?”  It naturally depends, but I don’t think so.  They’re one of those bands that I fervently love and cheer for incessantly.  Like Long Fin Killie, Movietone, Spacemen 3, and Bark Psychosis, I push music by Pram on all of my friends whenever I can, especially their two early-2000s releases, The Museum of Imaginary Animals and Dark Island, which are their two most accessible albums.  I’ve played records by all these bands for any and all of my friends willing to put up with my obsessions, but the only one that has been universally liked has been Pram.

Sure, the songs on even these two albums are “weird,” but to nearly anyone with more than a passing interest in music (as in, not your mom or little nephew), it’s a safely exotic, alluring weirdness.  Yes, many songs, especially on Dark Island, are “eerie,” but it’s a childlike, whimsical eeriness that you find in some of the darker, more impressionistic children’s films.  Unsettling, sure, but still okay for general consumption (“general,” in this case, meaning the rare few of the populace who would ever care to make it this far into a piece about any non-mainstream musical act).

Navel gazing ad nauseam.  There’s obviously a bigger question to tackle here–why some bands get lauded and others passed up–but I neither feel able to answer it nor fully up to the task of tackling it right now.  You can understand, I’m sure.  Rather than going there, I leave you with some spectacular, Prammy deliciousness.

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And I’ll be bringing some more Prammy deliciousness to the table soon.  Reviews I’m definitely doing are for Sargasso Sea, Dark Island, The Museum of Imaginary Animals, and The Moving Frontier, all kind of latter-day releases.  I may go deeper and hit up some more stuff for you all.  If I do, I’ll add them in here and link up appropriately like the good guy I am.

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