Play One Note

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

Posts tagged with ‘psychedelic music austin’

In Defense of Kanye West

January 3, 2011

in defense of kanye westOkay, I’ve had enough of this shit.

Before I begin, a bit of throat-clearing.  First, a confession: I haven’t heard Kanye West’s newest OMG GREATEST ALBUM OF ALL TIME, and I doubt I’ll be seeking it out anytime soon.  That’s got nothing to do with Kanye West and everything to do with the fact that I almost never listen to rap anymore (and when I do, it’s usually of the mid-90s New York hardcore variety, or else denizens and fellow travelers of the Stone’s Throw stable).

So I don’t listen to rap much now, but there was a time period, somewhere between 2005 and 2007, where I probably listened to rap as much as or more than any other genre of music.  And I can say that, even if Kanye West’s ego got so big that he exploded and he rained chunks across half the states of Illinois, Michigan, and Indiana after he released 2005’s Late Registration, or else released Master P-quality platters of crap yearly for the next 20 years, he still would have gone down as one of the best rap producers of the 2000s, and been a well-appreciated, if underrated, lyricist to boot solely based on the dizzying heights his first two records reached.  Graduation was a thick, luscious icing on that already pretty perfect cake, and if 808s and Heartbreak was a bit curious, it was, at least, an incredibly audacious move, a noble and well-intentioned and bold attempt.

Second, the timing of my missive might seem somewhat odd.  Why this, why now, over a year after West committed his ultimate act of depravity (mentioned below, and yes, that sardonic clanging you hear is the Three-Alarm Sarcasm Alert), and given the admission that I probably won’t listen to the recently released My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy?  The answer is simple: Scrolling though the K’s of my mp3 collection, I saw my neglected copy of The College Dropout and smiled.  And then I thought about it.  And then I frowned.  Yeah, not very poetic, but that’s what happened.

The fact is, despite the critical gushing and soaring album sales, Kanye West is routinely lambasted and ridiculed by those who “know better,” those who don’t “get” the hype, and, perhaps most importantly, those who find West actively odious and repellent.  The list of unforgivable strikes against Kanye West’s meteorically arced career is long.  They include various acts of extreme vanity, (apparently) unfounded outspokenness, (apparently) misdirected self-confidence, and general assholery.  We can all agree on this.  We can also all agree that West’s greatest sin to date appears to be his interruption of Taylor Swift’s bland and trite and manufactured acceptance speech during the 2009 MTV VMAs.  Sure, interrupting anyone is rude (it’s certainly a pet peeve of mine), and it’s easy to feel bad for Swift, who is excellent at playing the down-home country girl, but forgive me for being a cold-hearted cynic if I’m not even remotely moved.

Let me be clear: I haven’t seen the video that Taylor Swift won a completely empty and worthless VMA for, but I can assure you it sucked the suck of 10,000 Dyson vacuums hooked up to one another Human Centipede-style and retooled to inhale the souls of anyone with a shred of taste.  How can I be so confident?  Two reasons.  First, because Taylor Swift is a farce, a talentless pretty face coasting off the fact that she allegedly writes her own (dreadful) songs.*  To trash her seems utterly redundant, an act akin to informing someone of the shittiness of a pile of shit.  Second, MTV is emphatically not an accurate arbiter of what is good, art-wise, and really has no business doling out awards anyway, at least not ones that anybody with a modicum of critical awareness should care about.  If you honestly feel that a VMA signifies anything other than the current and projected future monetary value of a star, well, you and I likely don’t see eye-to-eye on an impressively wide range of topics.

Now, I have seen the video West announced his preference for when he interrupted “poor” old Taylor Swift (the aw-shucks 21-year-old country girl, incidentally, made $18 million in 2009, the year West was just oh-so-rude to her), and it, too, is a shitstorm of appalling proportions.  I can’t back West there.  Plus, the case can be made that since West supported, as an alternative to Swift’s video, a video in the same realm of shittiness, he shouldn’t be lauded for it on the grounds of enforcing better taste.  Very well.  However, the VMAs, as previously mentioned, are a complete joke, and I heartily applaud anyone who manages to crap on it in any way.  Here’s to you, Mr. West.

Regardless, humility is hardly a criteria for public perception of greatness, as legendary world-class assholes like Michael Jordan, Roman Polanski, Keith Richards, or, on a more underground scale, Damon Che of Don Caballero or Mark E. Smith of the Fall, can freely attest.  (Polanski raped a child and still gets more slack cut for his auteurish ass than Kanye West!  Forced sodomy of a 13-year-old?  But he makes great movies!  Churlishness on Twitter?  Lynch the overconfident angry black man!†)

If Kanye seems more outspoken then the aforementioned critical darlings, that’s because everyone’s more outspoken today.  West, like any celebrity so inclined, has a staggering array of options to broadcast his opinions that were utterly unavailable just ten years ago.  Jordan didn’t have Twitter or the 24-hour news cycle or an attendant blogosphere to oversaturate the market with his image.  A parade of Nike ads, as ubiquitous as they seemed at the time, cannot hope to compete with the information overload smorgasbord West’s got at his disposal.  Anyway, rap, since its literal inception as a recorded medium in “Rapper’s Delight,” has been preoccupied with boasts and brashness.  Pride and confidence and swagger and self-centeredness are ingrained in hip-hop’s very DNA, and West is simply continuing that trend.

Enough with ego.  Though I’m almost certain that’s why the majority of West’s detractors despise him so, I believe that topic’s been parsed enough.  It may be that you just don’t, you know, like his music.  And that’s fine!  My question to you is, what contemporary rapper/producer of his stature is better?  Who crafts lyrics as incisive (when he’s not being lazy) or clever or humorous and assembles beats as ambitious and daring and dynamic and writes pop hooks engaging enough to entrance millions?  I’m curious, because I can’t think of any.  I can think of artists who embody the first two (the RZA, Madlib, MF Doom, Pimp C (RIP)), some who embody the last two (Just Blaze, Swizz Beatz, maybe?), one who does the first and last (OutKast), and a handful who do any one of those (except the second) better than West.  But nobody fulfills all three.  It just doesn’t happen.

Now, if you don’t like rap, that’s okay, too.  I can totally see why you’d dislike—even hate!—Kanye West’s music.  After all, he makes rap, and you hate rap.  I can also see why you would hate Off the Wall if you hated pop, or Sleep’s Holy Mountain if you hated stoner metal, or In the Court of the Crimson King if you hated prog rock.  But to have an agenda against any of the artists who made those classic albums specifically because of the genre they inhabit that you dislike generally seems like an unusual misdirection of emotion.

In sum, forgive the man his indiscretions.  He’s hardly the worst offender out there, and chances are you’ve forgiven worse.  The fact that he happens to make some truly transcendant music (listen to the albums, people, not just whatever singles you happen to come across) is a big fucking cherry on top.

I rest my case by leaving you with these:

“Spaceship,” off of The College Dropout:

“Heard ‘Em Say,” off of Late Registration:

“Amazing,” off of 808s and Heartbreak:

Happy New Year, y’all.

*Please don’t think I’m suggesting Swift doesn’t pen her own material.  However, with today’s ubiquitous and hologrammed enterainments, I think we can all agree more elaborate lies have been successfully passed off.

†I’m going to leave this well alone, but I definitely deleted a passage ruminating on this topic a bit, one in which I focused on West’s famous (and laudable, and courageous, and accurate) assertion that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” on live TV.  When was the last time any other rapper (or pop star) who had the ear of the nation said anything so brave and controversial and meaningful?  Ten years?  Twenty?

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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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Spacemen 3

June 26, 2010

Of all the totemic psych bands that I unreservedly love, perhaps nobody strikes closer to the genre’s elemental core than Spacemen 3.  It’s funny, then, that, for a band that so embodies psychedelia’s drug-addled core really operates on its traditional fringes.  To elaborate: Jason Pierce and Sonic Boom eschewed the typical psychedelic path—maximalism, studio trickery, and an emphasis on “trippy” drugs like LSD & mushrooms—but nevertheless arrived at an arguably purer psych sound than most of the many other bands on the road-more-travelled.

That was a mouthful!  Hope that made sense.  One aesthetic Spacemen 3 makes a convincing case for punk-as-psych, of taking single-minded minimalism and a bald-faced fuck-you attitude and rendering it transcendently substance-worshipping.  Hawkwind’s extended passages of interstellar, intramind travel seem fundamentally at odds with the three-chord, middle-finger blasts of the Sex Pistols until you hear “Revolution,” a typically hypnotic, repetitive, precision-blast of distorted snarl:

(Yes, yes, they look pretty damn corny with those bowl haircuts, but c’mon it’s 1989 and not a single person on the planet looked cool.  Instead of focusing on their sunglasses, check out that shot of the band playing the deliciously simple chord progression that starts 44 seconds in.  They’re just blatantly flaunting their songs’ simplicity.)

This attitude of defiant simplicity is all over the band’s work.  Jason Pierce’s count-in at the beginning of “2:35,” off of Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To, is a telling rallying cry.  “One,” he says, in a disembodied, reverb-drenched voice.  That’s all they fucking need.  “One.”  They revel in it.

If aggressively simple riffs ad nauseam was all Spacemen 3 did, their schtick would be a pretty good one, but there’s more:

Sweet, disembodied bliss!  Sonic Boom’s ultra-hushed, heavily reverbed vocals wafting through a Velvets-on-codeine guitar figure, with that tremendous, meandering bass line anchoring the whole thing.  This is the same repetitive, minimalist ethos, but through an introspective, contemplative lens, as opposed to the precise aggression of “Revolution.”

Note the lyrics, too: Spacemen 3 did love singing about (and doing) drugs, just not the ones you typically associate with Pink Floyd.  Instead of traditional psychedelics, heroin through a needle was their choice.  There’s another Velvets association there, which actually points toward a really fruitful path if you’re looking for antecedents to the Spacemen 3 sound.  It’s a fitting one: Like their eventual followers, the Velvet Underground took defiantly anti-psychedelic musical constituents and somehow at something with remarkable affinities with and associations to psych.

(For the record, the studio version of this song, a richly hi-fi, horn-drenched cut off of 1987’s The Perfect Prescription, mercilessly blows this YouTube clip out of the goddamned water, but I gotta make do with what I’m given.)

Pierce and Boom released a handful of fantastic albums, notably the aforementioned The Perfect Prescription and 1989’s Playing With Fire, before imploding with predictably druggy messiness.  Both emerged in their own concerns which took their original band’s aesthetic and bent it to serve new and (mostly) enjoyable ends, but nothing they’ve done alone—even Pierce’s best Spiritualized work—comes close to the bare-bones brilliance of Spacemen 3’s best stuff.

I guess that’s a matter of some debate.  People do love their Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space, and I have to count myself among them.  Either way, they’re perhaps the quintessential Play One Note band, embodying Mark Hollis’s maxim better than anyone else.

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You know the drill: Spacemen 3 album reviews to follow.  I’ll definitely write about those two classics, and maybe I’ll get in on that Taking Drugs to Make Music to Take Drugs To, which is such an apt title I almost don’t even want to point out how fucking apt it is.  Also, more Pram.  Be well.

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An Intro to Play One Note

March 27, 2010

Well, hello, everyone.  I’m glad you all have joined us here on this, our christening.  Play One Note is a psychedelic music blog that employs the operative term “psychedelic” with an extremely wide brush.

God, that sentence sucked.

I’m Tom.  I’ll let Chris do his introduction if he wants to.  Basically, we’re two dudes in Austin who worship texture, drone, and the occasional thunderous, mind-melting riff, and we’re going to use this space to explain why we’re so into this stuff.  Speaking for myself, I’m a big fan of awe and sincerity, and that’s what I’ll focus on with my writing in here.  What’s more, though I occasionally adopt an irreverent tone, I’m pretty serious about this stuff.  I respect music with a psychedelic bent more than anything else.  I thrive on contemplative ruminations, staggeringly epic crescendos, and druggy hypnosis.  My goal is to try to explain why, by writing about some of my favorite albums, new and old.

There’s a couple things I’m not going to try to do with Play One Note.  One is to try to be a crate-digger.  My attention span is too short, my appreciation for all music too manic, to focus on one specific genre with any sort of authority.  If I tried to pigeonhole myself, I would, in all likelihood, quickly lose interest with the blog.  We don’t want that!

Another thing I’m not particularly interested in doing (or equipped to do) is being a barometer of exclusively contemporary music.  I can’t keep up.  I cherish competent, carefully considered music writing, and I can’t reconcile trying to do that while constantly trying to ride the wave of what’s on the horizon.  I’m not big into knowing more about what’s coming out than the next guy, and to try to force that on myself for the purposes of Play One Note would, well, kinda suck.

What I will do is write about artists and albums that I consider “psychedelic” and that I truly, simply, love.  And, as you’ll see, my definition of psychedelia is, generally speaking, wider than most.  Maybe, one day, I’ll tackle that concept itself.

Maybe.

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