I watch this and wonder if I’d be able to detect which song was being played purely from the drums without any further reference…Then I look at some of the isolated drum tracks present on YouTube and confess I often can’t see the overall track at all.
Caught this recently, the track ‘Salvation’ from Solar Twin’s new album Pink Noise. Lyrically there’s a lot going on, a musing on current state of music and world that’s worth following throughout. What hooked me the most, however, was the alliance of modern day pop music to the footage of Cobain in a heyday that passed some 29-to-23 years ago: genuinely an entire life time of separation. I couldn’t help but watch it and think when was the last time I saw a mainstream star genuinely acting out emotionally on stage to this extent? Sure, Cobain was aware of stage craft as anyone: seeing the impact smashing a guitar made in front of an audience in 1988 sparked a light bulb and so the reheated Who/Hendrix motif made it’s way through years of Nirvana’s live performances – but there was honesty shot through it at all times. Nirvana didn’t wreck their gear every night: it was a final ecstatic moment when happy or it was an expression of a pissed-off and rotten show – it could be both, it could be either, it was the emotion behind it that mattered. Something has definitely changed though because something so un-contrived, and that looks so right as oft-shaky handheld video footage, is rare at a time when every moment is made to be screened one way or another.
Around 2007 to 2009, I was becoming jaded when it came to music. The internet era had it’s positives but, ultimately, being able to saturate myself in any genre, label, artist, movement at a moment’s notice wasn’t glorious, it was exhausting. DC Hardcore? Sure, here’s the ten key albums digested inside just a few weeks. The Definitive Jux label? No problem, the label’s hot streak done and dusted in little more than a month. The reduction of music to a series of clickable files robbed any sense of value for me: I could acquire it at a click, hear it at another, bin it moments later or lose it on a practically limitless hard drive the next.
The restoration of my pleasure in music took several forms. Initially it was about regaining limitations: to this day I take CDs and vinyl to the Record & Video Exchange store to trade. They have an amazing selection but it brings my budget down to where I have to commit and decide “this is what I want.” It also reopened the door to treasure hunting: a record I’d wanted to hear forever appears suddenly, being surprised to spot a band I’d never had a chance to look at. The manageability of the experience helped: instead of hundreds of hours of music I’d never get the chance to look at let alone feel something for, I’d get an amount manageable across a month.
I started to realise too that my choices mattered in an age where the bare truth is that outside of a pitiful handful of mainstream artists, the majority of indie musicians barely break-even on touring that lures only a dozen people out of their homes; on the pennies that come in through streaming and downloading. The expansion of the audience to a worldwide level hasn’t led to a commensurate increase in the money they live on day-by-day. The charts of the most widely listened to music show, to an ever-increasing degree, that though people like to say the internet exposes them to stuff they’d never hear, the truth is most people are listening to and buying the same major label (or secretly major label subsidiary) product. It’s getting harder to be heard because there’s so much musical clutter out there. The big bucks, to a greater degree than ever, can dominate what people hear about, find on playlists, and therefore listen to.
The positive of the Internet, however, was that I could ensure that my money actually went to an artist not to a corporate. The reason I buy the physical releases is because the artist gets a greater overall sum. And I buy them in two ways: direct from particular labels that I want to support; direct from the individual artist so they get everything minus their own production costs. I think it’s genuinely important that my money sustains the work and well-being of the people whose work I appreciate and there’s near no excuse not to seek them out and do it except in the rarest of circumstances i.e., a record is out of print so I can only find it on eBay or Discogs; a record is exclusively sold through a particular outlet.
Labels themselves have reacted to the modern realities of the industry by focusing not on runaway, unexpected success, but on manufacturing limited editions that they know will sell out and thus fund further activity; creating subscription series that ensure lesser known artists have a fair hearing; art editions that will appeal to those who enjoy music as a tactile experience not just a sonic one; on the human touches that enhance the connection to artist and to the music.
So! The Little Cracked Rabbit box set arrived in the post the other day: glorious! It’s not just about packaging, it’s about looking at something that has been composed with such care, where every aspect of it is genuinely beautiful. It’s been created as an item of artistic merit. My interest initially came about because I’ve been collecting the solo works of Norman Westberg (most famously guitarist with Swans and an ambient guitar legend in his own right) but I’ve had a glimpse now of the other three artists — Mia Zabelka, BLK w/BEAR and P.J. Philipson — and I’m finding a lot to enjoy.
The bonding of music and art at Little Cracked Rabbit made a lot of sense when I spoke to one of the gentlemen running the label. David Armes explained the label as a labour of love run with his friend and collaborator Kevin Craig. The two of them are visual artists who played music together in Last Harbour and currently in A.R.C. Soundtracks. Kevin’s work focuses on experimental film predominantly so he handles the digital side of LCR: videos, collage images for covers, flyers and so forth. David, meanwhile, is a letterpress artist so he handles the physical sleeve print and preparation.
The overall look and feel of the releases is co-designed. They’ve gone with the (wise) approach taken by labels like Young God Records and other classic music labels where there’s a shared aesthetic across the releases, a visual identity connecting each record to LCR. The simplicity, combined with the genuinely sharp design (the lettering, the stark black/white/silver, the hole in the front cover of the card CD case inside the box is all exquisite) gives it all a real electricity and impact. Take a look at the label’s catalogue and I think you get the sense of it:
In terms of the label approach, David made a neat point about “wanting to do something low-key in expectation but high in quality; releasing whatever we like (at this point our tastes crossover) without worrying about sales, press, distribution…There’s nothing wrong with all that but we were just bored of taking it into account. We’ll never earn any money from releasing editions of 150 CDs so we need to enjoy it and do it precisely as we want.” Amen to that! People often think the joy of music, books, art is in the completion and conclusion when the pleasure has to be taken in the process because it’s that day-to-day over weeks, months, years which is the core reality and enduring experience of making anything of this nature.
Thursday a week ago Dead Neanderthals (awesome Dutch outfit), Jessica Moss and Zu (Italian rock awesomeness) came to town and played a mere 4 minutes from my front door. I was particularly delighted to meet Jessica and Massimo (from Zu) given I’d interviewed both of them previously and it’s always good to put a face to a voice on the phone.
In the mid-to-late nineties, in the aftermath of alternative rock, it final felt there were expansive, politically and socially aware, alternatives to mainstream rock values cropping up: that alternative rock didn’t die, it just moved back into the underground and sparked a dozen intriguing wells of inspiration. This led me to embrace post-rock, which led me to encounter Constellation and their welter of absorbing acts: Godspeed You! Black Emperor, A Silver Mt Zion, Do Make Say Think…
The label is still thriving in 2017 and I think that’s down to the very clear vision and identity, the obvious care and precision taken with each release (the label foreshadowed the enhanced packaging and artwork values adopted by outfits like Joyful Noise), the supportiveness and connection between the various artists on the label and the ability to simultaneously have a recognisable ethos emerging in a wide-range of sounds and styles.
Jessica’s first full solo album certainly caught my ear and I made sure to have cash to hand to grab a copy on vinyl (and Zu’s Jhator too! http://www.wordsandguitars.co.uk/2017/03/zu-jhator/). I’m not usually a format junkie but I do appreciate my money going direct to musicians and into the hands of those who create elements that enhance life.
A lonnnnnng Thurston Moore interview here: worth kicking in the background – around 1 hour, 47 he chats a bit about the book which is really sweet of him – while reading other things (there’s another piece here too: http://thequietus.com/articles/21673-thurston-moore-interview-2). I was lucky this past month to interview Arto Lindsay:
Recently I’ve spent quite a bit of time immersed in the world of Elliott Smith’s posthumous recordings as selected for the movie ‘Heaven Adores You’. Naturally I have an automatic empathy with the efforts of fans and friends seeking to celebrate and memorialise someone whose work they admire – the fact it does some real-world good via the Portland charity Outside In certainly provides further warmth in that respect.
Was lucky enough to have the opportunity to speak to Will Brooks of Dälek – it’s interesting watching some of the same spirit that motivated the U.S. punk underground surviving in numerous forms. In the end I suspect it isn’t the music that creates the culture, it’s the shared culture, the people, first – the instruments and sound come after ward.
Also wanted to share a lengthy review (thanks Brett for noticing it) of ‘Cobain on Cobain’ from PopMatters. Megan Volpert is a very experienced and expansive writer so enjoyed reading this on many levels.
In other ‘stuff’…Well, I wasn’t so chirpy about the Melvins’ latest – but, as ever, it doesn’t matter because those guys are an idea fountain and there’ll be new, fresh thoughts spurting out of them soon enough. In the end I admire a band willing to walk the high-wire and fail publicly – at least these guys ain’t save even if this is far from their best record. The track with Krist Novoselic, alas, I was too distracted by the horrors of the accordion to even notice the bass playing so I’ve not got any deep analysis of this latest on vinyl outing for Mr. Novoselic. I would say though, love that ‘The Decay of Lying’ track. Awesomeness.
Overdue but if you’re looking for a few new bits n’ pieces to check out in the New Year I’m sure there’s some good stuff herein.
My big pick was the Dumb Numbers/Melvins/David Yow/David Lynch boxset from Joyful Noise. An awesome thing in every way with the musical contents matching the beauty of the handmade wooden box, printing and sleeve designs (plus vinyl patterns.)
I’ve an undeveloped theory about the human brain’s musical capacity – that it’s possible to become saturated. Likewise, now, it’s ever rarer to feel something is ‘an event’ as opposed to just more product hitting the market. Increasingly the greatest pleasure and greatest gift, for me, is when I receive music direct from people, where I can purchase their works from them directly (and hopefully my money therefore keeps them funded and surviving to produce more music) or where a label has an aesthetic and a vibe I appreciate and want to support.
Over the past few months of received music from Jean-Marc Montera (improvisational combinations including a release of French female poets set to music), Siobhan Duvall (quintessential, charming, delightful punk rocker with punk charm), Adam Golebiewski (talented percussion improviser), Eleanor McEvoy in collaboration with Chris Gollon (painter and musician working together – gallery showings in January I believe), Jooklo Duo (glorious Italian avant garde unit)…And many more. Thank you!!
The honourable mentions (Fennesz/King Midas Sound, the Libertines, Sicko Mobb, Eccentronic Research Council, Johnny Thunders and the Heartbreakers) were all 2015 releases. I’ll admit I’ve been listening to and valuing a lot of stuff that wasn’t released in the past year. Any favourites?
Yeah, A$AP Rocky, the Coil ‘Backwards’ release, Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat, Nothing But Thieves had a good album out, Black Honey…Can I recommend the Space Lady once more? I adore the album. Haunts me.
Been quite a year really…The ‘No Seattle: Forgotten Sounds of the Northwest Grunge Era’ compilation did OK apparently and I was delighted to help bring an eye to some of the bands and artists who were forgotten or passed unnoticed at the time. ‘I Found My Friends: the Oral History of Nirvana’ drew a lot of eyes and its been fun to chat on U.S. radio a few times (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pRpIXUWGk1c) and to various newspapers and magazines (http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2015/may/6/nick-soulsby-nirvana-book-tells-story-from-view-of/?page=all). Finishing touches to ‘Cobain on Cobain’ which comes out on February 1st (I believe, I admit I’m not entirely sure…) Then there’s been work on this oral history related to the non-Sonic Youth discography involving Thurston Moore to keep me occupied. Book due to publisher middle of 2016 and apparently to be released in late 2016. Around that, quite a bit of writing for the Vinyl Factory and Words & Guitars…A busy ol’ year even without mentioning the blog, at last count, adds up to 440 articles; 1,400 comments; just under 1 million words… Amazed to be honest that it’s still going Nov 2012 to now.
You’re always welcome to get in touch, NirvanaDarkSlivers@gmail.com – apologies in advance for any slow reply over the New Year period.
The Vinyl Factory invited me to whack together a few thoughts on Sunn O))). Heck, why wouldn’t I jump at the opportunity? Sunn O))) are glorious.
Every band has a window where they run the risk of repetition, of doing the same thing again. Evolution has to happen. Some bands break up. Others wind up releasing novelties – “oh, this is our dance-orientated album…” Many make changes to the environment surrounding the songs – new studio, different equipment, switch of producer. A lot just start sounding like they’re weary of it all, there’s no longer a pressure or a drive underscoring what they’re doing. There’s no perfect answer, these aren’t always irrelevant alterations, sometimes each option has or might rejuvenate an artist.
Sunn O))) have managed change. There’s always a reminder of their mastery over the groove they established over the releases from 1999-2003 whether that means a burst of savage slow power in the midst of a longer composition, or a song given over entirely to wrecking bowels and brains for ten minutes. Around that, however, Sunn O))) has been hugely open to new collaborators, to fresh experiments, to taking past models and refurbishing and reviving them. They’re an intelligent band not in the sense of wearing learning on the sleeves of their cowls, more in the sense that they seem to combine improvisation and on-the-spot experimentation with proper contemplation of how the elements of their sound might be rejigged, how other musicians and instruments can be integrated, how a release might carry a theme or vibe across an entire album…