Just by mere chance the one time in the last year I’m on Twitter looking through my feed I see a tweet from Death Waltz Originals guru Spencer Hickman talking about how great this album Horse Follows Darkness is by Delia Gonzalez. I believe the line that stood out to me was “pure blissed out synth heaven”. I couldn’t NOT slam my money down on the digital counter and buy it, so Bandcamp was visited and monies were exchanged. Well it arrived last week and Delia Gonzalez and Spencer Hickman did not disappoint. Horse Follows Darkness, the new album by the Cuban-American New York artist Delia Gonzalez and released via DFA Records is indeed pure blissed out synth heaven. It’s also cinematic in its relatively short scope. At just around 30 minutes in length and consisting of 5 tracks, Horse Follows Darkness blends both the concept of the American western and dystopian future into a compelling LP.
There’s a repetitiveness to the pieces on Gonzalez’ new record. A looping and loping feeling, like Steve Reich on an analog synth bender. Gonzalez likes to paint her musical pictures in analog paints and circuitry, giving her music an aged feel. “In Through The Light” lays out gauzy synth structures over a looping melody. It plays on both light and dark moods, covering the scope from Tangerine Dream to Steve Reich in the course of six minutes. “Hidden Song” sounds like dystopian disco. It’s propulsive rhythm, piano chords, and squiggly synth lines mesh into a blissed-out track. “Roulette” is built around another piano line that morphs into yet another looping piano melody with synthesizers slowly rising from the depths. There’s something hypnotic about this track. It seems to hold secrets within its musical walls.
The story behind the record is an interesting one, and one which is explained here:
The title is taken from a werewolf genre film her 8 year old son Wolfgang had created. At this time, Wolfgang also turned Delia onto a genre of cinema she had always resisted – the American Western.
Delia explains that what she observed “was all relevant – the album is based on our personal experience of moving back to America (from Berlin) and the journey that followed. The record is a manifestation of that, and what one creates for themselves under the given circumstances. Coming back to America, I felt like a foreigner and NYC / America felt like the Wild West. Most Westerns from the 1960s to the present have revisionist themes. Many were made by emerging major filmmakers who saw the Western as an opportunity to expand their criticism of American society and values into
a new genre.”
Listening to Horse Follows Darkness you do get a sense of journey. Returning to a place you once called home only to feel like a complete stranger to those things once familiar and inviting. “Horse Follows Darkness” puts some of the fear and uncertainty of being a stranger in a strange land into your head. It’s both beguiling and disconcerting. A lilting musical whisper into your ear. “Vesuvius” moves from the American west into the final frontier of space, all pulsing synth and dance floor percussiveness. It seems a fitting ending to such a moving musical journey.
Horse Follows Darkness is a stunning record. Delia Gonzalez has captured beautifully the uncertainty of the unknown and that fear in the pit of your stomach when starting over. It’s also, as Spencer Hickman so eloquently stated, “pure blissed out synth heaven.”
I wish I could sit here in my lederhosen, wood clogs, and stein full of warm beer and say I’ve been hip to Krautrock since I was a stellar Midwest teen. I wish I could say I started a movement in my John Hughes years of forward-thinking teenagers filling their heads with komische music like Kraftwerk, NEU!, Cluster, and Popol Vuh. I wish I could say that. Truth is I didn’t even know what Krautrock was till I was well into adulthood. I’d heard the name now and then, though I thought it was something to do with sauerkraut that sat in the fridge too long. “Don’t use that sauerkraut! It’s got the krautrock!” Okay, maybe I didn’t think that(or didn’t I?)
Point is I had my “come to Komsiche” moment and I’ve never looked back. It started with Kraftwerk’s Trans Europe Express ten years ago and since then Krautrock has become one of my favorite musical genres(right behind ukulele doom metal and Mediterranean throat singing.) I think the album that really did it for me was NEU!s first album NEU!. When I first heard the motorik beat of “Hallogallo” I knew I’d found my people. With Klaus Dinger’s drums and experimentation and Michael Rother’s enigmatic guitar playing I felt like this was true blending of rock and art. Of course those two got along infamously. Dinger was the experimental chap that wanted to make everything they did a political statement. Michael Rother was more interested in making good music and the creative process. In between NEU! records Rother formed another musical alliance with two other Krautrock OGs, Cluster’s Hans-Joachim Roedelius and Dieter Moebius. That band was called Harmonia.
The first time I’d heard of Harmonia was over at my pal 1537’s place. After reading his great piece on the record I knew I needed to get it in my head. Of course I’d only listened to snippets here and there. I did check out a live album of there’s that was excellent, but I never found a copy of that debut for myself. Until now.
On a college trip to Bloomington a couple weeks ago I happened across a copy of Harmonia’s Musik von Harmonia at Landlocked Records for a quite nice price and proceeded to happily give my money to the young lady at the counter. When she looked at me funny I realized I didn’t hand her the record. Record bought, we left looking for sustenance.
Musik von Harmonia is quite the aural feast. It loops, blips, and bleeps all over the place like a drunk android giddy on high octane motor oil. The album opens with the bouncy “Watussi”. It seems to unfold over the course of its nearly 6 minutes like an endless red carpet that elevates to spatial levels. They’re not songs more than they’re moments of exquisite discovery. “Sehr Komische” floats and expands over the course of nearly 11 minutes. It pushes the boundaries of ambient music to new heights, really. Out of the ether you can make out a motorik beat attempting to come to the service, the gauzy tones raising as the beat does. “Sonnenschein” has somewhat of a tribal beat to it. Synths glide in and out as the rhythm gains momentum.
I can almost picture Rother, Roedelius, and Moebius inside the old house pictured on the inside gatefold sleeve, maybe under the influence of mind-altering substances, just throwing these ideas out and seeing where they’d land. Moving from instrument to instrument and seeing what would happen. By the sound of it they came across some pretty amazing ideas. “Dino”, for example, is classic krautrock goodness complete with the classic motorik beat. It has that NEU! airiness to it without sounding just like NEU! or Cluster. These three seem to have really loved the creative process. Then you get to something like “Ohrwurm” and all bets are off. Buzzing tones and wobbly guitar seem to illustrate musically a mental breakdown. “Veterano” sounds like sounds the Mothersbaugh brothers would attempt to create with Devo. “Hausmusik” starts out as a melody line but quickly descends into electronic noise, like low tide washing away drawings in the sand. Soon enough our melody reappears to help finish the song out.
With a lot of komische music there seems to be a regimented code that is followed. Everything feels free-flowing and spontaneous, but it’s very much a controlled chaos. Harmonia seem to leave regimented improvisation at the studio door and let artistic expression flow freely. There’s a lightness to the tracks on Musik von Harmonia that is infectious. I have yet to hear their other records, so I can’t comment on future Harmonia endeavors. Rother, Roedelius, and Moebius would all head back to their previous projects and continue to make boundary-pushing art in their respective “name” bands, but none would ever capture the airy magic that Harmonia created. At least to my ears.
It was October of 1991. It was a Tuesday which meant it was new release day. I’d gone on a field trip with my Art & English class to Indianapolis to visit the Indianapolis Museum of Art as well as a synagogue(we’d just finished reading Chaim Potok’s ‘The Chosen’.) The bus got back to the school around 6pm and I sprinted to my car for my escape. I had two goals: give my girlfriend the cool and colorful hair tie I bought her at the museum and get to Video World and pick up Soundgarden’s new album Badmotorfinger. Both were important, but one was essential.
I can remember the first time I’d heard Soundgarden was way back in 1989. I think my friend and I had seen the “Hands All Over” video on 120 Minutes and immediately thought “Who is this??” Back then we couldn’t just jump on Google and find out the band’s life story in 2 minutes. It took foot work and real research. Combing through magazines and inquiring at record stores. It was work, dammit! So on a trip to Fort Wayne for my birthday day with said friend and an older friend of ours that was out of school and could drive we hit up Wooden Nickel(a favorite record store back then) and I located a copy of Soundgarden’s Louder Than Love on cassette(the preferred method of music listening at the time) and we made our way back home. Louder Than Love was unlike anything I’d heard before. Up to this point I’d only recently been getting away from the teased hair and sexual innuendos of the Sunset Strip crowd but diving head first into the likes of Rush and instrumental guitar music like Joe Satriani, Yngwie Malmsteen, and Steve Vai. Soundgarden stood in stark contrast to those albums. Louder Than Love, to my ears, wasn’t punk rock and it wasn’t heavy metal. It was its own beast. Songs like “Hands All Over”, “Loud Love”, “Get On The Snake”, and “Big Dumb Sex” had an almost pop feel, but pop done up in rusty age and a bloody smirk. But then you get to songs like “Gun”, “Full On Kevin’s Mom”, “Ugly Truth”, and “I Awake” and things feel dingy and dark. There’s an oppressiveness to those tracks that make you feel like flipping on the light switch and keeping a conversation going through the night so you don’t have to shut your eyes. The production wasn’t necessarily lo fi, but it was somewhat muted; muffled even. It was an eye opener to my 16-year old self. It was also the first time I ever got my older brother to get into a band, instead of vice versa. That was a proud moment for me.
So fast forward to October of 1991.
I’d been dipping my toes in the Seattle waters with bands like Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, Alice In Chains, and the newly released Ten by Pearl Jam since late 1989. I was an early follower of the Seattle scene, having thought I’d found my own little secret musical world(that secret world would blow up in the fall of 1991.) I’d loved Temple Of The Dog the year before as I was a big fan of Mother Love Bone’s Apple album, so I was ready for Badmotorfinger. The first single, the wonderfully-titled “Jesus Christ Pose”, didn’t disappoint. The sound was more aggressive and metal than anything off Louder Than Love, and the production was spot-on. The video was a melee of psychedelic desert shots with Chris Cornell doing a fine job with the menacing faces while colors shone and the film skipped and blipped like a strobe light. It was the quintessential middle finger to religion and the hypocritical line towing that’s involved with organized religion. I knew I was in for a treat with this album, because once I finally got to really listen to Badmotorfinger it felt like a re-wiring of my brain. From the opening salvo of “Rusty Cage” to the the crashing blow of album closer “New Damage” I was enthralled and won over. I felt like a new convert to some new musical language. I wanted to know this world more. Everything that came before it sort of felt trite to my ears. Musically Soundgarden had created this forward-thinking metal that while may not have been “new” per say, but they seemed to have found a way to convey something new within the confines of the classic rock and roll tools.
“Rusty Cage” is one hell of an opener. That opening guitar felt new and alien in a world overrun by pop metal. Ben Shepherd’s bass playing was also a standout on this track, which was new to the Soundgarden sound as prior to this the bass seemed to linger in the background. Lyrically Chris Cornell really went to another level. “Too cold to start a fire/I’m burning diesel burning dinosaur bones/ I’ll take the river down to still water and ride a pack of dogs” felt like poetry as much as lyrics. Cornell could really paint some amazing visuals with his words, as on the next song “Outshined”. “I got up feeling so down/I got off being sold out/I kept the movie rolling/But the stories getting old now” and “I’m feeling California and feeling Minnesota” sort of defined that “what does any of this mean” vibe we were all feeling in 1991. Soundgarden were still writing songs as anthems of the disenfranchised on this album. With Superunknown the lyrics began to point inward. They began to deal with the “I” as opposed to the “we”.
Elsewhere, “Face Pollution” was a blistering track that barreled through the speakers like a freight train from Hell, while “Drawing Flies” was just this vitriolic anthem. “Searching With My Good Eye Closed” to this day knocks me on my ass. It’s this dirge-y, psychedelic monster of a song. Part Black Sabbath and part new age metal. It’s just incredible. “Holy Water” sounds like post-apocalyptic blues. “Holy water on the brain and I’m losing sleep/Holy bible on the night stand next to me” Cornell sings over massively d-tuned guitar playing a bluesy guitar riff that dangles into the doldrums.
I bought this on cassette, but in 1992 a special edition of the album was released on CD called SOMMS which stood for Satan oscillate my metallic sonatas. It had the original album plus an extra CD that contained some covers, one non-album track, and a live version of “Slaves and Bulldozers”. The covers included Black Sabbath’s “Into The Void(Sealth)”, which was Sabbath’s music with the lyrics replaced with words of protest from Chief Seattle. There was also a cover of Devo’s “Girl U Want” and the Stones’ “Stray Cat Blues”. There was an excellent non-album track called “She’s a Politician”. This was the premier version of the album. It’s still a prized possession of mine.
Besides maybe Thayil’s “Room A Thousand Years Wide” I don’t think there was a bad song on this record. I’ve been listening to it all week and I can say that with confidence. And even after 27 years my favorite song is still “Mind Riot”. It was a peek at what Chris Cornell had in store for us on future albums, both with soundtrack work(“Seasons” on Singles S/T), Soundgarden, and his solo albums. He had such a unique way of building chord structures in his songs and this was no exception. It was heavy but also very melancholy, and the lyrics are quite telling. “Candles burning yesterday/Somebody’s best friend died” he sings in the chorus, while one of my favorite lines is “I was crying from my eye teeth and bleeding from my soul/ And I sharpened my wits on a dead man’s skull“. This song, for me, is the shining example of what this band was about. They could give us a beautifully unique and catchy song in such a creative and one-of-a-kind way. That was the result of the Cornell/Thayil/Shepherd/Cameron magic.
In the wake of Chris Cornell’s death, I’ve found some solace in revisiting his work. He’s left a treasure trove of music for us to enjoy and to keep him singing in our lives for years to come. Superunknown put Soundgarden in households worldwide, but Badmotorfinger put them in my head and heart forever.
Can you feel it? It’s the roaring warmth of summer coming just around the corner, folks. Temps in the 80s, balmy breeze blowing through the car window as you sit at the stop light waiting for the green to tell you to go, go, go. The best thing about the oncoming season change is that first great rock show of the season. Maybe you think you’ve seen it already. At that point maybe it was, but boys and girls there’s a show happening on May 26th at the Brass Rail that will knock your socks off. Local heroes Heaven’s Gateway Drugs and Girl Colors are warming the stage up for our Ohio pals Water Witches and Chi-town’s Post Child. And even better, cruise over to Neat Neat Neat Records at 6pm and watch Water Witches christen Morrison’s all new Hi Fi Lounge with some of their psychedelic magic. Yep, NNN has the Hi Fi Lounge up and running so leave the house a little early and grab some suds courtesy of CS3s pop up bar while you soak up some Water Witches magic.
Post Child are new to the Brass Rail stage and Fort Wayne in general. But if you’re like me and you were drunk a lot in the 90s, alternative rock has a special place in your heart. Post Child capture that post-grunge, in-the-red, hooky indie rock that made so many of us fall in love with rock and roll all over again in the early days of the Clinton administration. When I listened to their newest record Wax Wings I instantly thought of bands like Local H, Marcy Playground, Imperial Drag, Tiny Music-era STP, Blur, and some of the gnarlier Beck. The trick is to take those influences and make it original, which is exactly what Post Child does. They add that Chicago flavor to the sound; it’s that Midwest moxy that is equal parts working class gusto and big-hearted earnestness.
I talked to Bryan Alvarez, Post Child’s singer/guitarist about the band and their show at the Rail.
EA Poorman: So tell me about Post Child. How did you guys get together?
Bryan Alvarez: Post Child was started by me back in 2011 from the ashes of a previous band I was in. I’ve been in a bunch of bands over the years that were group efforts. Post Child was started as a way for me to really hone the sound I’ve been searching for over the years. I wanted something that I could have full creative control. But with that being said, we wouldn’t sound how we do without the guys in the band. They take my songs and transmute them into something bigger and better.
EA Poorman: So who else is in the band? Are you guys all from Chicago?
Bryan Alvarez: The band is me, Bryan Alvarez, on vocals/lead guitar, Jared Olson on guitar/vocals, Mustafa Daka on drums, and Victor Riley on bass. We’re all from Chicago or the surrounding towns.
EA Poorman: Are you all in different bands besides Post Child?
Bryan Alvarez: Everyone is in multiple bands. I used to play in the band Peekaboos (who have been around for a while now), only recently leaving to concentrate more on Post Child. Jared is in Elephant Gun and Dirty Bird, Mustafa is in The Brokedowns and High Priests, and Victor is in Salvation.
EA Poorman: Where are you guys pulling inspiration from? I hear a lot of great 90s alternative bands in your sound.
Bryan Alvarez: I grew up listening to bands like Nine Inch Nails, Weezer, Blur, Beck and the Flaming Lips. And I think we all can bond over these bands, who when we were younger were larger than life. But I think a lot of our current sound is influenced by local Chicago bands, like Meat Wave, Peekaboos, Milked, Rad Payoff, Velocicopter (RIP), and Closed Mouths. All of these bands come from the realm of rock and post-rock but are all unique in their own way. Seriously, you should all listen to them and see them live when you can.
EA Poorman: So tell me about the newest Post Child long player Wax Wings. Where did you guys record the record? What’s the songwriting process like for you guys?
Bryan Alvarez: We recorded Wax Wings at Kildare Studios in the Logan Square neighborhood of Chicago with Joe Gac of Meat Wave behind the board. We recorded it at the end of Sept 2015 and spent 2016 doing overdubs and mixing. I usually try out different methods of songwriting for each album. For Wax Wings, I spent a lot of time trying to write lyrics that were meaningful to me, using music as a way to add impact to them. It was a very introspective and meditative process, trying to get deep into my mind. I was reading a lot of esoteric books on meditation and psychology at the time. The music was a much longer process, sometimes rewriting a song 3 or 4 times over before I was satisfied with it. At that point I would bring all of this to the band and have them add to it and make it sound even better. I think I wrote maybe 30 songs for Wax Wings, we recorded about 20 tracks, and ended up only using 10.
EA Poorman: So you guys are playing the Brass Rail on May 26th. How did this show come together? Is this your first time in the Fort? Who else is playing?
Bryan Alvarez: Corey from Brass Rail had reached out and invited us to come and play. He liked the band. I didn’t actually ask him how he heard of us. We’ve never played Fort Wayne before, so we’re excited to come out and play for everyone. We’ve had friends come through and tell us it was a good time. So the details, It’s Friday May 26th. Girl Colors are opening, then us, and Heaven’s Gateway Drugs are headlining.
EA Poorman: What other shows do you have lined up for the summer?
Bryan Alvarez: Locally, we’re usually booked up a few months in advance. We have some really great shows coming up this summer that I can’t quite announce just yet that are really cool. But we’re trying to get around the midwest a bit more and play places like Indiana, Wisconsin, Ohio, and so on. We’re working on a longer tour for later this fall. If you are reading this and want to help us book a show in your town please reach out to us!
EA Poorman: Any new music on the horizon?
Bryan Alvarez: I’m actually writing the follow up to Wax Wings right now. I write a lot of music. Much more than we’ll ever release probably. My goal for the next album was to write at least 15 songs before I considered doing any recording. I got to about 14 songs and ended up scrapping almost all of them. So I’m down to like 5. It wasn’t sounding the way I had wanted it. So, I’ve been spending a lot of time on these new songs working on rhythms and beats. We sometimes play a new song or two at our live shows. Otherwise, we might try to put a new tune out later this year.
EA Poorman: In one sentence, how would you describe Post Child?
Bryan Alvarez: We’re really loud. Bring ear plugs. It wasn’t even intentional to be as loud as we are, but it just kind of happened that way. We played a show the other night and someone came up to me and described it as “wall of sound”. I think we write really poppy music overall, we like to do vocal harmonies, double guitar solos, but just to do it really loudly. I like the idea of using sound to take people out of their comfort zone a bit.
So don’t forget earplugs, folks. It’s gonna be great, but loud. And make sure to hit up NNN and the Hi Fi Lounge at 6pm for some pre-main event music goodness with Water Witches and some brews courtesy of CS3. The main event starts at 9pm at the Brass Rail. Get acquainted with Post Child over at https://postchildmusic.bandcamp.com/.
Truth be told I haven’t followed Chris Cornell’s music career since that first Audioslave album. Call it moving forward with ones life or just not really being into what he’d been doing since “Show Me How To Live” burned into my brain. But that’s not to say he didn’t make a HUGE impression on the younger J Hub back in high school and my early 20s. The fact that he’s suddenly gone and never going to tear the roof off a theater or stadium with that massive, “Thunder-0f-the-Gods” vocal weapon of his really is quite depressing.
I bought Louder Than Love in December of 1990, on my 16th birthday, and I never looked back. That album was unlike anything I’d ever heard. It was heavy, dirty, dark, and hissy in a way that you’d a thought this cassette came out from under the front seat of some dude’s ’78 Olds Cutlass covered in dirt, dust, and THC resin. It stood in stark contrast to the Rush and various LA hair band albums I’d been slurping up heartily to that point. That album led me to Screaming Trees’ Uncle Anesthesia which led me to Mudhoney’s Superfuzz Bigmuff which led me to Nirvana’s Bleach which led me to everything else. And as much as I dug Kim Thayil’s howling abuse of his Guild, it was Chris Cornell’s voice that kept me entranced and enthrallled.
Though the guy bemoaned the Robert Plant comparisons, you couldn’t help but go there. He was my generation’s Plant(no offense to the very much alive and well Robert Plant), except better in that he was an incredible songwriter and musician. He wrote complex songs with unique chord structures and lyrics that ranged from poetic to cryptic. Badmotorfinger contained some of my favorite Soundgarden tracks. “Searching With My Good Eye Closed”, “Holy Water”, “Mind Riot”, and “Rusty Cage” were some of the best songs to come out of the 90s for me. Every Soundgarden album, though maybe not all classics, had at least three or four shining moments easily. And when he stepped out on his own with Euphoria Morning it was apparent he was the main music muscle in Soundgarden. Not taking anything away from Matt Cameron, Ben Shepherd, or Kim Thayil, but the feel and off-kilter melodies were all Cornell. With the help of Eleven’s Alain Johannes and Natasha Shneider, Euphoria Morning turned out to be a rather unique and quite beautiful record even without much in the way of great reviews.
Audioslave was one of those projects that seemed like the greatest idea in the world and the worst idea in the world at the same time. Fortunately the good ideas outweighed the bad, at least on that first record. The grooves of RATM with the soulful, powerful belting of Cornell proved to be a lightning in the bottle moment. When they hit they hit strong, but the power quickly fizzled for me. “Show Me How To Live” was that band’s shining moment. Pure power and hooks. It was the best thing Cornell had done in years.
I was lucky enough to see Chris Cornell live twice. The first time was August of 1993 at the World Music Theater in Chicago. Soundgarden and Blind Melon opened for Neil Young who was doing both acoustic and electric sets. Seeing Soundgarden live was unreal. They were so powerful on the stage. Cornell hit every note while also expertly playing rhythm guitar. Neil Young was amazing, but Soundgarden were breathtaking, even in a mere 40 minute set. The next time I saw Cornell was in October of 1995 in Indianapolis with Audioslave. Again, amazing show. His voice started out a little rough, but by the time they closed the night out with Rage’s “Killing In The Name Of” he sounded absolutely incredible. One of the best concerts I’d ever seen.
Chris Cornell as a guy seemed like he was pretty down to earth. He had struggles with drugs and alcohol and made it through the other side. He was interviewed by Marc Maron a few years ago on Maron’s podcast and it was an enlightening conversation. He seemed very humble about the mark he’d made on the world, almost uncomfortable about it. In that respect he seemed very punk rock. He liked his privacy and he’d follow the musical muse wherever she led, whether fans dug it or not. He was a pretty funny guy, too. Soundgarden covered Cheech and Chong and Spinal Tap in the past. They also covered plenty of their influences over the years; from Devo to Black Sabbath to the Beatles to Sly and the Family Stone to the Doors. He was as much a fan as he was a music titan.
Don’t know the circumstances behind Chris Cornell’s passing, and frankly it doesn’t matter. We’ve lost one of the best rock and roll voices to emerge in the last 30 years. No one belts it like Chris Cornell. Nobody.
Go spin Badmotorfinger a few times today in honor of the man. I’m looking Indiana, and feeling kinda bummed.
Okay I’ll be honest, I’m not really sure what’s happening on Black Cube Marriage’s Astral Cube. Listening to it for the third time I’m considerably more intrigued than I was the first time I listened. That’s not to say the first listen wasn’t intriguing. The first time I put this record in my ears I was in the midst of an antihistamine haze and had laid down early with headphones on. The otherworldly noise that drilled its way into my brain was like a cross between interplanetary messages, various instruments being dropped into a worm hole, and a dentist’s drill running through my back molars. It’s like all the noisy bits of Agharta and Pangaea morphed into one single blistering moment. It was chaos multiplied. On my third listen it wasn’t any less dense and chaotic, but I found a center to plop down into and let it all soak in nicely.
Black Cube Marriage is the brain child of Chicago cornetist, sound manipulator, and improvisor Rob Mazurek; as well as members of his Brazilian connection Sao Paolo Underground, Austin-based freeform unit Marriage and special guests Jonathan Horne (guitar, saxophone) and Steve Jansen (tapes, guitar). This is the essence of experimental free form noise. This isn’t college kids playing power chords over a motorik beat while under the influence of several cups of Sumatran pour-over. It’s not some dudes jamming with an occasional squall of noise or some tape loops. This is deep, heavy noise. It’s like Morton Subotnick devoured a string quartet, a horn player, and some cafeteria silverware and regurgitated it all in front of a microphone. It’s not for the faint of heart. But if you’ve got an ear and head for true intellectual music journeys, Astral Cube might be your trip.
According to El Paraiso’s press release: “Formed in the wake of a couple of Austin, Texas shows in late 2015, this 11-person strong ensemble creates waves of sound that can best be described as cathartic. Astral Cube draws from multiple styles and traditions and the result is a sonic eruption where past, present, north, east, south, organic and electronic collides and is poured into the unknown. Traces of cosmic jazz – think Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra – appears alongside abstract electronics and heavily manipulated instruments – not unlike Autechre or Matmos.”
There’s mention of the music conjuring visions of flowing mountain streams, colorful wildlife, and ancient rituals, as well as buzzing power lines and technology gone haywire. I would agree with all of those. At times the music is an absolute catchall for a schizophrenic noise filter. Album opener “Spectral Convergence Wing” greets you with the sound of hysteria. It buzzes and wheezes with chaos. There seems to be no rhyme nor reason. A mental breakdown put to tape. “Fractal Signal Clone” has the essence of Miles calm within a storm. Strings chatter as Mazurek’s cornet plays a mournful melody. Think something like Godspeed You! Black Emperor falling into some sort of sweet abyss with Ron Carter close behind. “Magic Sun Ray” puts me in mind of Nels Cline’s solo records, while “Time Shatters Forward” sounds like oncoming traffic in some post-apocalyptic world.
If there’s a centerpiece on this record its the 13+ minute “Syncretic Illumine”. It opens like noise coming from a distant jungle, but slowly builds into a mammoth groove number. Latin flavors mix with a steely hard bop attitude to give the track a feeling of both history and intergalactic travel. The past and present colliding beautifully.
Astral Cube isn’t for everyone. It’s dense noise making and experimental art of the highest order, but not for the musical window shopper or those with a weak constitution. But for those with unique tastes in intellectual noise and those who’ve taken heady trips with the likes of Pharaoh Sanders, Sun Ra, Bitches Brew-era Miles, as well as electronic noise makers like Morton Subotnick, Pauline Oliveros and Oneohtrix Point Never, Black Cube Marriage may just have what you need.
My earliest memories are of me sitting on the bare wood steps that led down to my parents half basement and attempting to spy on my mom as she practiced her tap dancing routines. It would start out as me going all ninja, thinking I could somehow blend my stocky, big-boned 5-year old frame into the painted cement blocks behind me and pine steps that were under me. I’d watch from my aerial view from atop the stairs as my mom would tap dance over a repetitive voice that emanated from an old reel-to-reel recorder. Even at that age I imagined that voice belonged to someone that looked like a cross between Richard Simmons and Jonathan Harris from Lost In Space as the flamboyant voice repeated “shuffle-hop-shuffle-hop-shuffle-ball-change-turn-reverse” over and over to the accompaniment of a tinkling, chime-y piano. As I sat there thinking I was the sneakiest 5-year old around the sound of those taps as they hit the cement floor would begin to lull me. I don’t know what it was, but it was almost mesmerizing to sit and listen to. The rhythm of those hits, the distant, muffled sound coming from that old reel-to-reel, and the smell of laundry detergent in the air would put me in a daze. A “shuffle hop coma”, if you will. Soon enough my mom would turn around and see me sitting there and yell “Get back upstairs, John! I don’t want you playing on those steps!”
I never asked my mom why she started tap dancing. My mom, like a lot of moms back in the 70s, stayed home and was a “homemaker”. Now we know now that what that means is that she took care of everything. I mean everything. She wasn’t dusting in a dinner dress and pearls while watching soap operas and waiting at the door for pops to show up from work with his slippers and the evening paper. No, she was handling the down and dirty of home life. The cooking, cleaning, bill paying, grocery shopping, laundering, and making sure me and my brother were washed, clothed, and getting to where we needed to go. She also was the caregiver when we were sick. My brother wasn’t sick very often, but I was sick all the time. Ear infections, bronchitis, lots of fevers and vomiting, and did I mention bronchitis? I was the sickly kid that spent his 4th Christmas in the ICU with pneumonia. My mom was there by my bedside every night. This was back before hospital rooms were like studio apartments with pull out beds and comfy chairs for guests. In 1977 they were still white, cold, and unforgiving to the sleeping guest’s back. My doc when I was 5 years old thought I had Leukemia until my mom nearly strong armed him into testing me for allergies. She was right, I was just allergic to cats, dust, mold, and lima beans(okay, not lima beans.)
I love my dad. He worked his butt off for all of us so we could have a decent life and a roof over our heads. But if it weren’t for my mom we’d a been a bunch of wild animals roaming the Pines searching for food, water, and clean underwear.
So looking back at this whole tap dancing thing I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe this was an outlet for my mom. Some “me” time to get away from the insanity of domestication. I can remember going to the tennis courts near the Green Acres mobile home park with my mom and she’d play with her friend Shirley Bell. I’d play on the playground with Shirley’s daughter Sherry as mom and Shirley would do their best Billie Jean King. Later on my mom was on a bowling league. She played that for years. Every Thursday night she’d meet a couple friends and they’d bowl till 7 or 8pm, then have a few beers afterwards. But in-between the tennis and bowling was tap dance.
I went with my mom a few times to her tap class. It was in the basement of the dance instructor. She’d fashioned a dance studio down there, complete with mats and a wall covered in mirrors. In one of the corners there was a milk crate filled with various toys and puzzles for the brats of her students to play with while the women danced and joked about Dallas, The Stepford Wives, and key parties. The one thing that had always stayed with me over the years was a particular song they would dance to a lot. I never knew what it was called, but it was this pretty piano melody that built up to this classic 70s crescendo filled with orchestra, tight bass, and super compressed drums. I didn’t notice the drums and bass till years later. That piano melody always stuck with me. It was sweet and sad. Music always had an overwhelming affect on me(I can remember my eyes welling up whenever Paul McCartney got to the high notes in “My Love” as it played on the car radio.) There was even a recital that I remember going to. It was at the high school auditorium. I remember as soon as my mom coming out onto the stage to dance I started yelling “It’s mommy! It’s mommy!” to my dad’s chagrin. I couldn’t help it. My mom was up there on stage in front of a whole auditorium of people dancing to the piano song I loved so much.
My mom had all of her tap stuff set up downstairs. She had a few 45s that she would dance to down there. We had an old console stereo down there that used to be the main stereo upstairs. After dad went hi fi with the Pioneer receiver, turntable, 8-track, and speakers, the old Zenith console was delegated to the basement for pool parties and beer consumption. My mom would use it to play her 45s, one of which was Elvis Presley. The A-side was “Blue Suede Shoes”, while the b-side was ‘Tutti Frutti”. I never saw my mom tap dance to either of those songs, but I grew a great fondness for that 45. I was partial to “Tutti Frutti” myself. The line “Got a gal, named Sue/She know just what to do” always got me. I had no idea what Sue knew what to do, but I imagined it was pretty great.
It was years later, long after my mom had put the dance shoes away that I think I’d figured out why my mom took up the tap lessons. I think she wanted something to do outside of the house, for sure. Find an identity other than “homemaker”, yes. But she could’ve done anything out of the house. Hell, keep the tennis dreams going. Or maybe racquetball? But no, she chose tap. My grandma Ruth LOVED Shirley Temple. She had a bunch of Shirley Temple movies on video cassette when I was younger, and I remember my mom having a collection of Shirley Temple movies, too. Could my mom have taken up tap dance for my grandma? My mom and grandma were very close. Always were. My grandma was at the tap recital, too. I remember her clapping and clapping when my mom finished. Not the humoring kind of clapping, but the honest kind where maybe some tears might’ve been shed. Maybe. Anyways, I wouldn’t put it past my mom to do something like that. Take up a hobby because her mom would’ve gotten a kick out of it. When my grandma died a few years ago I remember one of the few things she wanted of my grandma’s was her Shirley Temple movies.
So why all this reminiscing about tap dancing and my mom? I don’t know, I guess because I think my mom is kind of a badass. Mother’s Day just passed and it felt like a good time to talk about her a bit. And besides, without her I’d probably be in some makeshift mud hut in an undisclosed northeastern Indiana woods, eating squirrel over an open fire in dirty underwear.
“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sailaway from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” ~ Mark Twain