Primus : The Desaturating Seven

When Primus put out their musical tribute to the Gene Wilder classic Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, the aptly-titled Primus & The Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Orchestra back in 2014, everything about the Bay area prog/funk/freak trio seemed to make perfect sense. Les Claypool, the elastic bass genius and singer for the band has secretly wanted to be Willy Wonka all these years. Even from the beginning Claypool has given off a vibe of playfulness mixed with something slightly sinister. It came out in the narratives of his songs, most of which were told in the voice of some bizarro character while the band made music that was part Parliament, part King Crimson, and part Looney Toons. You couldn’t help but be in awe while hearing songs like “John The Fisherman”, “Those Damned Blue Collar Tweakers”, “Tommy The Cat”, “My Name Is Mud”, “Mr. Krinkle”, and “Shake Hands With Beef”, while at the same time have a queasiness come over you thinking about how unsettling these people were in Claypool’s world.

But man, they could play(and no, they really didn’t suck.)

As Claypool has gotten older he’s become more comfortable as a storyteller. With Larry LaLonde, Claypool has created a library of musical oddities spanning over 30 years now. Pulling inspiration from his childhood was something of a eureka moment for Primus, so much so that they’ve based their newest record on a children’s book that Claypool himself read to his own kids. The Desaturating Seven is a concept record based on the Italian children’s book The Rainbow Goblins by Ul de Rico. This album continues the grand return of one of the most unique and uniquely strange American bands in the last 3 decades.

Like Primus & The Chocolate Factory with the Fungi Orchestra, The Desaturating Seven is the primo-era Primus, with Les, Ler, and Tim “Herb” Alexander(along with Justin Chancellor as the Goblin Master.) There’s just something magical about these three when they’re together(nothing against Jay Lane or Bryan “Brain” Mantia.) The ideas of the book and the colorful artwork seem to flow thru beautifully on this record. There’s something heavier and darker here as well. “The Seven” is probably the most Crimson-sounding track Primus have ever committed to an album. Like 80s King Crimson. Those interlocking bass and guitar parts are magnificent, and Alexander has a young man’s power behind those beats. “The Trek” has the jauntiness we’ve come to love about Primus. Claypool delivers the story meticulously as the band kick into old school mode with LaLonde’s quirky guitar lines and Alexander’s tom abuse. “The Scheme” sports a drum and bass part that is both acrobatic and animated like some late night Bakshi find.

As a fan for the last 30 years my biggest issue with Primus was that there never seemed to be enough low end. The songs and musicianship were always there, but on album the songs almost seemed transparent they were so thin. Claypool has become a rather deft engineer in the studio sitting behind the board. He’s given their songs the meat and potatoes they’ve always deserved. When the stereo is cranked there is proper wall shaking going on.

Both “The Dream” and “The Storm” are a mix of art rock grandiosity and pure prog heaven with nods to Genesis, Rush, and even more Crimson make their presence known. It’s a fine way to end the journey.

The Desaturating Seven is a psychedelic musical trip that is heavy at times, funky most of the time, and shows Primus in top form. The Bay area trio have never followed trends or attempted to mollycoddle their fans. They make music that they’re inspired to create. That’s the best kind of art there is. The Desaturating Seven is inspired weirdness of the highest order.

7.9 out of 10

Godspeed You! Black Emperor : Luciferian Towers

It’s always been difficult for me to describe the listening experience involved with Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Talking about their records as merely collections of songs doesn’t work. Each album is more like a visceral experience. A complex stream of emotions and feelings that come over you. Joy, menace, confusion, resilience, contentment, and chaos are just a few of the words that come to mind when I drop the needle on a GY!BE record. There’s a mysterious quality to the band as well. They’ve never seemed like a band, more than a community of musical nomads that come together to create chaotic beauty every couple of years. I know that the band is very much a collection of normal guys and gals with family, kids, homes, cars, and bills to pay, just like you and me. But in the musical bubble known as Godspeed You! Black Emperor they seem like one collective beast making noise which emanates from some earthy, existential place of knowledge and truth. I could be reading too much into a rock and roll band, but that’s what I do.

20 years ago GY! BE released their first album, F♯ A♯ ∞, and now we have their sixth LP titled Luciferian Towers. As far as Godspeed you albums go, this one feels about as upbeat as they get. There’s still the chaos and fury that comes with the territory, but there’s a decidedly upward swing here.

Like I said, I’m not much for digging into individual tracks on a Godspeed album. I like talking more about the visceral experience involved in their albums. Where they put me, the journey, what comes up in my head as I hear the album roll along. I think that’s where the real experience lies in a Godspeed You! Black Emperor record. I will mention a couple songs, though. Why? Because it feels right.

“Undoing A Luciferian Tower”, the opening track, is a swirl of musical chaos and folk-infused doom. This is the kind of piece the band has made a name on for over 20 years. How they meld these noises into something uplifting and prolific is a wonderful thing to behold. The 3-part “Bosses Hang” is more of that noisy and chaotic uplift. It feels like a storm of strings, feedback, hurdy gurdies, and exploding toms. Even the exquisite “Fam/Famine”, under the droning feedback and tribal build up has this air of triumphant starry-eyedness. Like we’ve hit the apocalypse and everything is smoldering rubble, but dammit we’re gonna be okay. We’ve got each other. “Anthem For No State” is also broken up into 3-parts. It’s an epic musical journy, filled with all the beauty, bombast, and sonic explosions that GY! BE have perfected. There’s almost a spaghetti western vibe when “Pt. III” hits.

Since their return in 2012 from a 10 year musical hiatus Godspeed You! Black Emperor have put me in mind of a commune-sized Neutral Milk Hotel. There’s this spirit of earthy, folk-sy abandon mixed with hardcore and punk tendencies. There’s also a dystopian, post-apocalyptic feel in these masterful pieces of music that comes thru. It’s like if the Weather Underground had been a radical music collective, I imagine they’d sound like Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

Luciferian Towers would be their mission statement.

7.9 out of 10

 

Slow Dakota : Rumspringa

Last year PJ Sauerteig, under his musical moniker Slow Dakota, released the elegant and elegiac The Ascension Of Slow Dakota. That album was an aged musical narrative about people and the things that people do. It was part prolific chamber pop and part poetry in motion courtesy of spoken word segments strewn throughout. It was a magnificent musical statement that begged you to pay attention and fill your brain with what that album had to offer.

Slow Dakota has returned with the EP Rumspringa. Rumspringa takes that urgency of Ascension and has turned it into a bit of a dance floor jam. Chamber pop has been replaced with seductive beats and early New Order and Depeche Mode vibes. Each track is a tale about different odd characters that may be living among us in the Midwest. Or, they may have sprouted from Sauerteig’s imagination. Either way, it’s a fascinating character study with a hell of a beat.

“Abram, Indiana” announces itself as something separate from what came before in the Slow Dakota canon. Its groove and airy demeanor feels like glorious dance floor freedom. Subtle piano and synth touches bring elegance to the proceedings, while the drums make you want to get up and move. Lyrically it brings visions of open fields and toiling away the day in small towns, wondering what’s beyond the property line. “Elijah Yoder” has our subject leaving the small town life for the big city lights and reminiscing about those simple days, all the while a heavy electro beat and New Order feels carry the song along. More subtle regret permeates the world of “Cherry Mary Michigan” as she laments “Helicopters watch me through my window/Helicopters watch me close the blinds”, ending that thought with “I don’t know any of my neighbors’ names”. “Jebediah Iowa” talks of a young man telling his father he sees his future in the kitchen and not the courtroom, to which is father replies “Look into the future, then,” He told me hard and slow,/”And tell me if you’re happy there”/”Paid in pastry dough.”

Sauerteig recorded and wrote Rumspringa over his first year of law school. The EP was produced by Sahil Ansari, and mastered by the legendary Greg Calbi. The EP as a whole has a vibrancy of movement, which fits perfectly with the stories here. Stories of finding new soil to root in, but looking back and wondering if you made the right choice or not. The decision to go with a more electronic feel this time around works well to tell the tales of these characters. It shows new layers of sonic depth for Slow Dakota.

There seems to be a back and forth on this EP that Sauerteig seems to be fighting with, which is in order to follow your dreams you must leave behind what made you you. Trading the comfort of home for the unknown of finding who we can and will be can be exciting, but lonely. When miles are put between us and our past there’s a melancholy perspective that comes over us. In art we can look back and find a humanity and empathy towards characters we grew up with that couldn’t be found if we just “stuck around”. Sauerteig has done that here on Rumspringa and it’s a fascinating listen.

Grab a copy of Rumspringa or The Ascension of Slow Dakota over at https://slowdakota.bandcamp.com/

 

Michael Myers and Trent Reznor

It’s Friday The 13th, so I should be talking about Jason Vorhees. But you know what, I don’t care. Michael Myers has always held a special, darkly-lit place in my heart. I can’t tell you how many times I watched Halloween growing up. It was on TV at least once a year(edited, of course) and I’d always watch it. Even prior to seeing the unedited version on videocassette, it was a very scary, visceral experience for me. The initial murder of Vorhees’ sister, the escape from the institution, stalking of Laurie Strode, and the murders at the end of the film all filled me with such dread that even the most goriest of films can’t come close to that angst I felt lying under a blanket on my parent’s couch in the living room as a sticky little kid.

Even years later that iconic theme music would stick with me, showing up in various forms(Halloween toys, plunking out the theme drunkenly on my best friend’s piano, and various viewings over the years), that I never thought someone covering this theme would affect me as much as the version I just heard today did. Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross made a version of John Carpenter’s Halloween theme and released it today, on Friday the 13th, 2017.

It’s actually pretty amazing.

They take their time with it. They savor the nuances and tease the theme generously before going full Carpenter, with some generous Reznor/Ross vibes. They toy with the main theme with lots of distortion and chaos lurking in the background for a good 5 minutes before close to the end when a Reznor-approved beat comes crashing in to make Carpenter’s iconic theme become some sort of dark and sultry remix. It’s really rather stunning.

They haven’t rebuilt the Halloween theme more than they’ve reimagined it into something modern and dystopian. I think it’s genius. You may think it’s shite. That’s okay. Give it a shot and see what happens. I’m fanboying right now. I think Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross are two of the most exciting film composers working today. The NIN stuff is still good to my ears as well(we can’t keep recreating the past now, can we dear?), but their film work is absolutely stunning. If John Carpenter decides to not score the new Halloween, I know two guys perfect for the job.

Happy Friday The 13th, lovelies.

Favorite Albums Of 2017(so far) : Quaeschning & Schnauss’ ‘Synthwaves’

When Edgar Froese passed away back in early 2015 it seemed that it might be an end to one of the most prolific heavy synth bands to ever step out from the German Krautrock scene of the late 60s. Despite numerous line up changes in their nearly 50 year career, Froese was always a constant. Tangerine Dream was more than a band. They were a fucking institution of heady, intellectual tones. Deep space flights of existential musical fancy. With Froese breaking through to the other side it was hard to say what would become of Tangerine Dream. Fortunately for us and generations to come Edgar Froese had some incredibly solid musicians in TD at the time of his passing. Thorsten Quaeschning, Ulrich Schnauss, and Hoshiko Yamane had all been in Tangerine since 2005, 2014, and 2011 respectively and had become a tight knit musical unit. They recently released the excellent Quantum Gate as Tangerine Dream and it keeps the spirit of the Komische king alive and well.

So while they weren’t working on Tangerine Dream material, Thorsten and Ulrich got together and began writing music. Quaeschning had plenty of studio experience prior to Tangerine Dream, producing and working in other musical projects. He was also pretty adept at synths, drums, keyboards, and knew his way around a mixing board. Schnauss has had a pretty prolific career as a solo artist putting out some of my favorite electronic albums in the last 15 years. The idea that these two would come together for some heady analog goodness was something I was pretty excited about. Back in the summer these synth jam sessions came to fruition in the form of the album Synthwaves, released by one of my new favorite record labels Azure Vista Records. The record was everything I’d hoped it would be and so much more.

This record hit my ears back in the heat of late June and early July. The album was a soundtrack to solar meditation in the wooded hills of Brown County. As I sat on the porch of a rented cabin I let “Main Theme” overtake my psyche. There was a mix of melancholic nostalgia and new age sublimity as this opening synth salvo filled my head. Even right now it’s hard for me to describe the emotional heaviness of this track to me. Imagine jumping in a time machine and watching points of your childhood float by you. This track is a time machine for me. The 70s and 80s collide into a very bizarre 2017. “Main Theme” offers a contemplative moment to take it all in.

“Slow Life” pulls you from the drama of the day and into a bubble of serenity. The trickling of analog blips and beeps like synthetic rain drop into your ears to take away all the noise and buzz. This one really reminded me of 80s TD, btw. Very much in the vein of Three O’Clock High and Risky Business.

“Cats & Dogs” has a dreamy vibe to it. Well, most of these tracks have a dreamy quality about them but this one is extra dreamy. Like a dream within a dream kind of dream. Am I awake or am I still dreaming? I don’t know, but this music good. If I am still dreaming I don’t want to wake up.

Listening to Synthwaves I can’t help but imagine how incredible those two weeks in Berlin were. Quaeschning and Schnauss holed up in a Berlin recording studio with nothing but vintage analog gear and many pots of coffee. Exploring sonic worlds with circuits, wires, and their imagination. I guess I’m just one that romanticizes the creative process. I love the idea of a space of total creativity sparked by the bouncing of musical ideas, caffeine, nicotine, and maybe even mind-expanding ingredients like a great burrito or smoked cheese tray(what can I say, food inspires me.) You get the feeling from listening to this record that these two were wholly inspired to make great art. And they did.

There really are no skipping points on this album. “Thirst” feels like traveling through some space/time void to the next dimension, while “Flare” is all dark moods and mysterious contemplation. It sounds like a Berlin School version of The X-Files theme music. “Prism” feels like a proper end to an album. It’s big and epic but refrains from laying on too much chutzpah.

Synthwaves is the gold standard when it comes to making a vintage-sounding, classic heavy synth record. This album feels aged and well worn in, but it doesn’t come across as a derivative of something else. It sits as a unique piece of musical art. It’s something you can put on in the background while chopping carrots and scallions for a stew, or you can put on some Koss cans, plop down on the couch with a high ABV stout, and get completely lost in Quaeschning and Schnauss’ Synthwaves. If you’re a fan of Tangerine Dream or solo Schnauss you should already have this and you should be spinning it often. Very often, like me.

If you don’t have it, what are you waiting for?

Monk at 100

Not that the man is celebrating given that he’s been on the other side now for over 37 years. But if Thelonious Monk was still among the living he’d be celebrating a century on this earth. Even though he only lived to be 64-years old, the man blazed a musical trail of legends. His work was unlike anyone before or after. He played like an alien interpreting the wonky rhythms of ragtime. His songs were like a Lemonhead in that they were tart on first taste, but as you let those tunes melt down there was a hidden sweetness you couldn’t deny. I couldn’t deny it, anyways.

Thelonious Monk was the first jazz artist I ever got into. I bought Monk’s Dream on a whim when I was 21. I think I’d read an interview with Flea where he name dropped the man so I figured if Flea dug him maybe I would too? Turns out Flea has great taste as Monk’s Dream became an obsession of mine. It was an obsession that has lasted to this day. I’ve collected countless Monk albums, with Straight, No Chaser, Underground, Solo Monk, Monk, and Criss Cross as favorites. There’s a double LP I found with Thelonious and John Coltrane that’s pretty stunning, too. And the Clint Eastwood-produced doc Straight, No Chaser is a favorite as well. In that doc filled with tons of wonderful archival footage you see the strange and beautiful in him. He just wasn’t on the same plane as the rest of us. He didn’t just think and write outside of the box, he thought and wrote outside of our universe. He was a true original that will never be duplicated, matched, or remotely replaced.

So on this day, October 11, 2017, let us celebrate Thelonius Sphere Monk. One of the coolest far out cats to ever sit at the ivories.

 

The Dead Do What The Dead Do, Dude

George A. Romero had a way with zombies. His first three zombie films, the trilogy if you will, stand as a testament to the whole zombie genre of filmmaking in my eyes. Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead were not only horrific tales of the dead rising from their graves(or from wherever they may have dropped dead initially), but there was real biting(no pun intended) social commentary within those two films.

Night came out at a time when the civil rights movement, Jim Crow, and segregation were all still very much in the forefront of social and political discussion. He mixed old school horror, new school gore, and very real race issues into a one of a kind late night drive-in flick.

Dawn took a small group of survivors(including two from a news channel and two soldiers) and dropped them in the relative safety of an abandoned mall to attempt to rebuild their lives. It really spoke to a time in the late 70s when malls were becoming all the rage and on some existential level a place where we felt at home. A one stop shopping experience where we could buy clothes, appliances, semi-automatic weapons, jewelry, and grab an Orange Julius while we were at it. As our protagonists found out, no matter how many amenities we may have, life and living can’t be created out of thin air.

So that leaves us with the third film, Day of the Dead. It is obviously the lesser of the three. It had the potential to be another amazing horror film, but the budget was cut drastically which caused Romero to cut down the screenplay significantly which caused his story to lack. Here’s the thing, I think that may be partially true. There’s a feeling that Romero had a lot more to say about the militarization of the country in an apocalyptic situation such as a zombie invasion. And I could see a case for science vs soldiers. These could have been really interesting topics to explore had their been the money and proper resources for Romero to work with. As it turns out he took a 200 page script and cut it down to an 88 page script. I would’ve gladly sat through a 3-hour epic story about zombies, soldiers, scientists, and the battle to save civilization. What we got was a movie with a lot of overacting, scene-chewing, lots of yelling, a strong female lead, stereotypes, misogynistic soldiers, and some of the best gore from the 80s.

So many characters over shot in this film; in-particular Joseph Pilato as Capt Henry Rhodes, Anthony Dileo Jr as Salazar, and the gruesome twosome soldiers under Pilato’s Rhodes. There was just so much chewing of the scenes here that it made it hard to even concentrate on the well done acting that was going on(Lori Cardille, Richard Liberty, and Sherman Howard were actually great in this.) I’m not against hamming it up a bit for the sake of fun, but the crassness of the soldiers towards the female doctor was just a little over the top for me. I think it would’ve been more effective for the misogyny to take a backseat to more existential dread of being stuck in an underground base for all eternity.

Despite all that I still love this film.

I recently grabbed the reissue of John Harrison’s excellent score courtesy of Waxwork Records. Putting this on the turntable I was reminded how much I really liked the music in this film. When it starts playing I’m instantly taken to those scenes. The opening scene of Dr. Sarah Bowman’s nightmare, to the title sequence with Tom Savini’s handiwork, to the scenes with Bub re-learning to be human again; the score was a very visceral experience for me. It’s the sort of thing that hits you like something locked away in your subconscious for years that’s set free at the drop of a needle.

Before I oversell this thing, let me first say it’s definitely a dated score. The film came out in 1985 and the soundtrack shows. There’s lots of 80s keyboard tones here. Some of these motifs could have been stand ins for 80s network TV melodramas, but don’t judge it on that. It’s all well done. Harrison made a career out of working with George Romero, having been a Pittsburgh guy himself. He seems to have locked into what Romero needed for his films. As well as Day of the Dead, he scored Creepshow and Tales From The Darkside: The Movie, as well as serving as executive producer on Romero’s Survival of the Dead. He had a lifelong connection with the king of the Dead, so he added just the right touches to Day. It’s a very warm score; human, even. It goes a long way to help add humanity to a lot of living characters that come across as dead inside as the zombies they’re hiding from.

Though Day of the Dead didn’t turn out the way the late master of Horror wanted it to, it’s still a solid chapter in the zombie canon of George Romero. It also has some of the best gore from any film in the 80s thanks to Tom Savini. It’s also got one hell of a score by John Harrison.

October is finally here. Let the horror(of the cinematic variety) begin.