MP3: Mother’s Might
Like last year’s blissful triumph Dragged Out by the now formidable local powerhouse The Lindsay, Flagships, the debut from RTFO Bandwagon (brought to you by the Columbus Pancake Factory), is not an album that meanders in amateur fidelity or suffers from underdeveloped songwriting — instead it forges a unique identity for the young band right out of the gate. That mix of confidence and innocence results in a record full of wide-eyed enthusiasm, eccentric jives on theatrical folk and the traditional jug band, and nervous indie melody formed to fit exciting new shapes and oddball arrangements.
The most striking element of Flagships is the near constant harmonies of Andrew Graham and Jen Boyce. The instinctual interplay between the two voices is clearly twee as fuck, but not too cute to sugarcoat the duo’s sharp permutations on sex, death, and religion (with no editing the gory details in between). Or better yet Graham’s choice of sparse instrumentation; a fettered acoustic amplified and abused, rickety percussion, motley globs of melodica, and the occasional sweep of strings perfect for pricking hearts.
Though I’d never call them legendary, the Silver Apples are certainly of a particular cult; a one-of-a-kind pop experiment that’s as confounding and disorienting today as it was when the beats and hipsters first heard their debut and Contact in the late 60’s. Somewhere between Stockhausen and Suicide, HG Wells and HR Pufnstuf, Simeon Coxe and Danny Taylor concocted a truly original musical experience using only drums, voice, and the Simeon, which consisted of “nine audio oscillators and eighty-six manual manual controls…The lead and rhythm oscillators are played with the hands, elbows and knees and the bass oscillators are played with the feet.” Got that?
For once, the machine controlled the music and the Apple’s melodies and directions seemed to be arbitrarily guided by a number of sound alternators/inhibitors. The results are rather surreal, if not beautiful in their abstract composition. Take for instance the last song of Contact (“Fantasies”) where we’re amused by Simeon barking his various/involuntary sonic changes towards his drummer. Or “You and I” from Silver Apples that pits some wondrous love poetry against an army of obstinate wavelengths. Keep in mind this was only one year after Pet Sounds. After Contact though, the band disappeared for almost thirty years.
Simeon has found a moderate renaissance for the band through various spurts in the 90’s with infrequent tours and the release of the third unheard (and incredibly vital) The Garden finally issued in 1998. So it’s almost an anomaly that he lands at Bourbon St. promising to play a slew of old songs and to take others on a journey they never though they’d see live in the flesh.
Geeks of the band may want to click here for a fairly comprehensive interview with Simeon for Terrascope.
If you’re not one of the geeks like me, it’s imperative that you show up early, if only to see locals Deathly Fighter or maybe the Moon Upstairs whom have the distinction of opening for Simeon on all of Silver Apple’s upcoming tour dates.
My sincerest apologies to Mr. Paul Nini. Here it is post-Labor Day and I’ve spent the Summer sitting on a stack of releases from his modest and criminally overlooked Old 3C Records roster. To clarify, these albums haven’t sat, collecting dust, going unheard — quite the contrary. His uniform and economically packaged offerings have opened up a whole new world of Columbus music and beyond. While most barstool historians of High Street’s heyday are content to merely talk about how they’re doing this and that to preserve a vibrant legacy (resurrecting defunct labels, uploading warped VHS recordings to YouTube), very few are actually taking action. All the while Nini (and maybe his brother?) are churning out nuggets at an alarming rate, records from the near past (albeit from a fairly close unit of musicians) and re-issues of essential albums that time forgot .
Need proof? Old 3C’s 22nd release, Twenty-One and Hungover compiles a track from each piece of the discography. From the daydream jangle pop melodies of Log to the oversexed restraining-order folk recordings found on Ron House’s brilliant 2002 solo outing Obsessed, the sampler is a feast of indie Midwestern treats and a great starting point from which to dive deep into a label that is long overdue for some local love.
Perhaps the label’s most well-known release is Length of Growth a 2-CD retrospective of Great Plain’s (the hometown Homestead heroes, fronted by House and the Wyatt Brothers, later frequented by Nini and Mike Rep) illustrious career. If you’re unfamiliar with their music, a germ of quirky indie rock and House’s visceral wit, this is as good a place to begin. Elsewhere in the catalog Nini has scoured the GP archives to produce Cornflakes, a be-all end-all collection of rarities, as well as two live shows from the group’s primo line-up, somewhat essential considering the group’s played twice since their 1989 demise.
Great Plains – “Old 3c” from Length of Growth
Great Plains – “Black Sox Scandal” from Live at the Electric Banana
Ron House – “Seven Years” from Obsessed
Much more to come in Part Two….
I’m at a loss for words to describe Kala, the second album from London (by way of Sri Lanka) tastemaker M.I.A.
She’s certainly without borders; globe-trotting from Liberia to India to Jamaica to Brazil to Japan to Baltimore for a grab-bag of tribal, almost jarringly disjointed, array of sounds and beats. And regardless if her skills as an MC are up to snuff or her reliance on male producers (here Switch, DJ Blaqstarr, Timbaland, and Diplo lend a hand) is in question, songs like the Bollywood scorcher “Jimmy” and the frenetic voodoo of “Bird Flu” are examples of pop music its freshest and most dangerous precipice.
Polarizing as she may be, by cutting and pasting Clash samples (“Paper Planes”) or Oxfam philosophies (“World Town”) into giddy collages of melody and third-world representation, M.I.A. is taking a major stab at being both earth’s reigning diva (move over Bjork) and its 21st century conscious. It’s hard to try and convey the joy of such a dizzy album when one of your colleagues does it so much better.
Buy Kala at Amazon
In 2005 I had the surreal pleasure of meeting one of rock music’s greatest enigmas, Roky Erickson, shortly after he performed for the first time in over a decade at the annual SXSW Festival in Austin. I thought this was simply a one-time deal — the city dusting off a local legend and carting the eccentric genius to the stage to play a bit of “Two-Headed Dog” for old-time’s sake. Little did I know about the trials and tribulations Erickson went through to arrive at this point again. I knew his back-story (an acid casualty sentenced to a maximum security state mental hospital, where shock treatment further fried his former self), but had no knowledge of the germ of a life he led after becoming ward to his mother Evelyn.
You’re Gonna Miss Me, a new documentary by Keven McAllester, is a rather poetic attempt to connect those dots. From Erickson’s heady beginnings inventing psychedelic music with the 13th Floor Elevators to his recent road to recovery sponsored by his youngest brother Sumner, and all the highs and low in between, the film explores his life from within the family drama that exists in the present. Who has the best intentions for Roky?
Might as well talk about the weather as there’s physically no other way for me to break the ice when introducing the Spanish Prisoners. We are in the midst of a heatwave in case you haven’t noticed, and the endless beads of sweat and feverish hallucinations such extremes create match well with the chilly atmosphere of Leonid Maymind’s earnest batch of ghostly folk. By naming his debut Songs to Forget he’s either set himself up for an inevitable punchline or (keeping my fingers crossed) turned a phrase that inherently describes his music. Like no other album released in the city this year, Songs to Forget is powerful in the sense that it has the ability to transport or at least make one “forget” they’re stuck in the middle of Ohio.
MP3: Some Among Them Are Killers
Where most Americana is steeped in regional celebration and local color, Maymind’s imagination tends to roam though a number of exotic climes. Being born in Latvia, raised in New Orleans, and finally spit-shined in Columbus, the guy’s obviously a xenophile without a comfortable home, perpetually fueled by his wanderlust. “Song for the Weary” has the slow-motioned crawl of the most tragic of love stories, only Maymind’s unsure of its shape, hovering between Appalachian spiritual, deep Southern blues, and even deeper swamp lore. I was reminded of the first time I heard the Palace Brothers, and whether there was a place in contemporary indie music for such stark authenticity. More Oldham than Oberst, the album’s sincerity towards traditional sounds is its most rewarding attribute.
Clearly though, the prize here lies in the Spanish Prisoner’s modest bent for experimentation. “Some Among Them are Killers” and stunning closer “Ballad of an Unfolding,” both weave the acoustic with the electronic, making for spooky rustic pop built with scattered beats and digital skree. The Postal Service or early Califone would be a convenient reference point, but Maymind’s fragile voice and imploding structures give off the feeling that it could all topple over with a strong wind. Even his ramshackle attempts at slacker salvos, found in the Pavement (prolly more Silver Jews) inspired “Periwinkle Blues” and “A Thousand Zimmermans,” are skinny and skeletal, and that’s all part of the charm.
Of course it’s too early to call Maymind a wunderkind — I’ve yet to see this unfold live (and have heard it’s not exactly the bee’s knees…yet) and Songs to Forget was aided by a long cast of local luminaries, including Sarah Asher, Eric Metronome, and the CDR crew (c’mon guys, sink some money into this record, this is something that could really expand the fam’), but that doesn’t mean that Maymind’s vision isn’t intriguing, unique, and completely from the heart. We should all be paying attention.
The Spanish Prisoners will celebrate the release of Songs to Forget tomorrow night at
The Basement. Recent Misra additions, Southeast Engine and (don’t get me started) The Slide Machine will round out an amazing little show at a crappy little club.
MP3: The Underdog
For many Spoon turned a corner (or jumped a shark) with Gimme Fiction, one that favored big studio flourishes and a hankering to wallow in their rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches existence instead of the stalwart songwriting and idiosyncratic quirks that made Kill the Moonlight such a triumph. Save “I Turn My Camera On,” the album was a creamy, vanilla bore. The dour second half, enough to write off the band as comfortably set in their ways, with little regard to re-charting a path towards indie-rock salvation. Britt Daniel sounded awfully tired. Sitting with Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga months before its release (really, the leaks gotta’ stop), seeing them half-heartedly play live to an over-inebriated, thankless crowd, I started to get the feeling that Spoon was done for; another one of my collegiate idols reduced to a few awkward radio hits and soundtracking. Thing is, I’m wrong.
The horribly titled record, probably reference to the monotony and mediocrity Spoon was becoming, still relies on minimalism and a modicum of tattered edges to structure its songs, only difference being, Spoon have finally mastered being themselves. “You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb” and “The Underdog” in particular though, jump out of the two-toned, acoustic mood that defines the band’s sound, giving way to buoyant pop, gauzed in Spector-ish sonic frills and brass nicked from blue-eyed soul. Both are bright and punchy, but they were also undeniable birthed a Daniel/Eno creation as there’s little mistaking the former’s nicotine-dusted, near-scat vocal treatments, and the latter’s economical percussive puzzles.
Going beyond the obvious hits, the albums uses few tools to make a sizable, affecting racket and is prone to throwing in addendums of kora and Spanish guitar (both appear at the end of “My Little Japanese Cigarette Case”) as window dressing rather than basing songs around such excess. It’s the tiny mistakes, false choruses, and playful knob twists that characterize “Finer Feelings” and “Eddie’s Ragga;” simple as origami until it’s unfolded to reveal shortcuts and do-overs. Many of Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga’s ten tracks operate within that mundane repetition, Spoon’s entire m.o. post-Girls Can Tell has loitered around a slacker’s thrift, here though Daniel proves he has a skilled hand to dissect it, deconstruct it, and stretch equal parts glum demeanor and understated optimism just far enough not to flaunt his gift of melody. Whether it’s the career-encompassing record that will be their legacy remains to be seen, for now, after some deep listens, it’s certainly the finest version of Spoon being Spoon they’ve put to tape yet.
Remember the SAT? Well if you do, then CDR is to Columbus as Exit Stencil is to Cleveland. Yes, despite my bias against the armpit of Ohio, the Indians, the Browns, the RNR Hall of Fame, and the eternal stench, Exit Stencil have proven that the city is much more than simply Pere Ubu, Electric Eels, and Bone Thugz. There’s actually a diverse and thriving music scene going on there. Go figure. Though a dear friend (and Cleveland native) recently quipped that all my stereotypes regarding his city were completely justified, I’m tempted to say, with this recent slew of Exit Stencil releases, there’s finally a suitable rivalry to deal with. This is not a condescending statement, merely fact. There has always been a Cleveland “sound” that has never sat well with my stomach, that is, until now.
While not exactly timely, my late review for Volta had to be informed by intense listens; deep dives into the album’s mystic haze and playfully violent fits of claustrophobic noise. I had to ingest a reasonable cross-section of reviews in order to gauge where the populous stands. I’m eternally biased, an unhealthily obsessed fanboy. Throughout her career, Bjork’s body of work has become a monolith of polarization and the frustrating highs and lows of Volta are no exception.
She has always been more high-art, high-concept, than composer of “songs” or one who even remotely flirts with accessibility. It is better not to give her borders, expectations, and timelines. Anyone hoping for Top 40 dare not tread here, just be content that she has given you something tangible.
I still wouldn’t be able to spot the three core members of Animal Collective if they were walking down High St. and I suppose it’s that anonymity, that shroud of mystery, which keeps me intrigued with their career trajectory, even as it rises to puzzling new heights.
Last year’s Feels was an awkward step backwards into the abject jamming of ol’, almost completely disregarding the near pop-acoustic masterpiece that was Sung Tongs, so it was pleasantly surprising that Monday’s show at the Wexner Center was filled to capacity with an odd contingent of barely legal followers, a new generation of hippies, giving the place a vibe that we were privy to an intimate performance with Phish. There was dope smoked (a first at Wex methinks), gutter punks begging to pay $30 and upwards for a ticket, out-of-place scalper harassment, and a long line of devotees waiting for autographs pre-show.