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No Longer Singing From The Same Hymn Sheet

2 Jan

It’s stating the obvious to say I don’t really do Pig State Recon anymore. But as I did do it at the outset of 2011, I figure I’d try to wrap up things, now that the year is toast. This past year saw so much large scale upheaval and horrific devastation around the world – politically, economically, environmentally – that my narrow ass perspective here seems sorta irrelevant. But that’s blogging for you.

2011 saw some really positive developments in my own life: settling into a new job/life up on the cobbled streets of North Yorkshire, watching my wife’s Etsy jewelry shop succeed beyond all reasonable expectations, and finally buying a house – a first for this no-longer young 41 yr old. All this without mentioning our newly adopted black kitty – Cherry’s her name. That little one has expanded our family dynamic here in subtle but wonderful ways, sorta like when Dave Swarbrick started fiddling fulltime in FAIRPORT CONVENTION. Well, sorta.

But if this year has meant something specifically musical to me, it has to reflect the distinct lack of new rock n roll tuneage filling my aural spaces over the past 12 months. This was a natural reaction to my new environs; I now live nowhere near the metropolitan strongholds of new rock action, and the North Yorkshire countryside I drive through to work each day is far too rolling to get me Kicking Out The Jams on a regular basis. So all of a sudden it’s non-rock instrumental sounds of the ambient electronic, soundtrack, and even classical(!) variety that have marked my hours most prominently this year. Go figure.

Now I’m not qualified to blog about folks with names like Gustav Mahler or Giacomo Puccini – even on good days I struggle to tell my counterpoint from my contrapunct. I did hear a few rock-related records released in the past year, and I might as well say a few words about ’em for old times sake. But if some loudmouth American approaches you at the next London Philharmonic Orchestra performance asking you what your favourite SST LP was, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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ORIGINAL SOUNDTRACKWay Of The Morris (OST, 2011) Delicately glistening soundtrack to a great documentary about an Oxfordshire Morris dance side. Reminiscent of the approach Ashley Hutchings took on odd 70’s Britfolk projects like The Compleat Dancing Master and Rattlebone & Ploughjack, here Adrian Corker mixes spoken recitation, traditional song, and ambient field recordings – church bells, bird calls, Morris sticks – with post-minimalist production in a way calculated to dislocate any pat temporal perspectives. Bits of this certainly draw the listener back down through lost centuries of English daily life, which is indeed a wonderful feeling. But other parts put me in mind of the last time I strolled through the English countryside listening to an early 80’s Cold Blue Music comp LP on my I-Pod (this has happened more than once). Such beautiful juxtapositions conjure up the spirit of modern Morris dancing way better that anything linear ever could.

Awesome work, Adrian. Really, the soundtrack ears of the fellas at labels like Trunk/OST and Finders Keepers need to be grafted on to some Hollywood types, so once again the scores of studio pics might overwhelm.

DARK BROWNMiscellaneous, Vol. 1 (Memory Bulldozer, 2011) – Solo tracks by ex-BLUEBIRD gtrist Bryan Lee Brown, portions of which may or may not’ve ended up behind TV commercials I missed over the past few years. This collection is a natural progression from the warm, BLUEBIRD-like textures of his great first solo CD, moving into post-stoner CLUSTER & ENO strum and float terrain. And while this may hit you as just an indie take on incidental gtr/keyboard based music, I’m excited that someone who has played with the likes of FATSO JETSON’s Mario Lalli is actually taking his sonics into mainstream Hollywood studios these days. Yes I’ve got more than a few collections of mindblowing Euro library/catalogue music lurking around Chez Recon . . . but if you’re like me and can’t stop cloying advertising images from wallpapering the inside of your skull, DARK BROWN’s shimmering cues will help you recontexualise it all in far, far more intimate ways. At present, this one’s only available as an I-Tunes download, but totally worth searching out.

EARTHAngels of Darkness, Demons of Light I (Southern Lord, 2011) – I’m one guy who finds Dylan Carlson’s EARTH output in the new millennium infinitely more appealing than the infamous body of work he created for labels like Sub Pop in the 90’s. I like that he’s renewed his interest in melodies – particularly parched, Ennio Morricone-inspired melodies, but melodies they still clearly are. I like that he chooses to play them slow and clean, allowing the full weight of his changes to sink in nice and deep. I also like that recently he’s been taking the stage with an all-female band – a true rarity in the ubermasculine world of doom metal from which he draws so much of his fanbase. Because of the Pachyderm tempos employed, this doesn’t ever cruise the way, say, THE DIRTY THREE or YAWNING MAN can and do so beautifully – but dammit if EARTH isn’t of a similar ilk. The difference being: EARTH give you that much more time and space to really consider the groundsoil that’s churning beneath their feet. This one gets my full attention, every spin.

JJEMMEIIIDebris Cloud (No label, 2011) I spent most of my mornings this past Spring obsessively following news updates on the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, an event so terrifying that it dredged up all manner of childhood Cold War paranoia I didn’t even know I still had in me. And this was only one of the very major weather calamities to slam our planet this year! While I’ve never fully understood how or why “doom drone” became a genre unto itself in the new millennium, I COMPLETELY empathise with this down-tuned aural reaction to Tennessee floods in May 2011. This was released exclusively online, with all proceeds going to the Tennessee Valley Salvation Army and Red Cross disaster relief funds.

“Debris Cloud” is an awesome 18+ minute solo bass/amp excursion that builds, surges, breaks free, and resonates in yr bones looooong after it’s over. The guttural thunderings JJEMMEIII conjures up feel like a very private but modern expression of fear, but also of strength in the face of overwhelming adversary. Like nearly everything else I’ve dug this year, it’s instrumental, so it’ll help score future eco-distasters in gloriously non-judgemental fashion too. Do sing along, you know all the words already.

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Oh and *MUSICAL HOPE FOR THE NEW YEAR* up in the North of England springs squarely from the promises of Manchester’s DEAD SEA APES new Lupus album, to be released on the Deep Water Acres label in the next couple months. For this recording, they’ve shifted gears away from full-frontal desert rock attack to introverted kraut rock meditation, a particularly awe-inspiring sidestep. This might be well be the album I play in perpetuity when I eventually nod into cryogenic post-life consciousness.

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Blown Out

22 Feb

Brian Chidester and Domenic Priore’s Pop Surf Culture (Santa Monica Press, 2008) is one seriously deep archival dig into the aesthetic flotsam and jetsam that has floated around surfing since time immemoriam. Tracing the sport from it’s prehistoric Hawaiian origins through the surfing zeitgeist that occurred in Southern California during the 60’s and beyond, their eyes & ears take in wacky bikini beach flicks, hand-drawn pre-hippie Rick Griffin comics, the slyly mod marketing that addressed the beach going/imagining demographics, and all points between. The energetic writing style speaks of a decades-long contemplation of waves and those who’ve ridden them: the deeper meanings, the unique cultural values, and the solitary beauty of it all.

Teeming with evocative photos of infamous surfers, era-specific film posters & handbills, stylish sport mags and bitchen record covers. Particular attention is paid to the subtle, bohemian-influenced graphic design sense that grew up around the sport. The authors succeed in making a clear argument: surf subculture should be seen as a clearly defined, suburban folk art style all it’s own. Me, I’m inclined to agree.

But then, there is their take on surf music. With all the love they have for surf rock/pop sounds ca. ’61-’64, there’s real distrust of music that has sought to expand on the narrow perimeters of original surf sounds in the years since. Yes it’s great that they’ve taken the time to sift through so many exploitation surf recs to separate the wheat from the chaff for us, but the little digs at the musics that followed surf – psychedelia, hippie, heavy rock etc. – just make these guys sound like fuddie-duddies. And while they’ve included chapters on the later revivals of surf music in the 80’s & 90’s, these chapters seem forced, with praise falling only on the most trad elements of these scenes. It’s a major bummer for a guy like me, who can handle his instrumental sounds not only twangy ala DICK DALE, but jammy like THE GRATEFUL DEAD, or spacey like HAWKWIND, or heavy & abstract like Ginn’s BLACK FLAG, or cruising indie like PELL MELL, or . . . well, you get the picture.

Which brings me to their discussion of surf film soundtracks. As with the rest of the book, analysis early on is spot-on, but as the 1960’s progress they start dropping the ball, missing out mentioning great scores like SVEN LIBAEK’s To Ride A White Horse and TULLY’s Sea of Joy. Talk peters out entirely around ’72 with meaningless blather about the BEACH BOYS reissues of the time. This, to a surf soundtrack lover like myself, was a tad disappointing.

So what’s a poor boy to do?

Well, PS Recon is gonna rectify this situation. Me, I’ve been listening to a grip of great surf soundtracks lately that dig deep into idiosyncratic, instrumental musical action – all without recourse to cloying surf rock cliche. And I’m gonna tell you about em here in the upcoming weeks. Consider yourself warned.

Tonight I’ll start with a some recent-ish ones:

1) BLUEBIRDStylemasters Original Soundtrack CD (Defend Music, 2006) BLUEBIRD were well-established in LA’s heavy rock scene in the mid/late 90’s; the singer used to hang around our record store with a young and pre-SUNN O))) Greg Anderson. But sometime in the early part of the new millennium, they gave up trite things like lyrics, songs, and chord changes, leading to the creation of a pair of hugely effective CDs: Black Presence and this here soundtrack. The sound was a groove-laden form of modal hard rock that might remind me of SPIRITUALIZED or GODSPEED YOU BLACK EMPEROR if I knew what them bands sounded like. But the jammed-out, flowing heaviness of the whole thing spoke more of their stoner rock connections, and trainspotters will note not only that desert-rock producer Mathias Schneeberger was on board here, but that FATSO JETSON’s Mario Lalli guests on gtr. Regular readers of this blog, take comfort: this soundtrack might well’ve been called Under The Influence Of Yawning Man. The film itself was compiled from surf footage from the North Shore of Oahu, ca. ’77-’79, and I’m gonna state BLUEBIRD nails the heady vibes and earthy physicality of that time and space, dead on. Check out the trailer to this film here.

2) MPHASEStylemasters 2 Original Soundtrack DVD (Sea Crown Ventures, 2007) Less gutpummeling, but still really effective is the score MPHASE did for STYLEMASTERS 2, the follow-up to the aforementioned STYLEMASTERS. This film documents the end of the single-fin era in Hawaii, right at the dawn of the 1980’s. True to the times, the foundation of this ain’t stoner rock but rather KRAFTWERKian synths and emotionally-detached vocals. That said, gtrs still figure in quite prominently, and a nice groove underpins the whole thing – not unlike what THE CARS once gave us early on, sans the hiccupy vocals of Ric Ocasek. Thus despite the new wave trappings, the flow at work here matches the footage of the waves in a nicely organic way. MPHASE has gone on to contribute to the score of another surf documentary about early 80’s surfing, Echo Beach, and more recently released a neat HUMAN LEAGUE inspired CD all their own . . . but it’s here where they truly shine like VISAGE playing a grip of BRANT BJORK riffs. And if you think I’ve got any bad words to say about VISAGE, well . . . let’s just say you don’t know me very well. Sadly, this was never given the separate CD release it was due. Trailer here.

3) RUSSIAN CIRCLESLavese Las Manos Original Soundtrack (Analog Films, 2009) Ok: so this score wasn’t purpose-built; it was compiled from previously released album tracks by the Chicago group known as RUSSIAN CIRCLES. But it’s an important sidestep for surf scores nonetheless. It’s the first time in a coon’s age that a surf soundtrack wasn’t made up of annoying snowboarding anthems, smug JAMES BLUNT wanna-be singer songwriters (Jack Johnson et al.), or boring indie rock twats. It’s instrumental, as it should be. And it fucking rocks! RUSSIAN CIRCLES play a tightly controlled form of heavy instrumental progressive rock, the sort of stuff that you wouldn’t be remiss in calling PELICAN-esque. They do it in a way that’s slick but intense enough to match footage of what’s commonly derided in more esoteric surf circles as “extreme sport bullshit”. Watching this flick the other day had me imagining how mindblowing a big wave tow-in video would be if STINKING LIZAVETA was rocking the soundtrack. I dunno, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here? But hey: this could be The Third Way in surf soundtracking, if more folks would just get a fucking clue. This was another soundtrack not given a proper release but don’t worry, you can watch the whole film for free here.