Intense, surreal, remote, dynamic. Come along with us as we chronicle the adventures of the soul through psychedelic, drone, noise, experimental, pop music based around Chicago bands in particular and local bands everywhere.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Miracle Condition

I was home sick one fateful day, towards the end of 2009, and my credit card and myself embarked on a spiritual journey. After hearing from my close friend / bandmate / spiritual adviser that Chicago rockers U.S. Maple purportedly met at Grand and Western (merely blocks away from our own rehearsal space), I decided that I needed to introduce my eardrums to our chronologically-distant-yet-geographically-near forefather of Chicago rock.

After hours of Amazon searching, weeks of lost packages, and one fateful encounter at Permanent Records, I had 4/5 of the U.S. Maple catalog in my possession (I suppose it'd sound much cooler if I landed an amazing mint copy of their out of print sophomore release from someone who didn't know what they were selling, but unfortunately, everyone knows what they are selling). Each listen destroyed my comfortable disposition towards punk, the relationship between punk and songwriting convention, and challenged my pop sensibilities -- rather, my experimental pop sensibilities.

If you read some online biographies of the band, the term everyone seems to throw around is, U.S. Maple "deconstructed" rock'n'roll. I don't think people know just how significant that phrase is, or, how apt a description it provides for U.S. Maple's music. A deconstruction, in so many words, suggests that someone tears down some convention, dismantling it piece-by-piece, and then placing new elements in the place of those old conventions that somehow create something that looks vaguely familiar, yet challenges the old guard in a very meaningful or important way. (I suppose "meaningful" isn't the best word there, because of course a deconstruction makes some statement about meaning, given that one often sets out to challenge the course of meaning, or challenge an interpretation of meaning when one deconstructs a cultural phenomenon, which in itself is a theory of meaning or statement of meaning. Even a negation or nihilism require some semblance or structure of meaning to foil. But I definitely mean important).

From every direction. The assaults converged on my senses one after another, some in completely surprising ways, others in ways that I expected but found shocking, nonetheless. I wondered what I had been doing in the 1990s; I'll never be one of those aging hipster Lit teachers that is able to brag to his class that he owned first pressings of each of the U.S. Maple records when he was an enterprising teenager. I had only gone as far as the KIDS Soundtrack by age 15, and was fully submerged in the atmospheres of Slint and the blissfully melodramatic world of Lou Barlow. But, somehow, that didn't seem important anymore; I catch the bus at Grand and Western, in different directions on different days, but invariably from the same place; after I blast my ears with my bandmates or pedal-stomping solitaire, I buy myself beer from that seemingly nameless liquor store.

Somehow I feel that the world of U.S. Maple is my own, 15 years later.

This contexts makes the release by Miracle Condition that much more meaningful to my ears, as I have traveled 15 years in the matter of months, gained immeasurable insight on crossing the terrain of the Western Express or the pop song structure, or the lead guitar line, or the true definition of "percussive guitar approach." I understand more about how vocals can be used, how far drums can move in outlining patterns and mapping a song, as well as the radical clean guitar tone.

Each of these elements are advanced in Miracle Condition, not as a continuation of U.S. Maple, not as a clone, or a dismissal, or an interpretation of U.S. Maple, but as something strangely familiar that is nevertheless constructed out of different, new elements. Through time the band traveled, perhaps away from that fateful geographical locale, and it shouldn't be surprising that the sounds of Miracle Condition offer more space, more breathing, more reflection.

With the old catalog fresh in mind, it reminds me of the feeling of recalling an aged memory through the guise of a completely different disposition in life, recalling a memory from a completely different situation, reliving an experience in a completely different position. Finding an intersection on the map in the context of the entire city, and experiencing the immediate and limited view from the ground; meaning is bounded by both, perspective guides the senses in different directions in each situation.

Really, Miracle Condition preempted me. I was planning to write a retrospective on Long Hair in Three Stages, asking one of those grand questions, such as, "Has Independent Music Progressed Since U.S. Maple?" Instead, I get to write about Miracle Condition, and now I am thrilled that I do not need to simply purchase their back catalog and explore their old geographical locale; this time, I get to be right there with them.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Chicago Metaphysical Circus / Psychfest

Finally, a collaboration among every local band I love! I must admit, I am sometimes bad at keeping a show calendar, and the fact that Chicago Metaphysical Circus is organizing these bands, rounding all of them up, and placing them at home at The Hideout Inn builds within me an anticipation I haven't felt for a local show in a least not since the first time I saw Cave at Hideout, or not since the Black Math set at Permanent's Anniversary show.

The batting order is a set of heavy hitting groups that provide space for emotional and psychological reflection in often-distorted passages, claustrophobic rhythms, never-ending-walkabouts (yeah, I went there), and a generally eclectic sonic palate. It's so easy just to say, "oh, these bands stradle the divide between punk and psychedelic," or something like that; I mean, it is true that in Vee Dee's driving rhythms or Plastic Crimewave Sound's abandon, you will find the spiritual grandchildren of that imaginary generation of music about which Lester Bangs often dreamt. A generation where punk is thoroughly grounded in abstract song structures, a measured aesthetic towards fuzzy guitar sounds and -- if you're lucky -- loads of phaser or reverb or wah wah or whatever else.....

It's more than that; this music reflects an environment. You might think I'm crazy, but I honestly think that if you listen carefully enough, you can feel the bizarre isolation of Chicago's scene, the distance that the city affords despite its size and density, the hopelessness the city promotes despite accessible wealthy neighborhoods never more than a stone's throw from the new, morphing bohemia. A lot of us grew up in the affluent 90s, which proved perfectly the despair of economic comfort, and we subsequently find ourselves in a city that begs us to reflect ourselves, our fears, and our desires -- our affectivity -- against its foundations and infrastructures, while those structures themselves often deny us the meaning we seek in our very reflection.

Psychedelic music is not necessarily a genre of music, but a form of technological manipulation in music, and a form of psychological and spiritual development in music. It is more than nihilism; yet it struggles to leave the loud disdain for artistic and pop forms proclaimed by the brief history of punk. So, to say that these bands straddle the barrier between punk and psychedelic indeed misses the point; this barrier is psychedelic adventure, psychedelic exploration, psychedelic development itself. A culture that shares a rich piece of the history of technological advances in music (from The United States of America and The Byrds to The Dandy Warhols and Darker My Love, yes I went there), a culture that matches the enthusiastic contradiction of surrealism, where high art form is matched with the spirit of dada destruction of anything from pop to societal convention; a culture that revels in the alienation of possession, property, commercialism, and totality.

These bands showcase where we are -- physically and mentally, and through their interludes and breakdowns and washes and drones and feedback, tell us exactly how we got there.

You're already there, so I assume you'll be going to the show.


Hideout Inn, January 22, 2010

Dark Fog
Plastic Crimewave Sound
Sadhu Sadhu
Vee Dee
The Great Society Mind Destroyers
Black Wyrm Seed
DJ Velcro Lewis

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Vee Dee

After reading about local psychedelic punk band Vee Dee, it all seemed too good to be true, and so I waltzed out and found a copy of their Public Mental Health System. On first listen, the record proved to be more abrasive than I expected, but featured strong nasal guitar tones and extreme wah and phaser work to shade the guitar. The band's extended jams provide ample reinterpretations of classic rock guitar mainstays, with a driving rhythm section leading the front-and-center guitar sound.

Frankly, the band probably picked one of the best album titles of 2009, and anyone who rides the Red Line late at night probably instantly understands this recording aesthetic and title. Claustrophobic, wailing, and straddling the boundaries between genres while simply moving forward at a blistering pace.