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.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Experiencing Vinyl #3: "Best of The Rest" 2014

For the last few years, I focused my interests and purchases on contemporary musicians. The simple fact is, there are plenty of musicians making good music, and it's fun to go to the record store and look through the New Arrivals for the most interesting or crushing or heartbreaking or emancipatory music. 2014 was completely different. This year, those older records hollered louder, and they outlined many trends or counterpoints to what I purchased from contemporary artists (which was admittedly much less organized -- and perhaps way more fun than any previous year of music collecting).

I owe plenty of thanks to Elastic in Chicago, and especially the Elastro Series, for providing spaces that expanded my musical interests and experiences in 2013 and 2014. The venue is reliably experimental, and its move for 2015 brings thrilling possibility (please have another clothing and record swap!). With Elastro, I experienced experimental music live more frequently than in previous years, which in part must explain why I've listened to so much old music. At the Victim of Time record fair, I landed a $0.50 copy of The Very Best of the Everly Brothers (WB), which hit as hard as the exceptional Gross Pointe tape; from scuzzy motorcycle rock to commercial rockabilly, I found shockingly straightforward and even heavy songs. This was the perfect backbone, or grounding, for my free-jazz and improvisational leanings. 

The Everly Brothers reminded me that I had been looking for a vinyl version of "Mystery Train," which has been in the Greil Marcus-dominated sphere of my subconscious ever since high school, I suppose. But that's another therapy session. Anyway, For LP Fans Only (RCA), sealed and reissued from the 1970s, popped up in a record bin one fine day, and I completed my heavy rockabilly hits from 2014. What I particularly like about The Everly Brothers and Elvis Presley is that their music shines through so much skepticism about cultural appropriation or cynical reappraisals of the golden past. Certainly, these artists straddled boundaries of popular music during a tumultuous time, but their ravaged sense of delivering the song at all costs, and remaining faithful to the brief, sudden encounter is the strongest element of their music. 

Sudden and brief trends peppered my purchases throughout the year, including a full-on dive into the Homostupids. I think I almost landed everything they released, which is way less offensive than the name suggests, and quite focused (for as completely wrecked as it is). I don't know why I didn't spend the entire year we lived in Cleveland listening to this, it certainly would have accompanied the broken glass bike lanes with measured harmony (The Edge, P.Trash pictured here). The Homostupids rush fit perfectly next to my recent Obnox spree, which I gladly indulged in once Thee Oh Sees announced their (false) hiatus. We are blessed as music fans to jump from a band like the "classic" Oh Sees to Obnox releasing multiple discs in a year, and Obnox is only getting better as he moves forward (Canibible Ohio, Slovenly / Black Gladiator pictured here). 

I hated Stress Apes when I first heard them years, and years, and years ago. Well, not hate. But while speaking with my friends about CAVE and everything related, my young ears were afraid to admit that I didn't quite understand Stress Ape. Luckily for me, Bad Drugs, Cacaw, and Rotted Tooth Recordings in general completely opened my ears to bleak, unconscionable noise, and so I luckily stumbled upon a copy of Mergers (Hardscrabble Amateurs). I only wish my noise ears were hardened earlier, for I now face a desire to buy every single Hardscrabble title after the fact. Oh, what we've lived through that we miss -- hell, I probably missed 500 great tapes this year alone. 

Thanks to my family members, I received a batch of delicious tapes and LPs for my birthday, two of which included The Doors Live at The Hollywood Bowl (Elektra) and The Rolling Stones Some Girls (self?). Some Girls is such a ridiculously cringeworthy album at certain points, if only because I find it very hard to believe that Mick was short on "jam" by the mid-1970s. Like the debauchery of the 1970s Stones in general, the notes of redemption shine brighter than the trash, and if you don't get your fix from absurd MXR phasing, Mick's sad-sack country howls on side-B will drive you nuts. I almost fall over every time I hear Mick talk about driving through 40 consecutive red lights once he learns that Jesus is always with him (Hahahahahahahaha!). The Doors shocked me, if only because of their harsh moments that punctuate light, enjoyable jazz-psych moves. I'm really quite indifferent to Morrison, but the honest truth is that it's quite difficult not to "wake up" at the noise that introduces "Light My Fire."

Trouble In Mind is a label that requires serious back-purchasing into my collection. I finally started this year, as Doug Tuttle's exploitation-psych-wheelhouse pop burned into my brain for the first half of the year (I seriously think that album burned into my brain. I recommended it to a friend who turned me on to Back from the Grave, who promptly reported, "Yep, Nick knows what I like"). Woolen Kits was my first "back purchase," and the CD is preferable to the vinyl only because you can toss it into the dashboard when you're tooling around town. Once you do, you'll hear crystal-clear pop that is outlined by raw nerves and group-vocal oblivion. 

I also owe a lot of thanks to Drew Gibson, both for providing review copies (Josh Millrod review is forthcoming, as is a Daniel Wyche interview/review), as well as providing a copy of Clearing's Tape Drag. As I documented earlier in the year, this was undoubtedly one of my favorite, and most consistent, ambient listens of the year. 

Rounding out the short listens is a whole batch of Geographic North 7" singles, specifically from the You Can't Hide Your Love Forever series. Pictured here is the brilliant 80s pop revival by Psychic Powers, but the series also includes experimental percussion, shortform drones, and both upbeat and downer variations of the best of 1980s pop. Much like Tuttle's release, any music that uses the snare drum as a lead instrument is quite all right with me, and this is one particularly stellar element of the Psychic Powers delivery. 

P.S., "I'm Not Your Stepping Stone" is a phenomenal song, and The Monkees are much better than a lot of people might expect. 

Since a lot of my 2014 listens were longer-form artists, I did not add terribly many longform psych oldies this year. However, the two longform performances I dug into were a Neu! reissue (Gronland), and Lyonnais, Want For Wish For Nowhere (Hoss, both pictured below). 

The Neu record was instantly recognizable, if only through the patterns and moves that have been appropriated by contemporary psych artists. It is always fun to hear early sources of inspiration for contemporary musicians, and Neu must hold a specific place among those who appreciate the gang of psych groups that populate current releases and trends. 

Neu showcase two elements of krautrock that are arguably missing from even the best contemporary variations on that scene:

 (1) They exhibit more moments of complete freedom than contemporary variations. This results in some powerful sequences of cymbal scratches, as well as some oddball moments (such as the LP-closing singsong, which I'm still not sure what to make of after all these listens). In between those extremes, the group hammer their repetitive exercises and beats.

(2) Neu exhibit the light-hand and restraint that matches elements of Can and Kraftwerk, among other early electronic artists. There is a type of "warmth" or softness that counteracts the urgency of the beats and grooves. As a result, the rhythmic exercises feel organic, almost rolling along in a gentle manner, which allows those repetitions to breathe. 

Granted, there are many current psychedelic groups with fine touches and freeform moments, but Neu combine the best of both elements on their debut. 

While I was mourning the closing of the great San Francisco resurgence, given the disbandment of key groups and the mass migration to Los Angeles, I found a new source of inspiration in Jefferson Airplane. Most will call the group a key hippie band, but the honest truth is that this group produces rebel rhythm & blue distortions that almost perfectly coincide with "classic" Oh Sees records (I here have Help! and ...Master's Bedroom in mind, but there are other Oh Sees records that fit this argument). "3/5 of a mile in 10 seconds" could have appeared on either one of those records, with only a minimal amount of de-polishing needed to match the rowdy, live timbre of classic Oh Sees. It's all there: boy-girl vocals, prominent harmonies, reverb-clean percussive guitar, untamed leads, you name it. I always though Surrealistic Pillow (RCA) was quite a good record, but I never had as much fun listening to it as I did once I finally found an original vinyl version. 

Finally, I missed the Clone Records resurfacing the first time it hit Permanent Records, so I dutifully obliged this time the records showed up. While I listened to more punk this year than in any other year of my life (probably), I found this 1970s blend of pub rock, progressive moves, and hard rock absolutely stunning. These musicians feel like they're not quite sure what they want to do; it's rather aimless in some ways, or completely without genre. Clone perfectly captures the coexistence of glam, punk, and metal ideals in the midst of the 1970s, which effectively destroys the fashionable orthodoxy for any of those particular genres. What a breath of fresh air! The Teacher's Pet single was one of my favorite recommendations I received all year, and I truly enjoyed it along with these wicked Bizarros and Rubber City Rebels jams.

Experiencing Vinyl
Experiencing Vinyl #2

Record Collection, 2009-2014
Tapes With Friends