Thoughts: “Fast Car” by Jim O’Rourke

I’m of the opinion that Jim O’Rourke is one of the most talented and versatile musicians of our time. He’s played with and produced countless bands, including a lot of well-known acts like Sonic Youth, Wilco, Will Oldham, and Joanna Newsom. His releases range from pleasant jazz pop to noisy free improvisation to soothing folk to meditative glitch and progressive electronic, and he shows no sign of slowing down with his eclecticism or prolificity anytime soon.

The section of O’Rourke’s catalog that most appeals to me, however, is his work with drone, mainly the warm acoustic style pioneered by legends like Tony Conrad, La Monte Young, and other members of the Dream Syndicate. A prime example of this is 1997’s Happy Days, a 47-minute composition that blends O’Rourke’s penchant for minimalism-influenced guitar playing with calming, meditative violin drones. This was my favorite thing he had done – up until yesterday, that is, when I first heard the song “Fast Car.”

It’s taken from an unofficial recording of a live set in Japan in 2002, during which O’Rourke was touring in support of his 2001 record Insignificance. The first five songs of this performance are great, mainly consisting of solo guitar and vocal renditions of tracks from Insignificance and Halfway to a Threeway, an EP from ’99. But nothing can prepare for the sheer beauty and happiness that permeates the closing track, “Fast Car.” Opening with a looping sample of Tracy Chapman’s iconic guitar motif from her song of the same name, it features O’Rourke’s own version of the lyrics as more instruments build behind the repeating sample. Subtly, to the point where I barely realized it was happening, the lively acoustic melodies are overtaken by impossibly lush layers of comforting drones. Nowhere else has music so perfectly captured the feeling of a warm blanket and a cup of hot chocolate after a long day in the cold (it could just be that it was freezing cold yesterday; I’d imagine this song would also be applicable during a sunny summer day). Towards the end of the piece, the melodies return, with O’Rourke beautifully tagging the chorus of Chapman’s classic before bringing everything to a close with soft guitar meanderings. It’s a perfect marriage of his folk pop sensibilities and his more abstract inclinations, and in the process it creates probably the most uplifting sounds I have ever heard. Highly recommended (click the picture next to this paragraph to go to a youtube upload of the track).

News: Northside Record Fair!

 

The event this Saturday the 11th celebrates the fifth anniversary of the Northside Record Fair, one of the largest (and best) record fairs in the Midwest. Organized biannually by Jon Lorenz, the fair brings together local brick-and-mortar stores, independent vendors, and collectors to the North Church in Cincinnati, OH. It’s a music head’s dream, with foldout tables stuffed end to end with boxes upon boxes of records, tapes, CDs, and other trinkets and oddities. There’s something for everyone here; the wide variety of sellers means that anyone can find what they’re looking for. I’ve seen countless quantities of oldies, country, pop, hip-hop, experimental, rock, alternative, folk, and pretty much anything else you can think of. If you’re in town and have the time (and the funds) definitely stop by, help support a fantastic event, and pick up some new wax. (Click the above picture to see the Facebook event page.)

Thoughts: Claustration by Vomir

Harsh noise wall is a pretty controversial genre. The main argument I’ve heard against it is that it takes no effort or musical talent to fill up a tape with an unchanging, dynamic-less wall of sound. And I’d partially agree with that. But the thing that makes this music (yes, I’d definitely call it that) so fascinating to me is how unique its preparation is, even compared to other types noise music. For most HNW artists, almost all of the creativity put forward to make walls is used to set up and make the sound, and not actually to sustain or change it. And these artists are judownloadedfile-15st as creative as any others, so they make some pretty amazing stuff.

Vomir is probably the prime example of this, at least for me. He has no ulterior motives, no pretentious explanation of what his music means; he just makes it to make it, because he enjoys it and hopes other people do too. And the process is much more involved than naysayers would lead you to believe. It’s almost dizzying the amount of pedals and effects he utilizes to meticulously craft hypnotic, psychedelic, crushingly heavy noise. The lack of dynamics isn’t a disadvantage; instead, I find myself getting lost in these darkly lush walls.

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This is taken to an extreme on 2008’s Claustration. Originally released as a 6-CD box set, which comprises five parts of the titular piece as well as five untitled tracks, the album runs for over five hours. Yes, five hours of unrelenting harsh noise wall. Is there anything more intimidating? I’m not sure, but I can definitely think of worse ways to pass the time I spent listening to the entirety of Claustration. The album was in my ears from 6:02 to 11:27 yesterday, accompanying me through dinner, homework, grocery shopping, almost getting run over by an idiot driver in the pouring rain, and sitting outside in the dark. It was a unique, confusing, captivating, and, ultimately, enjoyable experience. I’ve never felt so isolated by music before, the rumbling, warm noise wrapping itself around me and not letting go until the end.

I can’t say it’s something I’ll do very often, but I also can’t say I regret it. Maybe I convinced you that HNW is a viable art form. Maybe I didn’t. Either way, hopefully you’ll try out Claustration sometime. (If it really is too long I recommend either Black Bag or Portrait Series #6, two other excellent Vomir projects.)

Episode 4: New Music Roundup Part 1

Setlist (Episode4.csv):

1. James Holden & The Animal Spirits – “Thunder Moon Gathering” (from The Animal Spirits)

2. Converge – “I Can Tell You About Pain” (from The Dusk in Us)

3. Small Leaks Sink Ships – “Subtle Sadness” (from Golden Calf)

4. City – “Pain/Power” (from A Goal is an Image)

5. Elodie – “Le Temps d’Antan” (from Vieux Silence)

6. Sissy Spacek – “Other Restrictions”(from Slow Move)

7. Sugai Ken – “Okera” (from UkabazUmorezU)

8. Yellow Eyes – “Blue As Blue” (from Immersion Trench Reverie)

9. Le Fou – “Mania Function” (from Hanover Deicide 1973 and the Black Priest)

10. Gasp – “Region 2: Tiny Wingman, Decaplex Solar Tempest” (from Ghost In Scow Out)

If you missed the show, listen here: 

Review: Arto Lindsay w/ Beauty Pill @ The Wexner Center

Thursday’s presentation of Arto Lindsay with Beauty Pill was, among other things, a monument to the marriage of experimentation and conventionality. Both acts combined the strange with the familiar, the uncomfortable with the expected, to great effect. It was a night of wonderful juxtaposition.

Beauty Pill started off the show with a bang. The Washington D. C. quartet have been active since 2001, though their discography is sadly limited to two EPs and two full lengths. 2015’s *Describes Things As They Are* provided the bulk of the songs played, its more sample-heavy and adventurous style dictating the performance. Vocalist Jean Cook and guitarist Drew Doucette both added electronic flavors to the band’s standard palette, using MIDI controlled samples and pedal effects to create surprisingly dense sound collages. As I said to Cook after the set, the effective inclusion of this sort of technology in a live performance is very difficult; the occasional recorded snippet or odd feedback manipulation for novelty’s sake is relatively simple, but actually integrating and conversing with these elements musically is much less so. But there’s no doubt that Beauty Pill did this incredibly well; it never seemed like the effects weren’t important parts of the songs. With the thudding, rhythmic grooves of bassist Basla Andolsun and drummer Chad Molter, everything seemed to be in its place.

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Photo courtesy of Matt Condon

While Beauty Pill was one of the best opening acts I’ve seen in recent memory, my excitement for what was coming next was only heightened. Full disclosure: I am a massive fan of Arto Lindsay, and I hold the staunch belief that pretty much all of his work, from DNA to Ambitious Lovers to his eponymously released records, is nothing short of amazing.

It seems that any time an article is written about Lindsay these days, DNA, the influential no wave band formed by Lindsay and Ikue Mori in 1977, is brought up at one point or another. Any information about his more recent work is often prefaced by a brief overview of his work with the band, or even an introduction based on his membership. This seems odd, as DNA’s activity only spans five years, a mere blip amidst Lindsay’s lengthy career. And though the importance of their work to the experimental music climate can’t be overstated, Lindsay’s solo material is just as adventurous, arguably even more so. Having never aligned himself or DNA with the angrily nihilistic mentality often associated with the no wave movement, it seems that Lindsay is simply continuing what he started all those years ago.

But all those pseudo-academic musings leave my mind completely as Lindsay (after cheerfully complimenting my DNA sweatshirt) and his band – bassist Melvin Gibbs, keyboardist Paul Wilson, drummer Mike King, and a percussionist whose name I didn’t catch – take the stage. The unique amalgam of Brazilian samba, tropicalia, art pop, and funk soon fills the room, punctuated by Lindsay’s absolutely vicious guitar work. For those who have never seen him play, it is simultaneously breathtaking and horrifying to behold. “Play” doesn’t even seem like the right word; it’s more like he’s attacking the instrument, beating out an incredibly wide range of frequencies and harsh skronking that surprisingly complement the lush instrumentals of his band very well. My jaw just about hit the floor when Lindsay’s band members departed the stage, leaving him to perform a brief song by himself. There are really no words to describe it; the textures he created with only his guitar were simply otherworldly, layering angular loops and distorted noise blasts to back his soulful vocals. As Lindsay himself puts it, “scary Arto” and “sexy Arto” were both in full display. It was the crown jewel of an amazing night. Thanks Arto.