Confessions of a Noise Fiend

In memory of David Vanegas,
guitarist, magician, cofounder of Red Door Magazine, lover, brother and friend… You are dearly missed hechicero.

Hechi,
Tú, que eres luz
y supiste acariciar mi sombra.
Cómo se le habla de amor
al amor?

Hoy salgo a la ciudad
con el corazón de fiesta por ti.

-Eli.

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DUENDE DE CIUDAD

 

A David Vanegas

 

Perdida en tu ciudad te busco. Habitas en el mundo de tus voces rasgando cuerdas y saberes viejos. Vuelas hacia una libertad desconocida que se filtra en oleadas de calor.

 

Los caminos se abren a tus pies y saltas sobre multitud de bebidas y ojos nuevos. Quizás esperas llegar a alguna parte, donde ni siquiera el tirano osa seguirte.

 

El vendedor de estrellas te ha ofrecido un nuevo sueño, y vas tras él dormitando entre las masas.

 

Otras bocas te poseen y lames la memoria como náufrago despierto. El amigo extraviado encadena de culpas los recuerdos. Desde Jerusalén, año cero, no volverán a resucitar los muertos. ¿Cuál será la salvación en los umbrales del tiempo?

 

Más allá de tu cueva regalas notas y acordes que pintan de blanco las paredes negras. Una luz te penetra por los pies inundando la casa de sonrisas.

 

Cuando por tus calles vas, las guitarras cantan y en mi esquina escucho el devenir del viento silbando entre tus manos.

(2013)

Liliana Isabel Velásquez Hernández

PREVIOUS ISSUES:

The Melting Guitar Syndrome of LOVELESS

Billy Corgan is a lot of things to a lot of people.  A first rate  A-hole to some, an insufferable whiny douche to others, a great musician who happened to have lost his head inside his own butt long ago.  But along with being responsible for two of the best guitar-rock records of the 90s, the Pumpkins’ “Gish” and “Siamese Dream”, I must give the man credit for pointing me in the direction of the shoegaze genre, specifically the mighty My Bloody Valentine.  When Corgan talks about his musical influences in interviews, he does so in a way that is on the same level of passion as any fanboy I’ve ever met, or as I might do myself.  Once he dropped the name, I followed the trace.

Tapes have never been the preferred format of music consumption for a lot of people, yet they have always been inexpensive enough to be sort of a buyers market, in that they are easily found at the cut-out bins of records stores and even used book/thrift stores.  It was during one of my many scavenging hunting trips that I came across a tape copy of MBV’s “Loveless” back in late 1995.  The cover, a blurred and saturated close-up of what was seemingly a video still of a Fender Jazzmaster, gave the thing an alluring, interesting look.  I had my walkman with me (gee, grandpa!), but I wanted to wait until I got back home to play the tape under the appropriate circumstances and pay it full attention.  The walkman could provide a reasonable amount of play time if powered with batteries, and I had a fresh pair loaded in my unit.  So as soon as I got home I put the tape in and pressed play.

After four quick snare drum hits the weirdest fucking sound of the opening track engulfed my head.  There were guitars, that much I was sure of.  I just couldn’t really focus on where in the stereo landscape they were located, or whether the crazy, wailing animal sounds that exploded between verses were guitars or synths.  It was reminiscent of conventional guitar rock music only in the sense of song structures, yet sonically it was an amorphous blob of beautifully sculpted noise.  I was very, very confused.  Had the batteries drained?  Was my tape player faulty?  I couldn’t really understand what was going on for a while.  Maybe the tape itself was damaged, I wasn’t sure.  I kept listening, stopping the tape after each song to check the heads of the unit and make sure the walkman wasn’t chewing on it (a common problem when one of the tape reels got stuck), which creates a sort of phasing sound that makes the high end of the music come and go.  But no, the tape was fine.  I compared with other tapes to make sure it was not the batteries draining and making the songs seem like they were slowing down and going in and out of tune slightly.  No, the batteries were o.k.  Maybe they laced my weed with something strange?  Well, that I couldn’t really say for sure.  So I figured I must have purchased a bad tape copy of the album and kind of forgot about it for some time, meanwhile thinking that it was a unique band and sound regardless.

Not long after that I purchased a CD copy and that’s when I realized this band was excellent at making gorgeously fucked-up sounding music.  “Only Shallow” opens the album with what sounds like the gates of some new dimension being blown open, and the conventions of any guitar-oriented music – pop, alternative or otherwise- were subverted:  the music was loud and intense, but not macho.  The distortion was saturated and loaded, but it was more beautiful than heavy.  The voices sounded like a part of the landscape, mixed low and indecipherable, instead of up-front, yet little snippets could be rescued if you paid enough attention.  For those who indulge in the outer limits of recreational substances, this music was perfect for triggering the type sensory disorientation that synesthesia produces: you could see, smell and feel these sounds.

A song dissolved into the next one, and when a song actually came to a stop, you got nary a microsecond before the next one exploded in your face.  My favorite track, “Come In Alone”, which on the record and tape opened side B, rests on a bed of floating guitars that seem to surround the listener’s head 360 degrees instead of just being panned hard left/hard right.  And to my surprise, it was not Belinda J. Butcher (guitar/vocals) who sang on it, but Kevin Shields (guitar/vocals), a fact that added an element of androgyny to music that in many regards was already doing away with easy labels and categories, or as ace post-modernism critic Steven Shaviro puts it in his book “Doom Patrols”, “…something else is happening with My Bloody Valentine. Their sound works not so much to ironize performatively upon those old gender binaries, as to fritter them away into inconsequence. You can no longer tell which traits are male, and which are female. Aggressive noise and ethereal lyricism, for example, are not hard and fast opposites, but delicately different degrees along a single continuum.”*

You can recognize just where Billy Corgan lifted many ideas and sounds from “Loveless” to create the sound of the Pumpkin’s “Siamese Dream”, aside from the fact that he even hired the same engineer, Alan Moulder, who has also worked with Depeche Mode and The Jesus & Mary Chain.  But “Loveless” remains in a sonic league of its own.  Short passages of looped sound connect some songs (“Touched”).  Sampled voices meld with manipulated guitar lines (“Blown A Wish”).  Fuzzboxes are engaged to create an envelope of deliciously warm distortion (“Sometimes”).  Bassist Debbie Googe has a knack for kicking back in the higher register of her instrument during verses and then dropping big low-end lines with double-stops to fatten up the sound even more when the intensity needs to be picked up.  Colm O’ Ciosing, who on the band’s first album provided many songs with a wildly raved-up drum performance, plays it simple here and stays in the pocket of the sampled beats that make up a lot of the rhythm tracks, like the infectious beat of the closing track, “Soon”, or the pulsating beats that create the heartbeat for the melting guitars of “Loomer”.  For a while, all this made for a rather lonely listening experience, since most people whom I tried to turn on to it found it too inaccessible, or too alien, or, more commonly, too repetitive.  A very close friend told me that the one thing he could appreciate from one of the songs was that it sounded like whales singing to a dance beat.

Kevin Shields, the mastermind behind the band’s sound, has finally come through with the deserved re-mastering of this album after many years of teasing the fan base and this new version was released last March of our present year of the lord Noise.  Shields has said that the half-finished songs that were sitting in his vaults will be properly completed and released, which is great news to the fans of the band, considering MBV has not released any new albums since “Loveless” hit the world in 1990.  If you enjoy bands like A Place To Bury Strangers, The Joy Formidable, Spiritualized, TV On The Radio, Secret Machines or any type of ‘head’ music, do not miss out on this classic.

*Steven Shaviro’s book, “Doom Patrols”, is available for free here: http://www.shaviro.com/Doom/index.html

By: David Vanegas.

Tantric Alchemy – A Pharmaceutical Guide to Indian Jewelry

Ever heard a shot of purple jizz being injected straight into your brainline?  Should you find yourself all but out of introspective psychotropic aids in the form of segmented eternity (at less than a minute at times or close to eight minute doses at others), make sure you seek out the fringes of the city or the confines of the left side of the radio dial (the lower numbers of the Frequency Modulation, for you digital zombies) where you should ask for WFMU for some kicks “like you ain’t never seen”, as Diamond Dave would say.

When I scored myself some Indian Jewelry, the one thing I knew for sure (I think) is that they’re made in Texas.  It figures.  Roky Erickson fried his dome down there too.  And although there is a guy in it named Andrew Scott, this ain’t no canadian Sloan.  Far from it (about one thousand, nine hundred and sixty four synapse per neuron, to be inexact).  So you’re best not trying to tell the Brandons from the Rodneys  from the Erikas or Jimies or Texes.  Just let them take hold.

The Indian Jewelry I took came in a capsule that read “Free Gold”, distributed to the black market in 2008.  It’s effects similar to no other stuff I have tried before, although it did give me flashbacks to Spacemen 3, The Flaming Lips circa Zaireeka, the more ethereal side effects of Sonic Youth, and Spiritualized, but that’s just the effects it triggered on me, don’t take my word for it.  Besides,

there will be a gathering, you see, at the end of April, in Austin, called Psych Fest, and there will be live Indian Jewelry.  Sort of like a traveling shaman selling Yage trips (a tasteless enterprise, methinks), only with better results.  Sequenced beats, fuzzy distortion, the acoustic six-stringer here and there, juicy reverb, drones, synths, the works.

For some free samples (please, listen responsibly), here’s the score:

http://www.myspace.com/indianjewelry

http://www.swarmofangels.com/

Pogo en Medallo

Medellin no carece de rock distorsionado y El sonido de la banda Johnie All Stars es prueba de esto.  A pesar de que la banda se denomina a si misma como Neo Punk, se puede escuchar una gran similitud a el Hard Core Norteamericano (como un Dead Kennedys menos cerebral o un Poison Idea menos abrasivo) de fines de los 80s y comienzos de los noventas.  Las voces en unisono son reminiscentes del Oi britanico (aunque se lista a un solo vocalista en su perfil de Myspace).

Como buena banda que se enorgullezca de llevar la antorcha por el punk, Johnie All Stars carga sus letras de conciencia social, sin llegar al sermoneo, y una dosis de humor vivencial que complementa bien su punto de vista juvenil y sus riffs de guitarra, hechos especificamente para el pogo.  Lejos de innovacion o de una propuesta de corte vanguardista, esta banda continua la tradicion de los que viven conforme a dos reglas clave: más rápido, más duro.

La banda, que ha estado activa desde 1997, esta en visperas del lanzmiento de su nuevo trabajo, titulado Cuentos Para No Dormir.

Alineacion:

Regino -Voz, Gritos

Juan Pablo – Guitarra

Camilo – Bajo

Paulo – Guitarra

David – Bateria

Info y contactos:

www.jallstars.com

http://soundcloud.com/johnieallstars

http://www.facebook.com/jallstars

http://twitter.com/johnieallstars

http://www.youtube.com/user/JohnieTV

http://www.myspace.com/johnieallstars

Su nuevo trabajo musical esta ya disponible para descarga gratis en el sitio oficial de la banda:

8th issue – Confessions of a Noise Fiend – By David Vanegas.

The plan was to cover the Mission Of Burma show in Brooklyn last month but I didn’t get the tickets in time like a chump.  Then I figured I would investigate the local band that opened for them, a band called The Grandfather, a band that even Steve Albini has championed, only to find that the singer suffers a bad case of ‘yarling‘ .   Which meant I should do what every self-respecting music fan should be doing this month (according to me, of course): no, not discuss the Grammy’s, you dummies, but listening to Radiohead’s ‘The King Of Limbs’:

First track is “Bloom”, and my head’s already spinning.   To my ears, it’s Fela Kuti-meets-Aphex Twin.  Or if I really want to get folkloric about it, me being Colombian and all, I hear this: Toto La Momposina-meets-Chemichal Brothers.  Syncopated rhythms of African yore slice and dice jerky dance steps underneath sliced-and-diced piano samples, horn textures, and Thom Yorke’s otherworldly voice tones.  “Morning Mr. Magpie” follows, keeping the rhythms of the first song, but without the chaos, underplayed.  This time is the bass trying to take over the world.  I know I should, but I don’t.  But then, how couldn’t I?  Here they are, this crazy brit guys, coaxing me to dance while trying to figure them out.  Can’t help but to want to shake my bones.  It’s the same effect they created with In Rainbows’ “15 Step”.  They go for the hip, but still mess with the head.  Ever tried dancing to the “Mission: Impossible” theme song?  There you go.

Then we get “Little By Little”, and that’s when it clicks!  This guys were jamming it out!  Or were they?  Unlike previous efforts, you can’t really pin-point where Johnny and Ed and Phil are exactly, or even guess it.   And the next one doesn’t really help matters.  “Feral” has these deep, synth-like bass notes reminiscent of “The Gloaming” from Hail To The Thief, with a beat just as uncomfortable.   And then we get the closest thing to a straight tune, “Lotus Flower”.  Falsetto voice from Thom over infectious groove that could have come straight from their previous album.

Feels like a nice collection of dance tracks so far, and I’m not complaining.  Yet slowly and steadily I get this sensation that unless I’m at a nice, dance party, I would rather listen to something else, and I guess Radiohead felt it too, because that’s when “Codex” arrives.  Downer piano, sustained voice and a simple pulse for a beat.  “No one gets hurt”, intones Yorke.  But it’s impossible not to feel longing.  It’s something this band is great at evoking.  A few strings carry the end of the song towards its final piano note, which fizzles into sampled bird chirps, and all of a sudden we find ourselves into the cool breeze of “Give Up The Ghost”, a song that picks up the mood considerably without losing the album’s momentum.

“Separator” is the closer, and it ends the proceedings reassuring us that “if you think this is over, then you’re wrong”, which confirms my suspicion that Radiohead might just have a little something in the works coming up sooner than later.  At little less than 38 minutes, it’s a breeze of a collection of great tracks, with the right changes of heart at the right spots to keep it from falling in a rut.  And as brief as the album is, so is this review.

Confessions of a Noise Fiend – 7th issue.

I’ve Been Booglarized, Baby

(R.I.P. Don Van Vliet)

Last night (that’s 12/17) I went to bed a bit tired and put my i-pod on shuffle.  First thing that came on was ‘I’m Gonna Booglarize You Baby” by Captain Beefheart.  This morning I checked a few blogs I frequent and was shocked and a bit saddened to find out that the great Don Van Vliet had died.  Then came across a short film by Anton Corbijn about The Captain on Youtube in which the man himself speaks in his endearingly singular manner.  Nearing 70 years old, he was still in possession of his wits and as charming as ever.  Despite having retired from the music world long ago, he was still a prolific artist, turning full time to his first love, painting.  Not that he ever put his brushes away while he was creating music,

as seen in the amazing works that became the covers of many of his albums with the Magic Band.

For history, photos of his artwork and biographical facts, I would point you to the best site dedicated to his work,www.beefheart.com .  My personal appreciation of The Captain came shortly after I had moved to NY and begun my trips to record stores in the Lower East Side, on CD and record hunting afternoons in which, every once in a while, I would come across this weird CD cover of what look like a man with a fish head and some kind of witch’s hat on, titled Trout Mask Replica.  With 28 songs, Frank Zappa as producer and a title like that, I had to take a chance.  Like most works of music that had left me with a lasting impression, my first taste of Trout Mask Replica left me with a genuine feeling of what-the-fuck?, but in a good way.  A very funny, good way.  I am absolutely sure that if somehow this music had made its way to my ears back when I was little 4 year old child, I would have though it was the greatest thing in the world after my mom and maybe Corn Flakes.  From note one, the Captain’s statement of purpose, opening song ‘Frownland’ gives us the works: disjointed rhythms, sharp and spidery guitar lines pulling in their own direction, jerky bass, and Don Van Vliet’s hoarse, forceful throat seemed to grab me by the soul and given me a low yo-yo shake I haven’t quite recovered from, and don’t really wanna.  Just getting through that one album took me months, as I pored over lyrics full of abstractions and light humor and dirty humor and absurdity and compassion for nature and nonsense.  I couldn’t take all of it in just one sitting for the longest time.  A mix of field recordings and proper studio work, this album offered a very eclectic sound collage.  My favorite song is ‘The Blimp (moustrapreplica)’, an experiment in which the Captain literally ‘phoned it in’, by having Frank Zappa record his own band playing the instrumental track while Beefheart’s guitarist did the vocal via telephone, and later mixed together.

And as I delved further into albums like Clear Spot, The Spotlight Kid and Shiny Beast, I kept thinking that this here was a national treasure.  I remember listening to ‘Nowadays A Woman’s Gotta Hit A Man’ and feeling madly happy that there could be such and enlightened fellow member of my gender, and he managed to tie this message of female emancipation to a hotshot blues/funk track.  ‘Bat Chain Puller’ owes its weird, jerky beat to an automobile’s windshield wipers in action, or so goes Beefheart’s explanation of the inspiration for the song.  It helped that he surrounded himself with great talent, as his band was formed by some amazing players: whoever Rockette Morton, Zoot Horn Rollo, The Mascara Snake, Antennae Jimmy Semens and Drumbo were, they were fine gentlemen and their contributions were key despite having to suffer an imposing and often abusive ringmaster, not to mention the fact that it would be Beefheart who would go on to claim full credit for their efforts.

While I have picked up some of his other albums through the years and have yet to entirely complete my Beefheart collection, Trout Mask Replica remains the one that I go back to the most.  The world that the Captain showed me through this music is a world of freedom and playfulness.  It also got me ready to appreciate Tom Waits, which I don’t think would have worked the other way around.

As of late I have gotten the bug to give painting a try and have found it a liberating and very fun act of creation.  Don Van Vliet, a.k.a. Captain Beefheart, came by for a bit of ‘booglarizing’ last night through my stereo speakers, and now I feel a duty to make the best out of this life through a commitment to art and music that may hopefully help in some measure, however small, to perpetuate that great artist’s message of love, empathy and wonder.

Red Door Magazine – Confessions of a noise fiend – 6th issue

So ya thought cha might like to go to the show?

Pink Floyd’s The Wall is a hard album to dig into.  Themes of war, drugs, ennui, childhood traumas, arena rock as fascist indoctrination, marital strife and above all, madness, are all present, interwoven and, at some glaring points, quite graphic. Water’s delivery on certain lines still able to send chills up my spine.  To many fans, the dense atmosphere and over-the-top drama is too much to take.  It can come off as a bit overbearing and depressing.  But viewed as a piece of visual, musical and theatrical work, it is majestic.  The central character, one Pink, first taunts us to come take a close look at what he’s become in the bombastic opener “In The Flesh?”, and then, with as much coherence as the song sequence of a double album record permitted at the time, tells us his story from the start.  “Momma loves her baby, and daddy loves you too/and the sea may look warm to you baby/and the sky may look blue/but ooh, babe…”  That ‘But’ never resolved, only left there to let us anticipate where the wall’s first bricks began to be erected, from the loss of ‘daddy’ to a war ‘across the ocean’, through the school years tormented by strict teachers and mother’s over-protective ways, then on to adulthood and the decadence of the rock n’ roll life style, the thorny intimate life between Pink and his mate documented in damning detail, and the final descent into insanity.  A glimmer of hope is suggested during those last few notes at the end of “Outside The Wall”, only to come back full circle to the beginning of the story in what Nietzsche used to call ‘the eternal recurrence’, as Waters asks from below the mix: “Isn’t this where we…”  And as you play the whole thing again: “…came in?”

We’ve come a long way since the time Johnny Rotten made a statement against stadium rock by wearing a torn shirt with “I HATE” written over the Pink Floyd logo back when Punk rock was needed to refresh the state of Rock N’ Roll.  Today it is no longer taboo to be into Sex Pistols as much as you can be into Pink Floyd or The Mamas & The Papas, but even back in those days of reassessment of what made a vital rock band matter, The Wall far outdid the competition.  Very few Punk bands could claim to cram as much angst and desolation and raw emotion in their entire careers as the Floyd did in just that one album.  Not to mention the sneering dissection of social classes that Roger Waters used as the main motif for the lyrics of their previous album “Animals”.  But arena rock DOES feel detached, impersonal and even fascist.  It is no small irony that one of the greatest and most successful albums/stage productions in the history of popular music to have been tailored to be performed in stadiums and huge dome-like venues was actually inspired by the author’s feelings of disgust towards that sort of thing to begin with.

But those feelings of disgust have been replaced by empathy and compassion, the light at the other side of the wall, and Waters, now 67 years old, far from the cynic of old, has tapped into an entirely more positive source of inspiration in order to bring back his tale of human frailty in the face of modern chaos.  This year The Wall is being erected and tore down again as Waters tours the U.S. until December, when three dates in Mexico will wrap up the American leg.  Red Door NY caught the Boston date back in July, and the man did not disappoint.  Waters’ political side still much in evidence: photos of actual casualties of the current war were projected on the main screen while “The Best Days Of Our Lives” played, and when Waters hit that line in “Mother” about whether he should trust the government, the words ‘No fucking way’ were projected on the wall.  The specter of Syd Barret was also present, of course, as it always has on each and every album since his demise, barring perhaps “Animals”.  It was Syd’s psychological disintegration and the effects it had on the band that inspired many of Pink Floyd’s best work and “The Wall” is no exception, as exemplified in the breathtaking “Comfortably Numb”, a song performed faithful to the sound and feel of David Guilmour’s emotive guitar work. This song, along with “Nobody Home”, carries images of Syd Barret’s mental breakdown in order to dramatize Pink’s drug induced stupor.

Once the wall is complete, the atmosphere turns black and red, the colors of the “Hammer” insignia, which Waters created to mock that old favorite of many a fascist, the Nazi swastika.  The stage becomes a rally.  “Waiting For The Worms” hits with Waters ranting through a megaphone, channeling the Führer, the tea party, the Glen Becks of the world, those who would like to see imperialism back and send our “colored” cousins back home.  The hammers march.  The band grinds the same ominous riff over and over with inhuman intent.  And then it all stops dead.  It’s time to go home and leave the show, but not before “The Trial”.  Each character in this very theatrical moment reflects one side of Pink’s psyche, an internalization of the forces that shaped his persona.  Out comes the schoolmaster, wanting to take a few more lashes at him; the mother, pleading to take her baby back home; the wife, admonishing his neglecting ways.  The humor in this part is a welcome breath of fresh air, especially that great “crazy” little chorus.  In the end, his honor the “Worm” reads the verdict: Guilty of feelings “of and almost human nature” and he is sentenced to tear down the wall.

A production of this magnitude shouldn’t feel so personal.  Big arenas where the audience stands at a large distance from the performer are not meant to create an intimate atmosphere.  But somehow, through the theatrics, the light show, the screens and projections and the wall itself, Waters made that distance a lot shorter.

And I wonder why people go see shit like Green Day’s “American Idiot”.

CONFESSIONS OF A NOISE FIEND, 5:

Oh sweet, sweet noise…

Sonic Youth played Prospect Park in Brooklyn on July 31st and man, I still believe. Caught me off guard, too, since I was expecting them to play stuff from their latest, ‘The Eternal’. What the heavily packed crowd got was a set list packed with songs from Daydream Nation, Sister, Evol and even two songs from Confusion Is Sex. I thought I’d never get to see them play ‘(I Got A) Catholic Block’ or ‘Shadow Of A Doubt’. The beautiful noise meltdown that followed ‘The Wonder’ brought a tear to my eye, I must confess. Kim Gordon sounded commanding, downright menacing on ‘Cross The Breeze’ and specially on ‘Shaking Hell’ (“…I’ll shake off your flesh!”) Thurston Moore and Lee Renaldo lay fuzzy carpets of sonic goo, so vast is the vocabulary of guitar sounds that they have created, a vocabulary still not entirely learned by the many bands SY have influenced over their long career. It was a joy to watch Steve Shelly keeping the whole thing on a tight anchor and adding his own splashes of color during the noisier bits, and during the fallout at the end of the closing song, ‘Expressway To Yr Skull’, he threw the kitchen sink at the drums, honest. At least that’s what it sounded like. Not bad for a show under 5 bucks! (Donation only)

A Place To Bury Strangers have gone through a change in the bass player department. Jono Mofo has bowed out and Dion Lunadon has stepped in, but the noise remains the same. Right up there with the Sonic Youth show, APTBS melted about 200 faces at their headquarters, Death By Audio. Opening bands No Joy (Canada) and the excellent Weekend (San Francisco) did pretty good, especially the latter, who reminded me a bit of another San Fran combo, the twisted Steel Pole Bathtub, but without the goofiness. APTBS then proceeded to lay waste to the human sacrifice before them. The power went out early during their set, yet nobody moved from their spot in the audience, and once things got back in order, the band attacked the songs with a vengeance. Very, very loud. I slam danced and crowd surfed for the first time in a looooong time. Even took home the left over whammy bar from Oliver’s guitar, which he offered to the crowd for further noise making, along with the bass player, after minutes of instrument abuse that felt like hours from all the smoke, strobe lights and beautiful, beautiful noise…

CONFESSIONS OF A NOISE FIEND: 4th issue:

POP, and other dirty 3-letter words…

Like any other genre of music, Pop comes in many flavors. For all the garbage that one must sift through to find the real gems, it is a style so inescapable, eclectic and ultimately egalitarian, that within its confines you can find common ground between acts as seemingly unrelated a Radiohead and Phil Collins. Consider the following:
After reading an article from the excellent British online music rag ‘The Quietus’, about the former glories and later embarrassments of the man who once drummed for Genesis and now cranks out Disney-ready prefabricated spam, it dawned on me that ‘In The Air Tonight’ (1981), a song you can blame (or give credit to, depending on your taste) for the standard-issue, gated-drum sound so popular throughout the 80s, is a song that could possibly be a harbinger to Radiohead’s ‘Talk Show Host’, a song released in 1995. Go to Youtube, play them back to back and you’ll see what I mean. Collins’ song is a bitter, somewhat vindictive letter to a cheating partner, notorious for its inventive use of programed beats, vocal effects and drum arrangements. Which goes to show you that really everything has been done before, it’s all a matter of presentation, intent, perhaps attitude? Context? What if ‘In The Air Tonight’ had been released in 1995, decked out in the latest studio production duds? What if ‘Talk Show Host’ had been released in 1981, with Collins telling us about waiting with a gun and a pack of sandwiches? I’m only asking because, in and of itself, ‘In The Air Tonight’ is a great tune that could have fitted just fine within the context of late 90s ‘alternative’ music. I’m not making any excuses for any of his other shit, though.

Oh, yeah, and that abused little term, ‘alternative’. They really got the gullible ones with that. They still do. It was a nice umbrella of a label, under which you could easily cluster whatever wasn’t Top 40 material, until, of course, ‘Alterative’ became Top 40 material. I never saw anything too ‘alternative’ about Pearl Jam, your basic 70s hard rock crew. ‘Alternative’, by any other name, was simply Hard Rock, Pop, Punk, Electronica, Glam, straigh up Metal, and any combination thereof, only dressed in the latest fashion. It did, however, encourage the most adventurous of bands to explore new possibilities, new permutations of styles and sounds, and not seem weird to a mainstream audience (because, you know, it was suddenly the cool thing to do). It was during the years of mainstream assimilation of the ‘Alternative’ scam that you began to see some major bandwagon jumping from every angle. To wit: Metallica’s make-over from 1996-1997, when they cut their manes, dressed borderline glam, and chucked the grandiosity and ‘Thrash’ rigidity of their sound, opting for a more blues-based approach. The guitar solos weren’t as showy and frantic anymore, they became more musical. In short, they became as close to Pop music as a band like Metallica could possibly get, which is something they had been working on since the Black album of 1991, e.i., the year ‘Nevermind’ was released!

Now Nirvana wasn’t exactly alternative in sound, either. But I do believe they had an alternative philosophy, attitude and intent. Three scrawny guys in run down clothing, making one hell of a noise, chock full of passion. And that voice. They even represented an alternative lifestyle for a best-selling rock band, at least for a while there before Kurt’s heroin addiction got the best of him and his band. Kurt’s and the band’s political views didn’t conform to mainstream acceptance, and they took advantage of any available opportunity to express them (Kurt’s liner notes to ‘Incesticide’ contain a potent message in favor of feminism and against homophobia). When it comes to their music, however, Nirvana were the logical culmination of 80s indie rock, mixed with the band’s childhood favorites. The truly ‘Alternative’ side of their music, their most noisy and experimental quality, remains outshined by their best known material, that is, their Pop stuff. And Nirvana was, truth be told, a fine Pop group after all.

The ‘Alternative’ label is not taken too seriously anymore, and deservedly so, but I must admit that it was a concept that led me to re-evaluate what is it that is generally consider a good song, or more importantly, an original song. Growing up in the 80s and having heard Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode, I never saw what the big deal was about this new ‘Electronica’ craze that was taking over from the late 90s and on, just as ‘Alternative’ had become out of fashion. There’s always been ‘Electronica’, and for that matter, there’s always been ‘Alternative’. It’s only when a band or an artist, of whatever genre, starts flirting with Pop music that anybody pays any attention. Well, duh! Pop is short for ‘popular’, right? Maybe is just that ‘Alternative’ was a sneaky way to get people used to a bit more noise in their pop diet. A bit more intensity, a bit less predictability. My favorite Pop music is usually from bands better known as first wave ‘Alternative’, but this re-evaluation I had mentioned had me appreciating ‘Alternative’ sounding songs by otherwise Pop acts. Take Billy Idol’s ‘Sweet 16’ (1986), with a country flavor unbecoming of this supposedly ‘Punk’ survivor. A song that gallops along in a way reminiscent of Alexander ‘Skip’ Spence’s song ‘Criple Creek’ (1969) from his solo album ‘Oar’, an album covered in its entirety in 1999 by ‘Alternative’ acts! (not to mention Robert Plant and Tom Waits). Or take Crowded House’s ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’, from 1986, a song that wouldn’t be out of place if it had been included in The Shins album ‘Oh, Inverted World’ (2001). Cheap Trick’s ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ would have been a devastating answer to Kurt’s death had it been released in late 1994 instead of 1978. Hell, Pet Shop Boys’ ‘Paninaro’ (again, 1986) would have been all the rage in the early 2000s with The Prodigy crowd, its lyrics taken perhaps as a commentary against designer clothes and materialism, instead of a celebration of them, which was the case.

I’m finding plenty of Pop within the thick layer of distortion that A Place To Bury Strangers likes to coat most of their songs in. Their latest CD, ‘Exploding Head’, follows their debut album in showing their love of noisy 80s post-punk, in particular their debt to The Jesus & Mary Chain, whom at their peak didn’t use more than 3 chords and emulated (or mocked?) the harmonies of The Beach Boys. I’m finding a lot of Pop all around, and for all the love I have for wacky noise and unorthodox song structures, deep down inside I’ve always had a sweet tooth for catchy tunes. Don’t worry folks, I won’t be reviewing any more Phil Collins any time soon…

David Vanegas


CONFESSIONS OF A NOISE FIEND – 3

Carla Bozulich’s Evangelista
The Stone is located at 2nd Street and Avenue C. The space is small, intimate. Jazz music and chamber ensembles are normally found performing there. So it was with much delight that I saw a listing for Carla Bozulich’s Evangelista to play The Stone on February 20th. It had been through the excellent free-form radio station WFMU that I first heard Carla’s music. Listening to her first CD under the Evangelista name, I immediately fell in love with her musical concept. Next step was “Hello, Voyager”, which would be a great starting point to new listeners. Prince Of Truth, released in 2009, its her latest, and just as intense and amazing.

Evangelista’s set at The Stone was preceded by a free-form experimental improvisation set by Carla and a cellist whom, I presume, must be a local musician. The set proper really got to me. I can only describe it as a chamber music-meets sonic youth with soul-nudity cabaret, but that’s only because I’m not too eloquent. I like it when a band leaves me at a loss for words. Carla strums reverberating chords that taste like P.J. Harvey’s legs of desire but more often than not scream wild feedback. Twisted loops jump at you from somewhere. Bassist Tara Barnes sustains ominous notes with show-gazing fervor. Extra guitar flesh from Jherek Bischoff fills one corner. Haunting cello scrapes and slashes fill the other. The drums sometimes follow the anarchy and theatrics, and sometimes they lead it, coloring along one minute and exploding bashfully the next. Carla’s voice is imposing, seasoned, always able to conjure up an image, a sensation, its delivery sometimes confrontational. “Speak the word!”, she hollered, “The word is love!!!”.

In the 90s, Carla fronted the Alt-Country band The Geraldine Fibbers. Other groups she has been part of include Ethyl Meatplow and Scarnella. She is also credited with having made some key introductions which led to the formation of Jane’s Addiction. Given her long history of underground activity, Carla has been able to rely on a varied pool of local musicians from the cities in which she tours, as well as a strong cult following. Evangelista is signed to Constellation Records, a canadian label home to other truly alternative acts like Godspeed You! Black Empereor and Silver Mt Zion.

I approached Carla much like a meek little schoolboy. She was gracious and looked a bit weary and tired, yet was kind enough to sign my copy of Hello, Voyager and talk a bit about a gig I saw of the band Low(‘Weren’t they amazing?’ she asked). Next day the band was off to L.A., their home base. Here’s hoping they return soon.

Evangelista Discography:

*Carla Bozulich/Evangelista (2005)
*Hello, Voyager (2008)
*Prince Of Truth (2009)

Website:

http://www.carlabozulich.com/


CONFESSIONS OF A NOISE FIEND -2

BY: David Vanegas.

MY BLOODY VALENTINE!!! – Now that I got your attention, I must advise that the latest news about the re-mastered re-issues of this band’s two main Long Players (call me granpa if you will, but the term is still applicable to full recordings over 40 minutes long), reveal that they remain on hold. If ever a record (LP, CD, whathaveya) has needed a facelift, it would be MBV’s ‘Isn’t Anything’. And with the way these cult classics are being re-packaged these days, it would be neat-o to hear some long unreleased material which might be included, or cool live stuff from the time of original release. ‘Loveless’ has sounded just fine to me on all formats I’ve ever owned (yea, I’m a geek. Sue me!), but many fellow fans of the band would go bananas over an even more heady, psychedelic re-master of this amazing sounding work of music. At least they should put out some live stuff from their shows since they got back together. It’d be great to have their set at All Tomorrow’s Party’s in Catskills, NY for posterity so I can brag about how ‘I was there, man’ to other geek’s amusement and everybody else’s indifference.

And on the subject of reissues, Nirvana’s debut ‘Bleach’ came out last November with more defined bass, cleaner highs, and just a tiny bit more separation between instruments, plus a whole live set from 1990 at a venue in Portland, which sounds like they’re rushing through the material and Kurt’s voice isn’t as focused and raw-honeyed as it would later become. But really, it isn’t much different. Cool pictures from early gigs, photo sessions and general tomfoolery. I only got it cuz, again, I’m a geek, and I needed to do something with a Barnes & Noble gift certificate. Can’t see any more ways in which the caretakers of Nirvana’s legacy could possibly bleed any more nostalgia-bucks out of us, but hey! The 1993 Live & Loud set has never seen an official release of the whole concert, right? And the 1991 Seattle homecoming show from Halloween night could get the treatment that the 1992 Reading Festival show got, right? And if you have a conflict of interest over where the money from these posthumous releases is going, you can always find ways to download them for free shortly after official release, right?

Then there are also ‘Best of’ compilations. Pavement did one. Why? I don’t know. There is already a ‘Best of’ by Pavement and it’s called Wowee Zowee. Really, you don’t need to hear anything other than this by a band so afraid to rock is funny. If you need to have a band’s best output packaged conveniently in a single release, you could do worse than to go with The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion recent compilation, which you can sample through many avenues via the interwebs. Haven’t heard it myself, but then this is a band that seldom disappoints, is always fun, and rocks like no Pavement ever could.

Carla Buzoulich will be coming to NY to play a show at the tiny jazz venue The Stone, which thrills the shit out of me, because this ain’t jazz. First thing I heard from her was her cover of Low’s ace song ‘Pissing’, then I got her CD ‘Evangelista’, which is how her band is called now. Haunting voice, raw and engaging musicianship, and a dark mood. Will have a report on the show if I don’t get too fucked up.


CONFESSIONS OF A NOISE FIEND -1

A Place to Bury Strangers:

BY: David Vanegas.

All the cats who knew I liked them were there, calling me in hopes of finding me somewhere in the crowd. Siren Music fest. A Place To Bury Strangers. Oddly, I wasn’t there. I should have. Free show and the weather was beautiful. But the body needed rest. My body needs a lot of rest after a long week of gigging and boozing and it wasn’t up to the task of withstanding the sonic assault of APTBS, while elbowing about in the middle of a crowd of tattooed and thrift-store wearing unhipsters. Well, I hope this trio of noise fiends made the crowd spill their tea. Certainly, there must have been a few who hit their particular brand of ‘tea’ heavily while they caught this band.

I am also waiting on their next release which will be coming out later this year. I have seen them play the same set several times, the first being their opening gig for The Jesus & Mary Chain, back in 2007 or so. Ordering a drink at the bar, the band’s opening song caught me off guard and I said to my friend that we should approach the stage and check these guys out. By the end of their set, the rapid strobe light and sheer volume had me traveling deep inside some remote neuron inside my head. Frankly, they blew the Mary Chain off stage. The Reid brothers played some juicy numbers from their legendary catalog, but I had been already hit and left for dead by the Strangers.

Since then, the band has been gaining growing recognition and status, sharing the stage with Nine Inch Nails and My Bloody Valentine. Yet, APTBS is not really reinventing the wheel. Their Eps and debut album owe a big debt to ‘Psycho Candy’ and ‘Isn’t Anything’. Their live shows are where they really burn brightest, but even then the points of reference are glaring. At least one can be grateful that they’re not playing disco music with Pixies’ structures and calling it ‘indie’. I’ve spoken to singer/guirarrist/ear-fucker Oliver Ackman and found him a very likable and approachable fellow. The guy has a business on the side making distortion effects and other crazy stompboxes. These are the secret weapons for killing strangers before they bury them. Jspace (drums) and Jono Mofo (bass) keep the pulse going while Oliver bathes the universe in melted Jaguar skronk. I didn’t believe they were from Brooklyn.

Myspace is where you can find out what they’re up to. Songs in there, too, but really the best way to experience this band is offering your ears for sacrifice next time they play live. Mute records(Depeche Mode, Grinderman) signed them this year, a great feat for a band this non-commercial at a time of bad business for the industry.