Beneath Iowa City is a black blind and beautiful warren riven with secret passages. We are musical rabbits, noisemaking ferrets, multiplying in the spring chill.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Newly Night People, Part 4 - Blessure Grave - "Unknown Blessure"

Holy shit, Joy Division are back, yet more low-pitched male singing, some ringing guitars. Singing about jail, that sounds pretty heavy. But my initial stab at disdain is ebbing away, there’s something really otherwordly about these guys. It’s not hard to imagine this as the demo reel for a group contemporary with Joy Division who didn’t make it because they were too uncompromisingly bleak.

I know that a great deal of the Night People essence is in a certain rawness held in common by many of the label’s artists. And there’s something about Blessure Grave that is appropriate, they’re still loose and they cover for it with their intensity. But perhaps a hidden pleasure of the record is in wondering what it would sound like if they pushed past the demo-on-a-tape phase and polished and honed. Would it be better than this loose but compelling set of songs about being trapped and buried alive?

Then again, who needs this kind of nihilism to be more effectively executed? Some people have real problems.

Bottom line: Intensely depressing or depressingly intense, I can’t quite tell.

We find ourselves constantly being brought back to that text by the paradoxes of the double and of repetition, the blurring of the boundary lines between ‘imagination’ and ‘reality’, between the ‘symbol’ and the ‘thing it symbolizes’.

-Jacques Derrida, ‘The Double Session’

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Newly Night People, Part 3 - Jeans Wilder - "Antiques"

I should say right up front that I don’t get the trend where ostensibly serious bands name themselves using intentionally unfunny pop culture puns. I know this Pocohaunted thing is really beloved, but.


This is pretty varied, including lo-fi rhythm/sequencing and blown-out vocals, wavery electronica, some gentle guitar strumming and backgrounded vocals. The first track is a genuinely beautiful piece for three handed piano and frying eggs. But overall it’s surprisingly singer-songwritery for a NP release - dude does that thing where he can’t really sing but he knows he left the note around here somewhere.

Things get much more interesting for the second song on side B, when there’s a stretch away from what was still somewhat normal singing and guitar playing, to a strange pitch-shifted garbling and squealing that only vaguely suggests form. Ditto for the fourth song, where the guitar gets ditched for some dirgey organ sounds that just fit the vocals better. It’s like an even darker, more depressing version of Joy Division.

Bottom Line: Bedhead for neoprimitivists.

In premodern societies the dimension of the uncanny was largely covered (and veiled) by the area of the sacred and untouchable. It was assigned to a religiously and socially sanctioned place . . . With the triumph of the Enlightenment, this privileged and excluded place (the exclusion that founded society) was no more. That is to say that the uncanny became unplaceable; it became uncanny in the strictest sense.
– Mladen Dolar, ‘I Shall be With You On Your Wedding Night’

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Newly Night People, Part 2 - Nautilus - "Big Shadow"

This tape is actually the reason I decided to write about all of them. Almost unbelievably rich, a thickly layered – yes, I’ll say it – tapestry of stringed instruments, tenor synths, and wordless, skillful vocals. This is not damaged, fractured in the way mostly given to Night People releases to be. It’s not much for structure, but it’s not afraid to sound ‘right’ and even pretty. I’ll admit I’m thinking of elves the whole time – there are harps in here, dulcimers – but I don’t mind one bit.

Side A is all one long song. Song? Side B opens with, well, let’s catalogue – a pulsing strumming bit, a high theme on three notes, a low drone, and a tenor drone, with the texture of a snake-charmer’s flute. Then soon we’re through to a duet of wordless female vocals, semi-moaning, semi-droning, semitoning. And enter another stringed instrument, utterly simple but otherworldly. It all shifts and twists so quickly, in so many different directions – and yet all these shifts are integral, the experience is singular, a continuous journey.

These guys and gals are all clearly musicians, in a sense that doesn’t apply to all the acts with releases on NP. There’s an air of improvisation, but the playing is delicate and there are no ‘wrong’ notes, nothing to take you out of the fantasy being created.

The coming of the sandman is first of all something to be experienced in the ear. Its force consists above all, perhaps, in the unsettling strangeness of what is ‘to come’: ‘The sandman is coming’ can be heard as at once a statement of what is already happening and as promise and/or threat: it is undecidably constative and performative. The sandman is to come, through the ear, still.

-Royle, The Uncanny

Friday, February 27, 2009

Newly Night People

I was recently lucky enough to come into several of the latest tape releases from Shawn Reed’s Night People label. Since I am, on one of my last nights in Iowa City for a while, laid up with some godawful bug, I’m hunkering down in my basement with my headphones and some cran-apple juice to plow through the whole batch. I’m also reading, bit by bit, Nicholas Royle’s so-far really good book The Uncanny, which is about Freud but, more generally, about the idea that we are not who we think ourselves to be. The Night People make an excellent accompaniment.

I'll post the results over the next week and a half. The tapes I’ll be covering will be new ones from:

Jeans Wilder
Trash Dog
The Savage Young Taterbug
Drip House
Blessure Grave

First up:

The Savage Young Taterbug – “Boys of the Feather”

I’ll just start right out and say that until relatively recently I didn’t exactly grasp what Tater was all about. His live shows have occasionally seemed too samey, utterly blown, pure static tape loops with basically inaudible vocals. Right off the bat, though, this tape is showing something different, carefully constructed, ringing bells, keeping it really interesting. A genuine delicateness, one is reminded of the opening of flowers in nature videos. There are still loops, in a few cases pushing the patience, but with just the slightest sheen of variation and just maybe the promise of more, leading us to a trance-like slowness. What’s at least as important is the audible texture of the medium, the tape looping warm against your eardrums, smoothing over any sharp points, massaging. Namaste indeed.

And then we get a little taste, a light kiss, of what I’m pretty sure is Tater’s greatest gift – revitalizing clichéd-seeming song lyrics, making us believe in them, by simultaneously really meaning every word and delivering in a way that’s just slightly twisted. “Free your head/Momma free your head/Take your head/To the feel good place,” and even if you’d sooner kick a hippy than let him bathe in your piss, you somehow want to go to there, because this kid lives to destroy clichés and help us remember what real feeling is. The next batch of NP tapes is going to include Tater’s Dunebuggy project with Ryan Garbes of Racoo-oo-oon, and I guarantee you the shit will make you want to learn to surf.

Bottom Line: Not weird because he’s trying, just weird because we can’t quite understand the kind of beautiful person he is.

What ‘The Sandman’ shows, above all perhaps, is that the uncanny is a reading-effect. It is not simply in the Hoffmann text, as a theme (‘spot the uncanny object in this text’) that can be noted and analysed accordingly. The uncanny is a ghostly feeling that arises (or doesn’t arise), an experience that comes about (or doesn’t) as an effect of reading.”

-Royle, The Uncanny

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Review: Peaking Lights: Clearvoyant

The moments on this tape I like best are the ones that hint (to my ears) at a kind of crazy crypto-hip hop, where the sounds loop and sway in that way that makes you stick out your neck, reaching to hear more. There are no beats per se, but there's a major electronic element, with everything looping like mad, hypnotic and eternally returning, just like hip hop samples. The toy-box xylophone loops in the third track on side A exemplify this, and the washed-out gutbucket guitar nearly makes it a banger. Of course, everything here is so thin, grainy, and generally lo-fi that it might just be a Metallica song redubbed fifty times - who cares? It's still great.

While the first track on Side A has a certain melodic poppiness, the bulk of Clearvoyant is packed with the brand of minor-key ghostly freakiness that would make Wu-Tang proud. The second track on Side A even provides a kind of creepy homage to the Oriental surf guitar sound that RZA toyed with on Kill Bill - of course, here it sounds like the guitar is slowly melting while feeding back on itself, there are strangely ghostly boy-girl moans, and it's all buried under a scrum of static and tape, making the crypt just shy of palpable. Things get even more awesomely Oriental on side B, in which a single, simple loop spans nearly five minutes, adorned with slow, but still eerily repetitive, guitar strokes. It's like a ragga, and by the end my head was thoroughly blown.

If you don't yet "get" tape culture or lo-fi recordings, check this out. Get high if you need to. It'll take you places.

The only thing I'm bummed about is that there are five or ten minutes of dead air on side B, and I could have certainly used more.

Available from Night People:

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Review:Truth Syrum/Keller Gould Split CS (Detrivore)

Aaand we're back. I now have a stack of tapes to work through in the next few weeks, so stay tuned.

For tonight, more in the cassingle series from Brendan O'Keefe's increasingly crucial Detrivore. Keller Gould is the not-so-expertly disguised nom-de-folk of a local weirdo guitarist, and it's clear why he's covering his tracks. This side of the cassette represents a foray into new territory, that weird reversal by which playing normal music becomes an experiment. This ain't bad by half, with really nice acoustic guitar work and understated, half-whispered vocals. In fact, nice pretty much sums up this whole business - it's a song about love that sounds like things are okay, and there's even some whistling.

The other half of this tape is Truth Syrum's "Family Matters," and the story couldn't be more different - instead of 'nice,' this is searing, soul-baring, beautifully ugly. There is still a guitar, and there is still a man, and this still might fall somewhere on the 'folk' spectrum. But the sea shanty-hillbilly-Tuvan vocals and their semitone harmonies won't sound quite right to anyone West of Siam, and the blown-out pulsing microcassette guitar sounds just as weirdly exotic - this is the part of the folk spectrum out past 'freak.' But it's more than just weirdness for weirdness' sake; The haunting lyrics and a final cataclysmic crescendo anchor it with undeniable songwriting, making this by far the most essential thing Detrivore has released so far. An absolute must.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Sunburned Hand of the Man, 11/11/08

Seriously, just fucking embarrassing. I assume they were all on the nod. Absolutely none of the drive and pulse that makes their records great. I felt pretty ripped off.