Amoeblog

Budget transmissions from the heart of the New Hairy! Skygreen Leopards' Jehovah Surrender

Posted by Mark Beaver, September 26, 2009 06:45pm | Post a Comment
skygreen leopards jehovah i surrender
I know that many out there have found that any "milk of human kindness" that they may have had on reserve for all things "freak folk" has long soured. Granted, Devendra Banhart, the Jewelled Antler Collective and those that traipse along under similar standards are an inconsistent lot, and that may be part of the whole modus operandi. I mean, doesn't exactitude of key and clear direction and purpose of lyric and melody just end up being a stone drag...man?

I hear all of that criticism, and I get it. I picked up the recently issued 4CD Jewelled Antler Library box, and amongst all that dusty immediacy, birdsong and flecks of deep inspiration, there was some serious dreadfulness.

All that said, Skygreen Leopards, featuring JAC founders Glenn Donaldson (also of Blithe Sons and Thuja) and Donovan Quinn, have held to their own modus of trippy, immediate, flawed songs partially recorded in the open air and likely in one take. Just six songs here, none of them clocking in over four minutes, but all of it strangely, dreamily compelling. The vocals are troubled, the grooves are lazy and lethargic, but I will take it over anything by Bevis Frond in a hot minute, because it's all of a piece. Everything refers to everything else, the vocals are sung like the guitar is strummed like the drums are brushed...as if it's all good, Brother Bear, and it's ok to just sway in place and turn your face, flower-like, towards the sun.

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Freedy Johnston's 'Perfect' Pop Gem: I'll Buy THAT for a dollar!

Posted by Mark Beaver, July 20, 2009 09:25pm | Post a Comment
freedy johnston this perfect world
Freedy Johnston
came out of Kansas and played around New York until he got signed by Bar/None Records, who released his debut, Trouble Tree in 1990. Trouble Tree was well received, but it was 1992's Can You Fly that got Johnston's name and songs bouncing all around college radio.

I've always thought of Freedy Johnston as the lost member of the Db's. He has a pristine pop quality to his voice and the stories he writes have the same almost-too-clever and slightly melancholic take on relationships that made the Db's' Amplifier the deservedly huge college rock classic that it became.

In 1994 I was working at SF's Reckless Records of London, an arguably cool and decidedly tiny record store on upper Haight St. As always, I was listening to anything I could get my hands on. Johnston's This Perfect World happened across the counter and stopped me in my tracks just by the power of its sheer completeness.

Produced by Butch Vig (Garbage) and featuring contributions from Graham Maby (Joe Jackson Band), Kevin Salem (Dumptruck), Marshall Crenshaw, Marc Ribot, Mark Spencer (Blood Oranges) and David Schramm, who worked repeatedly with the Db's' Chris Stamey and Peter Holsapple, This Perfect World is a perfect pop record. Most of it is deeply written, deeply produced and played rock-pop, though in places ("Gone Like the Water") it reveals Johnston's beloved folk-country roots. I've heard the criticism that Butch Vig sucked the edge out of it in the production, but I wasn't noticing that in 1994 and don't really notice it today, 15 years later, listening to it (still) from beginning to end.

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Belong's October Language: 2006 treasure of static and buzz

Posted by Mark Beaver, March 13, 2009 02:07pm | Post a Comment
belong october language
I get a strange thrill out of stumbling upon albums that sound exactly like what their cover suggests -- in this case, the ancient decaying photo of a pioneer-era buiding, probably from Belong's hometown of New Orleans; the spaces where the color saturates and the many spots where all color and image have been wiped away by time and the elements. October Language is the aural equivalent.

Compared to electronic frontiersmen like Fennesz and William Basinski, Belong (composed, for this recording, of conspirators Turk Dietrich and Michael Jones) make sounds that seem to be in the process of disappearing even as they first appear. The opening track, "I Never Lose. Never Really." begins with a tone like hearing an orchestra muted through the walls of a building, as if the swelling adagio would come through crystal clear if someone would just open the right door. Then it all begins to descend beneath an increasing tide of swirling static.

I find the whole album to be, essentially, meditational. There is a profound silence at the center of it, not unlike modern classical compositions by the likes of Arvo Part, Toru Takemitsu or Henryk Gorecki. The focus on electronics and instruments more often associated with Rock makes October Language more immediately reminiscent of My Bloody Valentine's Loveless than anything within the Classical tradition.

There are very few vocal tones on the album, another factor that pulls it away from the Rock genre, and the pure focus on the build and wane of the sound and atmosphere places it among my favorite listens of the last few years.

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Requiem for The Phantom: marking a decade since the passing of the legendary Horace Tapscott

Posted by Mark Beaver, February 17, 2009 12:00am | Post a Comment
horace tapscott dark treeI remember lying on a couch in my room in Oakland, sometime in either 1989 or 1990. Afternoon light was pouring in my window and I was in a hypnogogic state, somewhere between waking and dreaming. My mind was occupied with the vision of long and dark brown hands holding what looked to be a piece of blue glass. The agile hands turned the glass over and over again, and with each turning, facets appeared, polished and refracting light. The glass was becoming more and more ornate and I remember thinking that it was "perfecting." Suddenly, I sat bolt upright, realizing that I was having a visual experience of the music I was listening to at the moment: The title track from the recently issued LP by Horace Tapscott, Dark Tree.

Tapscott was working a theme on the piano, turning it over and over, and every time it came around, there was more central avenue sounds jazz in los angelesbeauty in it. And every time it came around, there was less of anything superfluous. The theme, under his long, dark fingers, was "perfecting."

Released again in 2000 by Swiss Hatology label on double limited edition CD with its companion volume, Dark Tree 1 & 2 is a document of what I have come to consider one of the most important jazz quartets of all time. Featuring Tapscott on piano, John Carter on clarinet, Cecil McBee on contrabass and Andrew Cyrille on drums, it is a fleeting glimpse into not only a rare recording by this astounding group, but a rare small group recording for Tapscott, altogether.

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Cheri Knight: overlooked Queen of Alt. Country

Posted by Mark Beaver, December 31, 2008 07:15pm | Post a Comment
blood oranges corn riverBy all measures, 1990 was a pivotal year for country-rock, or what we came to call "Alt. Country," or even "No Depression," the latter term being the title of the debut album released that year by a country-infused trio out of Belleville, IL., called Uncle Tupelo. I 'm sure I don't need to spend too much time elaborating on the merits of this band that re-awakened a slumbering genre with enough force to have that genre thereafter associated with its debut.

I will say, however, that I own a good number of t-shirts with their name emblazoned on them, as well as t-shirts for the band Son Volt, formed, after Uncle Tupelo's break-up, by Jay Farrar. Out of all proportion to any of my other band T's (and I own many), these Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt t-shirts almost without fail find me being stopped by strangers telling me how much they love those bands.

Now to my real point...

Mining similar material and existing through the same arc of time, a much lesser known band, steeped in bluegrass but pulling it into the 21cheri knight knitterst century by its fiddle-strings was rockin' its way out of northern New York State. The Blood Oranges featured singer/songwriter/mandolinist Jim Ryan, guitarist Mark Spencer, singer/songwriter/bassist Cheri Knight and drummer Ron Ward. The Blood Oranges were a really, really good band, good enough that Steven Mirkin in a June 1994 Rolling Stone said that they, "...find ways to make country-rock fusion seem like an idea with unlimited potential." They followed their 1990 debut, Corn River with 1992's Lone Green Valley and The Crying Tree in 1994. All of them strong albums and all of them more or less greeted with apathy by the record-buying populace. Then they called it quits.

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