Panabrite- Infinite Pulsation

The late 2000’s welcomed a boom in progressive electronic music that mostly bypasses the titanic influence of the English acid house scene of the late 80’s back to the rippling arpeggiation and oceanic washes of kosmische musik.  From Emeralds’ Does it Look Like I’m Here? to Mohave Triangles’s Smoked Mystics, there is so much unexpected variety in the textures you can discover when you take the plunge into this vaguely interconnected movement. One of the key figures in this fascinating unfolding is Seattle’s Norm Chambers, also known as Panabrite.

My favorite album of Chambers’s is Infinite Pulsation, which came out in spring of 2011. The manifesto of the album is summed perfectly by the song title “Clean Lines”– like Jon Brooks (of The Advisory Circle), Chambers shows just as much intelligence  for crafting melodic lines as for interlacing vividly beautiful synth timbres. The melodic sensibility on this album stylistically connects it with Cluster’s Zuckerzeit and Sowiesoso…I suppose you could say that this kind of stuff is the ultimate soundtrack for driving down a beautiful back-road. The textures are warm, bright, and have a playful lilt to them…they make me happy in a way that is hard to describe because the feeling is definitely one of being suspended in one’s own little world for a brief window of time. An album like Infinite Pulsation blurs the barriers between the pleasures of the heart and those of the mind.

For my Portland readers: I hope that you will be able to make it down to Doug Fir tonight at 8, where Panabrite will be opening for the utterly un-classifiable virtuoso of post-rock Sam Prekop, along with fellow kosmische architect, my show-buddy Pulse EmitterYou will not want to miss this one…all three of these guys have new albums out (respectively Disintegrating LandscapeThe Republic (an instrumental album on which Prekop tackles modular synthesis, which explains the lineup tonight, if you were scratching your head), and Digital Rainforest). See you there!


Dead Meadow- Shivering King and Others

Somewhere between bluesy hard-rock, shoegaze, and metal lies the hard-hitting, stoney romanticism of Dead Meadow. Their 2003 album Shivering King and Others set the mark for just about every garage rock band that has been in vogue for the past ten years…Tim Presley, Ty Segall, and the Black Angels are most certainly indebted to these guys, though if you wanted to hear something right on the same wavelength as Dead Meadow, Causa Sui would be the way to go.

Like Bardo Pond, Dead Meadow can take a simple groove and turn it into a weird fuzzy odyssey. Rock music is not really all that intellectual…it is mostly just about an abstract feeling of the body. Though this album’s standout, “Heaven”, is proof enough that they can craft a song, where the band has always excelled is delivering these rambling space-rock excursions that do not commit fully to hard rock– the tempo to their rocking is relaxed and dreamy. Furthermore, Jason Simon’s plaintive voice sounds more like Isobel Sollenberger than Ozzy Osbourne– it’s like the guy is calling out from a  wind-swept wilderness.

The really intriguing thing about this band that critics sometimes gloss over is their incorporation of blues-rock influences. What made metal and psych rock significant in the history of rock was their gradual dilution of the blues influence in rock and roll.   Dead Meadow, though, threads this influence into their hazy take on hard rock pretty gracefully. “Good Moanin'”, a loose cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Moanin’ at Midnight”, is an ingenious space-rock take on a classic more satisfying to my ears than the version Wolf himself recorded for the psych-themed The Howlin’ Wolf Album.

For my readers in Portland, be sure to catch Dead Meadow tomorrow, June 4th at the Doug Fir Lounge! It’s sure to be a great one.

Pond- Beard, Wives, Denim

I really dig how, over the course of the 2010s, the spirit of pop musics seems to have worked its way back around to the hippie stuff, partially because of record-collector nostalgia, but probably also because the whole hippie dream is just intuitively an attractive one. I like psychedelic music because it’s exhilarating in the live setting, organic, and though truthfully I prefer the experimental/krauty stuff, even psychedelic pop is reasonably creative and lyrically interesting. Groups like Secret Colours, Tame Impala, Melody’s Echo Chamber, and MGMT are a good measure of how kids from my generation have followed in the footsteps of folks like Arthur Lee and Roky Erickson, making quality pop music that will definitely stand the test of time. And right here in Portland, there are some great groups who are primed to add their voices to this revival too! I especially like Grandparents, Cambrian Explosion, and Bath Party.

Perth, Australia’s Pond has probably gotten a leg-up off of some occasional collaborations with Kevin Parker, the mastermind behind Tame Impala. The band was initially started by Nick Allbrook, Jay Watson, and Joseph Ryan with the idea of being an open platform for anyone to join; however, by 2010 they had evolved into a heavy-hitting pop act.Their 2012 album Beard, Wives, Denim (on which Parker played most of the drums, though the band’s regular drummer is Cam Avery) could probably be described best as everything you like about contemporary neo-psych, distilled into one high-energy psychedelic rollercoaster.

It is hard not to bob your head in time to hazy, ringing soul-struts like “Elegant Design” and “Dig Brother”. It just makes me smile to put this on, and personally I think that it stands well above the rest in its niche. Have I mentioned also, that they played a show with Damo Suzuki in 2012?! Jay Watson and Joseph Ryan’s lay down an absolutely earth-shattering guitar attack, seemingly channeling both the spirit of Amon Düül II and of Strawberry Alarm Clock. Pond will have a new album out early next year, entitled Man It Feels Like Space Again.

For my readers in Portland, I hope you can make it out to see Pond at the Doug Fir on Wednesday October 29th. It’s sure to be a great one!

The Dream Syndicate- Ghost Stories

In the early 80’s, in rock’s less-certain days before shoegazing, grunge, and Pavement, there was a whole bevy of bands getting started that were not necessarily so different from “punk” and “post-punk” rock, but were often more influenced by groups like The Velvet Underground, The Byrds, and Big Star. R.E.M. was certainly one of them, and their Murmur is one of the masterpieces of that period, but there were many, many other groups that have mostly been forgotten by all but record collectors and obsessives. There was a subtle magic to bands like The Soft Boys, Television Personalities, The Mekons, The Feelies, and The (sadly almost obscure) Dream Syndicate.

The Dream Syndicate’s early albums were rather roughly produced, and that was a part of their charm. By the time they arrived at Ghost Stories, in 1988, that was basically all said and done. For Out of the Grey and Ghost Stories, The Syndicate brought in booming drums and swept aside most of that tinny, ragged-sounding aesthetic of their earlier albums. They became much more straightforward and poppy, superficially conventional. This same year, The Feelies did something similar for Only Life, another cult album of mine. By 1989, Steve Wynn’s Syndicate was done.

It’s ultimately irrelevant as to what motivated this shift in their sound that occurred towards the end of the band’s journey. The simple truth is that Live At Raji’s, the live album that the Syndicate recorded before the release of Ghost Stories and then released in 1989, saw them in this new mode, and Live at Raji’s is frankly one of the greatest live albums ever released by a rock band. The powerpop Dream Syndicate was great, anthemic American rock music way past the level of later R.E.M., maybe even past much of Bruce Springsteen’s work. Sincere, morose songwriting wed perfectly to straightforward, chiming, burning guitars on “Whatever You Please”, “I Have Faith”, and “Loving the Sinner, Hating the Sin”…then a quotation from T.S. Eliot on “My Old Haunts”…and then hard-hitting blues on “Weathered and Torn”, “This Side I’ll Never Show”, and “See That My Grave is Kept Clean”. This is so-called “indie” rock that’s robust, intelligent, and proud. I suppose that I ought to like Days of Wine and Roses best, but I cannot help it– I love this record and I’ll always return to it more than anything else by The Dream Syndicate.

Here is some great news for my Portland readers: The Dream Syndicate has recently reformed! They will be appearing this Friday the 29th at the Doug Fir Lounge. Steve Wynn has hinted that he will be playing more songs from Ghost Stories and Out of the Grey, songs that The Dream Syndicate did not get many opportunities to play before they broke up. Act quick before the show sells out, and I’ll see you then.

Les Rallizes Dénudés- Heavier than a death in the family

Few bands are more legendary than the Rallizes, the mighty Rallizes: the stripped comrades.

And it’s strange that a band so influential was mostly documented on bootlegs, and literally has about ten songs in total. But what’s even more strange is that a band that was itself probably intended as some kind of political statement was ultimately influential in a much more superficial sense.

I say this because, since I’m not an idiot, I can anticipate the way that you may have greeted the sight of this post– maybe with a groan… or an eye roll…what’s certain is that you thought for a second, “Here we go…this guy is a fan of Japanese noise music.”

Someone like Kazumoto Endo (whose While You Were Out could certainly be a fine introduction to modern noise music) might ultimately be more famous in the United States than he may be in his native Japan. With globalization, there is, time and time again, this odd process going on by which the admiration of the artwork produced by the intellectuals/outcasts of another culture takes on a high level of value as social and cultural currency in one’s native culture. It is so much more common to meet an American literature major who is a self-professed Dostoyevsky fan than it is to meet one whose favorite author is Herman Melville (though Melville and Charles Dickens were important influences on Dostoyevsky).

Les Rallizes were probably influenced a little bit by The Velvet Underground, some Krautrock, Jimi Hendrix, perhaps bands like Blue Cheer and Hawkwind, but little did they know that their spin on arty, noisy rock would ultimately spawn a whole ethos of music-making in Japan, and would ultimately deeply influence the West as well, but perhaps in a different way than they may have anticipated.

It’s funny…Heavier Than A Death in the Family is definitely one of my favorite albums of all time, but just recently I was trying to remember its name, and I drew a blank. And yet, I’ll always remember “The Night Collectors” (which is oddly absent on many of their live bootlegs, considering what a great song it is) and “People Can Choose”, and I also could remember the melody to “Enter the Mirror” without being able to place the name. Furthermore, I remembered this record’s iconic cover– white on black, a detached figure wearing a jacket and a curiously androgynous fire-engine-red mouth. But it took me to look back into my hard drive to remember the title. Perhaps it’s because it’s an awful title. But still, I’m embarrassed to see myself temporarily reduced to the level of “name-dropper”. It isn’t so bad, really, since no one can really remember everything– and hell, you certainly can’t listen to everything in any case. But it reminded me, I think, of my status as an outsider from the culture that produced this band.

Much has been made of the obscurity that shrouds this band’s origins, as well as the current whereabouts and involvements of bandleader Takashi Mizutani. This obscurity probably has had a lot to do with the band’s involvement in radical politics– in a collectivist society like Japan’s, I am sure that alligning oneself with outside art and radical beliefs goes hand in hand with making the choice to be somewhat reclusive and perhaps even detached from society altogether. However, when you look at the cool (yes, I said it…), black-jacket clad Rallizes, it isn’t hard to see how many bands in the west interpreted them. Ultimately, I think people just liked the image of this group– weird, stoic bikers. I can’t help but wonder how the stripped comarades themselves feel about this.

All one has to do to see the enormous influence this band had on rock music in the west from the late eighties onward is look at the cover of Goo by Sonic Youth or  listen to Psychocandy by The Jesus and Mary Chain. The music of Les Rallizes embraces chaos, but is not exactly aggressive. It might be accurate to say that in the same way that Hawkwind sounded like they were flinging themselves into the ecstasy of the cosmos, Les Rallizes gave in to insanity and violence, but in a kind of abstract way. Their music isn’t really intended to shock– like Hawkwind, they’re groping for something you just need to feel, to meditate over almost. I think that this influence has filtered down on over the years, the actual musical form of The Stripped Comarades, not just the iconic image. Hard psych, noise rock, and psych drone have certainly drifted more and more in this direction over the decades.

I wish that Takahashi would come out of hiding and gift us with more strange and beautiful music. And he would find many more people on his wavelength ready to greet his new music, all around the world.

Loop- Fade Out

Through the last five or so years we’ve seen a really interesting revival of the artier end of psych rock: psych drone, or I guess you could also call it krautrock revival. The Cosmic Dead, White Hills, Mugstar, Moon Duo, and Earthless…. I like most of these bands, even though I can recognize that they’re all fairly similar to each other. Though psych drone takes most of its inspiration from psychedelic rock made in the early seventies in America, West Germany, and England, the one band I feel I can point to as the prototypical psych drone outfit came from the 90’s, a little closer to our time– that band was Loop.

It’s a little ironic that I’m inferring that a whole genre of music is derivative of Loop, when Peter Kember famously snarked that Loop was itself a rip off of his band Spacemen 3 (still more ironic that Kember would say that, considering that 3 of the songs on Spacemen 3’s debut were covers). Let’s be honest though, as much affection as I have for Jason Pierce (Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space is one of my favorite albums of all time) and as much respect I have for Kember as a producer, Loop were better at being Spacemen 3 than the Spacemen themselves were. And the funny thing is, Loop already seem to be fast on the road to semi-obscurity. Just this week, I’ve asked something like fifteen people if they were going to see them at the Doug Fir tonight, and not a single person seemed to know who they were.

Vocalist and guitarist Robert Hampson initially formed the band with his then-girlfriend Becky Stewart on drums and Glen Ray on bass, before revamping the band in 1988 with bassist Neil MacKay, guitarist James Endeacott and drummer John Wills. In 1989, James Endeacott was replaced by Scott Dowson on guitar. They only recorded three albums, and Fade Out was their second.

Loop’s music is repetitive,  detached, and highly sexualized.  It’s pretty simple stuff, but it cuts into the ears, and the soul.  Listening to this group back to back with modern psych drone, you will see what I mean when I say that this is the band that nearly all psych drone must reckon to– detached vocals echo amid metronomic drums and slow, blaring guitar riffs. So perhaps Loop’s music is fairly samey– but rock is fairly samey music. Listen to “Fade Out”, “Fever Knife”, and “A Vision Stain” and tell me that they didn’t do a top notch job of making garage rock that brings you on a slow-motion journey through inner space.

Loop has recently reformed for a tour. For my Portland readers, they will be playing tonight at the Doug Fir. The line-up will be that on A Gilded Eternity, with Scott Dowson on guitar. Hurry before it sells out! Happy listening and see you there.

Mono- You are There

One of the loveliest of the third-wave post-rock bands is Mono, hailing from mid-2000’s Tokyo.

I remember having some friends in high school who loved these guys. I’ve never been a huge fan of most third-wave post-rock, but the genre has its moments– How Strange, Innocence by Explosions in the Sky is one, and You Are There by Mono is most certainly another.

Third-wave, for the most part, rehashes Labradford’s albums as much Godspeed’s, with bolero guitars, crashing climaxes, and somber silences the ingredients one can count on hearing.  It’s nice music, and Mono’s music might be the nicest of the bunch.

You are There is, like its contemporaries, severe and sad, but it has a gracefulness and special majesty to it. Central to this is the interplay between lead guitarist Takaakira Goto and rhythm guitarist Hideki Suematsu. The guitars boom and shimmer like no other band from their generation, conjuring up romantic imagery of snowy mountains and caverns. It’s worth mentioning that this album has a fitting cover: a snowy mountain scene with a pine forest in the foreground and a blood sunrise in the background. Mono was a first class band, and it would be nice to see a new album from them.

If any of my Portland readers are interested, Mono will be appearing at the Doug Fir Lounge tonight at 8Helen Money will be supporting. Happy listening.

Robert Fripp- The Gates of Paradise

One aspect of Robert Fripp’s career that I’ve always felt has gone oddly overlooked is his intermittent ambient output (aside from his albums with Eno, which are more acknowledged), particularly his releases which he has labeled his Soundscapes, many of them recorded live. Here’s one of particularly high quality: The Gates of Paradise, a studio recording from 1998.

Ambient is a genre which always takes flak– it’s because there is a very fine line between good ambient and bad. Trying to quantify that difference is difficult. I think though, that’s Fripp’s Soundscapes series is an example of ambient music that would attract people who normally don’t have a very strong interest in the genre. Part of what makes Fripp’s ambient work so interesting is the fact that this genre appears to be more of a cursory interest for him, as most of what he does is really more along the lines of fusion-music that takes elements from jazz and rock.

The Gates of Paradise is divided into two extended pieces, “The Outer Darkness” and “The Gates of Paradise”. The album as a whole takes its listeners on a journey that begins with tenebrous spookiness and ends with bliss. The fact that Fripp’s Soundscapes albums go the route of seeking some kind of narrative says a lot about how his take on ambient music almost seems more dynamic than other ambient musicians. Fripp is going for something more imaginative than just meditation music– this is electronic music that, despite its gentle texture, is dramatic and evocative. You can see why someone like Steven Stapleton has professed admiration for Fripp, listening to this– The Gates of Paradise is the music of nightmares and dreams.

If any readers in Portland are interested in music like this from Fripp, head down to the Doug Fir tonight at 8pm to see his project with Bill Rieflin, Slow Music, an instrumental band featuring Fripp, Rieflin, Peter Buck, Fred Chalenor, Matt Chamberlain, and Hector Zazou. Here’s the Slow Music site. Happy listening.

Genesis- Selling England By the Pound

The first album that I really got into, listening and re-listening to over and over on my parent’s VCR when I was 15, was Selling England by the Pound by Genesis. Yes, I freely admit that the first album I really got into was a dadrock album from the seventies. Maybe I should’ve been with the times and looked more into Radiohead, I don’t know. Or maybe I should have just listened to some pop-punk that everybody around me liked. Now that I think of it though, it isn’t so embarrassing.

Looking at Selling England by the Pound, I feel the same fascination I have for Hounds of Love by Kate Bush; it’s sincere and soft-spoken, but odd around the edges at the same time, very distinctly English in this way that’s difficult to articulate. Take for instance, the mysteriously beautiful, yet simultaneously jaunty and funny “I Know What I Like”. I remember really digging Peter Gabriel’s flourishes on the flute and the dreamlike feeling of Tony Banks’s droning mellotron. This was what attracted me to English progressive rock– when they did it right, it was just really imaginative, beautiful music, though the format for it was not perfect. This whole mode of pop music that I see in early Genesis, Kate Bush, and Peter Gabriel’s solo work was very much an artistic cul de sac– modern music that takes influence from Anglo prog doesn’t seem to have this sort of innocence and complexity of tone to it, though some musicians, like Steven Wilson, vaguely try to emulate it. But then again, maybe Genesis themselves weren’t even intentionally creating that which has given me this impression. One looks at the stuff they did on literally the very first album without Gabriel, A Trick of the Tail, and the magic was already starting to go away.

When Genesis started out in earnest, on Trespass (another cult album of mine, I highly recommend it), they had a very gentle folk-rock sound that made frequent use of vocal harmonizing. Then, their first guitarist, Anthony Philips, unfortunately departed, and their sound temporarily got weirder as they became the early Genesis that most fans of dadrock are a little more familiar with. The thing is, early Genesis, post Anthony Philips, is a bit like watching someone be incredibly good at something through a method that is completely, mindbogglingly counter-intuitive. In this case, the lead singer’s artistic personality is sometimes androgynous and edgy, sometimes sensitive and soulful. Then you’ve got a virtuoso guitarist who is majorly showing off, yet at the same time is exercising a really masterful amount of control in keeping his guitar’s presence tasteful and textured, playing alongside a bassist and keyboardist who are perhaps tasteful to the point of being uninteresting, yet nonetheless admirably exacting in their performances. To top it all off, there’s an extremely talented drummer who always finds a way to make the odd time-signatures rock. What a strange rock band. It’s so finely tuned and yet at the same time precariously situated. Viewing Genesis in this way, it is easy to see why for many, the spell had broken the second that Gabriel had left.

My and other people’s disappointment with Genesis is not at all a matter of Phil Collins’s talent as compared to Gabriel’s (Collins himself did not want Gabriel to leave, and at first did not want to be the new lead singer)– it’s a matter of how Gabriel balanced something out. It has to do with how, even as a teenager who was wary of what society considered to be cool or novel, I felt as though there was something about the later Genesis that was just kind of flat and uninteresting. Perhaps, after all, Collins has a smoother voice than Gabriel’s, but without that strangeness of Gabriel’s, the band didn’t work.

And it really is a shame, because at the height of their powers, they were a hell of a band and they are no doubt fantastically talented musicians.  I remember listening to “Dancing with the Moonlight Knight” and feeling as though I was for the first time listening to a rock song in which the drums had an interesting and dynamic presence. Phil Collins may very well have been one of the greatest drummers in the world  in the early seventies– his fills were insanely fast, and his performances greatly enhance the drama of the music. If you watch old concert films of Genesis, you can see what an important driving force he was in their live presence. Look too, at Steve Hackett. You know, I’ve always felt that sweep-picking and tapping are almost always, in addition to being sort of self-indulgent, not even that aesthetically appealing to listen to, but one of the few exceptions I can make for this judgement is Hackett. It’s not just his ethereally beautiful soloing in “Firth of Fifth” and “Dancing with the Moonlit Knight” that stands out, there’s his nimble picking in “The Battle of Epping Forest”, especially the riffs around four minutes in. His aesthetic sense as a musician was really quite unique– I remember reading an article in which he named his favorite composer as Erik Satie.

 There was really only one Genesis. There’ll likely never be anything like this ever again.

Nostalgic Music Criticism from Portland, sister blog to Foreign Accents