Thursday, December 31, 2009

What I Heard This Morning: Fucked Up

For those unfamiliar with the workings of Canadian retro-punkers, Fucked Up, they have a LOT of singles. In 2004, they put out a compilation titled, Epics In Minutes, which is out on Deranged Records. Matador is putting out their SECOND singles compilation, Couple Tracks: Singles 2002 - 2009, in late January on both double vinyl or double disc with a 7” added for comfort.



“Neat Parts” was posted back in November and will of course be included in the compilation. According to the information I gleaned from Matador, this single was originally released on the Triumph Of Life 7” back in 2006.

”Neat Parts”

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Rowland S. Howard (1959-2009)


Musician, Rowland S. Howard passed away yesterday at the age of 50 from liver cancer. He was awaiting a transplant.

In all honesty, Howard is one of those names that exists in the ether of post-punk who’s who, and he was a name that I’d been meaning to add to my music library. Only days ago, I had The Birthday Party’s Prayers On Fire in my hands, ready to shell out the loot for the sake of owning my favorite Birthday Party track, “Nick The Stripper.” I didn’t get it, though, and now I’m kicking myself.

So, in memory of Howard and the scene that brought him notoriety, here’s a video for “Nick The Stripper.”



R.I.P.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Them Crooked Queens of the Stone Age (appropriately aged for Zeppelin fans)


Them Crooked Vultures
s/t
Interscope
Released: 11.17.09

There are times when actions beg questioning, even if you do appreciate the outcome. With Them Crooked Vultures, the supergroup venture joining Queens of the Stone Age singer/guitarist, Josh Homme, Foo Fighter Dave Grohl, and Led Zeppelin bassist, John Paul Jones, the possibilities alone seem so exciting. But, what’s the motivation behind joining three generations of musicians into what could ultimately be seen as a marketing ploy with rock roots? Even listening to the album you get the sense that Homme could’ve turned most of this material into a new Queens album as his characteristic falsetto and off-kilter riffs dominate most of the music and don’t necessarily aid in the development of anything particularly new.

Grohl seems to be a draw, a re-tapped mainstream presence that gave the Queens the visibility they needed to put Songs For The Deaf in peoples’ hands.

Jones? In the 90s, his involvement might’ve meant more. Now? Nirvana is seen as Zeppelin was back then, loud and proud “parent music” that made biological caretakers seem kind of cool back when the rebel yells were fueled by post-punk and 70s nostalgia. So, for those of us in our thirties and up, Jones is a salivary factor.

Them Crooked Vultures, to put it bluntly, is a cross-appeal bit of marketing genius that a record label can get behind, a thing that makes you go, “Hmmmmmm…” Who would pass this up, if not for the sake of pure curiosity? Well, to rephrase, what “music fan” would pretend not to care?



But, you can wax “marketability” and “musical capitalism” all you want. Bottom line about Them Crooked Vultures: Their frontman is one of the most crucial figures in mainstream rock music, one of the few with credibility, respect and vision; their drummer, while somewhat of a generational answer to Don Henley, has fashioned himself a nice post-Nirvana career from the ashes of an epic implosion that would’ve left lesser men, well… depressed or headless; and their bassist is a legend, and now one of the few post-Zeps that’s done something more worthwhile than team up with David Coverdale or over-schmaltz “Sea Of Love.” If Them Crooked Vultures was approached from a marketing standpoint, at least they made something that sounds good and seems like a step forward.

Even though Homme’s presence laces the album with unmistakable Stone Age traits, there are attempts to incorporate the sounds of a more Brit blues persuasion. Learned blues-ish tone starts the album off with “No One Loves Me & Neither Do I,” lines like “Don’t hold it against me unless it gets hard” sort of providing the album its “Lemon Song” metaphor and stylish sexuality. In this way, the Zeppelin influence is beneath the album’s surface, coaxing out its Plant-ish “ah, ah, ah, ahhhhh” through the slow, rhythmic movement of the song’s midway breakdown. More broadened is the Foo Fight of “Mind Eraser, No Chaser,” its accessibility single-friendly when compared to “New Fang,” whose clang and bounce takes the album up a notch.

Songs like “Dead End Friends” and “Bandoliers” seem to revel in 90s rock flavor while Cream-ish “Scumbag Blues,” (an observation made by my brother which was too good to even try and counter with another comparison), exemplifies the sort of generational hold the band tries to maintain. A song like “Elephants,” though, is made for fans of Homme’s love of experimental tempo and hip-like swagger, sort of like “Song For The Dead:” a blast of an intro followed by slow rock energy. It’s difficult to determine if decisions like these were made to appease the band’s three schools of thought, or if this amassing of musical styles was meant to distinguish Them Crooked Vultures from their respective OTHER bands. It’s like the White Album in reverse.

At times though, the combination of eras breed more hybridized variations of the music. “Interlude With Ludes” is like “I’m Designer” meets “Venus In Furs” and “Warsaw Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up” could easily be a B-side from Lullabies To Paralyze, but even then shades of Cactus or Ten Years After pervade the mix leading into a Zeppelin sized interlude. Even the somewhat throwaway “Caligulove” seems to work as a comingling of styles, suggesting something a little more agreed upon with its Middle Eastern rumble and Nuggets rock rhythm.

Only compounding the album’s nonsensical indecision, “Gunman” takes a dance punk leap before “Spinning In Daffodils” takes a fairly machined approach, pummeling to an almost industrial finish and ensuring Them Crooked Vultures a marketing eureka in theory only.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Shopping For Records #23: Glitter & Doom & Conference — Some Live Vinyl

A.K.A. Music purchase:

Om
Live Conference
Important Records
Released: 7.27.09

"Sacrilege" may be the word. It's possible I find the idea of the new version of Om, drummer Chris Hakius no longer part of the equation, recording a live rendition of the mighty Conference of the Birds a little unsettling. I picked up Live Conference a couple days ago while scouring A.K.A. for a few birthday selections, unaware that new drummer, Grails transplant Emil Amos, was tapped for the performance.


Live Conference, like its studio ancestor, is a two-song LP. Recorded live in September of 2008, Important Records unleashed this behemoth in late July and, as soon as I became aware of it, it was something I wanted to check out. Conference of the Birds is an album I swear by, a smoked out masterpiece of sonic sludge that I live in whenever it’s playing. Al Cisneros sounds great, his flattened prayers tuneless against the wall of energized bass amp behind him. Despite Amos being more of an articulating drummer, (meaning that, at points, he'll try and do too much at the expense of whatever's going on around him), he doesn't interfere too noticeably with the music. "At Giza" is a bit hurried.



Tom Waits.com purchase:

Tom Waits
Glitter And Doom Live
ANTI
Released: 11.24.09

It isn’t much of a stretch to expect great things from Tom Waits. His Glitter And Doom Live album is comprised of selected live recordings made over the course of his very publicized tour of the same name and is basically a chance for those of us that didn’t get to the show, (I got to see the Orphans tour), to hear what we missed. The album is also confirmation of the man as an amazing onstage presence and communicates his devotion to the audience.


Glitter And Doom Live sounds exquisite, ably capturing the music in all its fractured and rugged persona, Waits the gravelly poet pushing syllables out with his meat grinder of a throat. There’s a quality to his music’s nuance, the slam and twist of “Lucinda/Ain’t Goin’ Down to the Well” and the excitable energy of “Goin’ Out West,” even his squealing narration of “Circus,” that one can only experience in a live setting. Thankfully, the album expresses as much. Any subsequent tour Waits has in the future, should be followed by a live album this good.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, December 28, 2009

What I Heard This Morning: jj

For those of you that took Pitchfork’s advice and wrapped your heads around jj’s acclaimed debut, jj nº 2, the band has signed with Secretly Canadian and will putting out their follow-up, jj nº 3, in early March.

jj nº 2 is an album that I unfortunately missed this year, but what I’ve heard has been mostly club-ish and airy, a less sinister Mezzanine that could resurrect Enya and inspire cannabis culture to appreciate yacht rock. Their single, “Ecstacy,” is one of the few songs I’ve heard successfully utilize Dirty South hip-hop flavor.



”Ecstacy”

jj will be touring with The xx in the Spring:

3/22 Baton Rouge, LA - Spanish Moon
3/23 Birmingham, AL - Bottletree
3/24 Atlanta, GA - The Earl
3/25 Carrboro, NC - Cats Cradle
3/28 Washington, DC - Sixth & I Historic Synagogue
3/29 Philadelphia, PA - First Unitarian Church Sanctuary
3/30 Brooklyn, NY - Knitting Factory
3/31 New York, NY - Webster Hall
4/02 Boston, MA - Paradise
4/03 Montreal, QC - Le National
4/04 Toronto, ON - Lees Palace
4/05 Columbus, OH - Wexner Center
4/06 Bloomington, IN - Buskirk-Chumley Theater
4/08 Chicago, IL - Lincoln Hall
4/09 Minneapolis, MN - Varsity Theater
4/12 Bellingham, WA - The Nightlight Lounge
4/13 Vancouver, BC - Commodore Ballroom
4/14 Portland, OR - Crystal Ballroom
4/16 San Francisco, CA - Bottom of the Hill

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Ruse Of Fools: The Flood

For a couple months, I’ve been getting emails about this video by Philadelphia bred Ruse Of Fools and the new video for their song, “The Flood.” Because there’s been such a lack of information regarding this band, (i.e.: dysfunctional website and dead information links), and because their album, Film Noir, has been out since 2004 or 2005, I really wasn’t sure how to go about promoting them. The song’s good and the video is some warped Persepolis meets Tool mutation. It's definitely worth a look.



RUSE OF FOOLS "THE FLOOD" from Rémy M.Larochelle on Vimeo.



Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Friday, December 25, 2009

Run-D.M.C.: Christmas In Hollis

I'm not a huge fan of most Christmas music. Most of it's trite and dull, inspiring cover after cover after cover resulting in diminishing quality, like a video tape subjected to many rounds of record. Some songs, though, I do look forward to, mostly Vincent Guaraldi's A Charlie Brown Christmas and most especially Run-D.M.C.'s "Christmas In Hollis." An old school groove will win every time.





Happy Holidays,
Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

No Ripcord: Top 50 Albums of 2009 (Part Two)

Part 2 is up.

I contributed a blurb for Primary Colours by The Horrors.

As always, I will be writing up my own year end list in early January.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

No Ripcord: Top 50 Albums of 2009 (Part One)

No Ripcord's Top 50 countdown for 2009 was begun. Part One is up for your perusal.

I contributed blurbs for Them Crooked Vultures' self-titled debut, and Crack The Skye by Mastodon.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Monday, December 21, 2009

What I Heard This Morning: VOICEsVOICEs

The duo of VOICEsVOICEs have an album coming out in January called, Origins. Between this group and Warpaint, Los Angeles seems to be the land of the ethereal female, whose vocalese is harmonized through limitless space and allowed to create the music. I'm not even sure there are lyrics to be deciphered, but the VOICEs alone make it all worthwhile.



"Flulyk Visions (Edit)"

Something pretty to get you through Monday.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

12.21: Happy Birthday, Frank

Your family has a candle glowing in your honor.



Happy 69th.



Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Friday, December 18, 2009

Maynard: Tent Revivals and Arizona Wine...

So, Maynard James Keenan (Tool, A Perfect Circle) has a lot going on next year.



First off, it turns out Maynard has a vineyard in Arizona. Who knew? A documentary entitled, Blood Into Wine, will be released February of next year and details the efforts of Maynard, and his partner Eric Glomski, to bring Arizona some recognition as a contender in the wine industry. And though wine is the film’s main topic, Maynard himself is also examined in the film.



Photo credit: Isaac Brekken


And, transitioning from taste to tastelessness, Maynard’s extra-extra curricular activity, Puscifer, will be touring the east coast:

March 2 — Atlanta, GA — CW Center Stage
March 3 — Atlanta, GA — CW Center Stage
March 5 — Washington, DC — Lincoln Center
March 6 — Washington, DC — Lincoln Center
March 8 — Philadelphia, PA — Theater of Living Arts
March 9 — Philadelphia, PA — Theater of Living Arts
March 11 — New York, NY — Grand Ballroom
March 13 — New York, NY — Apollo Theater
March 15 — Boston, MA — Berklee Academy of Music
March 16 — Boston, MA — Berklee Academy of Music
March 19 — Toronto, ON — Queen Elizabeth Theater
March 20 — Toronto, ON — Queen Elizabeth Theater
March 21 — Lorain, OH — Lorain Theater
March 23 — Detroit, MI — Royal Oak Theater
March 24 — Detroit, MI — Royal Oak Theater
March 26 — Chicago, IL — Vic Theater
March 27 — Chicago, IL — Vic Theater
March 29 — Milwaukee, WI — Pabst Theater
March 30 — St. Louis, MO — Roberts Orpheum Theater
March 31 — Kansas City, MO — Uptown Theater
April 2 — Minneapolis, MN — Pantages Theater
April 3 — Minneapolis, MN — Pantages Theater

Tickets will be available through Puscifer’s website in early 2010.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

What I Heard This Morning: AFCGT

So, AFCGT is a sort of non-thinking way to name this mind-numbingly sonic experiment comprised of Seattle groups A Frames and Climax Golden Twins. “Two Legged Dog,” from their upcoming self-titled LP, (their 10” EP and OTHER full-length LP are also self-titled interestingly), moves and builds into static absorption consuming enough to interrupt any ability to multitask. I’ve listened to the song about three or four times now and it’s been impossible to actually do anything other than stare.



"Two Legged Dog"

The album will be available on Sub Pop in late January as a 12” LP with a bonus 7” single, or digitally sans bonus. No CD release, though, folks, so time to get a turntable. Guess next year we’ll witness the first steps in phasing out the compact disc.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Daytrotter Sessions: Japandroids


Yesterday, post-garage rockers Japandroids laid down a couple tracks for Daytrotter, including a decent cover of Big Black’s “Racer X.”

You can download the session here, so long as you don’t mind registering with the site.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Shopping For Records #22: Here Lies Love

I realize that I’m on a multitude of mailing lists for news, updates and information from music resources, labels and artists, but it’s always cool to see a name like David Byrne staring back at you from your inbox.



Late February will see the release of a collaborative effort with Fatboy Slim entitled, Here Lies Love, which is about Imelda Marcos and her caretaker, Estrella Campus. It’s a double-CD and DVD set with a hundred-page booklet that, in Byrne’s words, “explains it all.” Some of the vocalists enlisted for this album are: Florence Welch (of Florence + The Machine), Sia, Santigold, Nellie McKay, Sharon Jones, St. Vincent, and Róisín Murphy.

It’s Byrne: I’ll give it shot.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Friday, December 11, 2009

Dinowalrus: Bead

Stereogum posted a video for “Bead” by Dinowalrus. Pretty epileptic video, but indicative of their manically percussive No Wave spaz rock. I’m starting to understand parallels between these guys and Mi Ami, dance-friendly rhythms that confine an otherwise expansive and minimalist sonic dissonance.



I posted this track back in November, along with a couple others, and I’m really looking forward to hearing their album, %, which will be out in January.

In the meantime, see if you can actually watch this.



Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Shopping For Records #21: Shrinebuilder on double wax...

So, one of my favorite albums to come out this year, Shrinebuilder’s debut, is now available as a double LP. 12” vinyl at 45 rpm.

U.S. version


European version




You can order it at the band’s label, Neurot Recordings. Something else to put on the wish list.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Year End Gathering: Stragglers Vol. 1

This hasn’t been an easy year.

For some critic types, (i.e. the successful ones), I think it might be simpler to get across what usually takes me hours to come up with, as ironically, I’m my own worst critic. It’s not often that I’m happy with what I write, the conclusions I draw or the opinions I offer and, because of that, I tend to torture myself with albums before I’m able to actually sit down, take a breath, and type something out that may or may not offend. It’s possible that I took on more this year than I should’ve, so some albums slipped through the cracks.

In an attempt to at least offer some notice to the albums I missed, I’ll be compiling them into a few short blurbs over the next few weeks or so. Here is the first group:

Giant Squid
The Ichthyologist
(Self-released)
Released: 2.3.09

I acquired The Ichthyologist around March of this year through Giant Squid’s Myspace page before they were signed to Translation Loss. This album was re-released by their label in August with a vinyl version put out by Vega Vinyl and, apparently, the mixes were modified.

Largely built on the same progressive metal foundations that drive most of today’s better known bands, (no surprise the album was produced by ex-Minus The Bear member Matt Bayles, whose producer credits include ISIS and Mastodon), Giant Squid’s The Ichthyologist is obviously ambitious, incorporating an air of gypsy-tinged musicality that embeds itself in the band’s orchestrated six-string crunch. “Panthalassa” snarls, sings and grinds itself into some mutated rock opera with trumpets a-blast and tonsils a-flarin,’ leading to the sonic strain of “La Brea Tar Pits” and noir-ish “Sutterville.” In what could be perceived as a three-act play, these tracks easily sum up most of what you’ll hear as the album continues.

Not to discredit Giant Squid, or say that they dip their collective big toe in the “formulaic” pool, but The Ichthyologist is mostly gorgeous textures (“Dead Man Slough,” “Sevengill”) clashing with aggressive ones (“Throwing a Donner Party at Sea”). Their perspective is eclectic enough to qualify them as a “progressive” band, sort of like Mr. Bungle’s California where category is an understatement more than it is an expression. Giant Squid burn when they have to, but their efforts at aggro seem to distract from what is otherwise a beautifully composed album.



DM Stith
Heavy Ghost
Asthmatic Kitty
Released: 3.10.09

If Robert Wyatt and Cat Stevens (in his pre-Rushdie hate days) were no longer with us, I’d be convinced their souls fucked and bred David Michael Stith whose debut album, Heavy Ghost, walks the same ethereal path as Rock Bottom, though in a more doom-laden dance of piano strokes and melody.

Heavy Ghost is a heavy trip full of nervous intensity. You sort of take that into consideration as the haphazard and rapid slap-percussion of “Isaac’s Song” or the domino-tumble of sounds during “Pity Dance” allow you to drift in an uneasy stream of his consciousness. It would be easy to imagine wind-blown candles breathing smoke in patterns similar to the percussive motions Stith takes with the rumbling “Creekmouth” or the high inflections he coaxes from his throat in “Thanksgiving Moon,” as life’s chaos seems the album’s prime inspiration.

Stith at one point sings during “Pity Dance,” “I’ve been sleeping with the lights on since I left you.” You can only assume that to be true, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it were.



Mastodon
Crack The Skye
Reprise
Released: 3.24.09

Drawing from Russia, out-of-body travel and Stephen Hawking for its concept, (huh?), Mastodon followed up the amazing Blood Mountain with Crack The Skye, the rather epic journey of a paraplegic whose out-of-body experience leads him lost in a wormhole and in need of assistance from Rasputin’s body to get back to the physical world. Maybe that sounds laughable, and it probably is. Crack The Skye however is delivered with such energized and aggressive fortitude, the album’s premise seems like a matter of life and death.

I was fortunate enough to see Crack The Skye played live in its entirety at the beginning of November. Mastodon seems infallible on stage, the material as overwhelming and mesmerizing live, as it is on wax, unwilling to let their skill get in the way of their passion. Despite their calculating precision, it’s the emotional aspects of their music that seems more substantial than talent or ability, a rarity for a progressive band.

With “Oblivion” the band manages to ease the listener into the album before the dramatics really manifest with the hyper-aggressive, “Divinations,” and the desperate immediacy of “Quintessence.” “The Czar,” one of the album’s two larger tracks, (the other being the album’s finale, “The Last Baron”), fades in and out of hopelessness like Crack The Skye’s wandering soul. So far, Mastodon can do no wrong.



Crystal Antlers
Tentacles
Touch and Go
Released: 4.7.09

Tentacles is “96 Tears” stretched into about 40 minutes. So… I hope you like “96 Tears.”

Crystal AntlersNuggets-borne psych punk is loud and possibly the most fun you can have with a sore throat and swollen glands, singer Jonny Bell less a screamer and more of a choker. At times Tentacles feels as though the band were constantly looking for rhythmic patterns for the organ to tackle, the guitar-bass-drum elements not doing too much to deviate from the plot. Standing out with an air of introspection, “Andrew” and “Vapor Trail” sort of wallow and trip amongst the psych n’ roll.

Still, the heightened swirl of “Time Erased,” the title track’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” moment or “Memorized” with its trumpeted outro, Crystal Antlers set out to make an album that reeks of 60s pop and 70s proto-punk abrasion, successfully illustrating what 60s radio would’ve sounded like in hell. Capitalizing on the same aesthetics that make “Louie Louie” essential, Tentacles is a great listen and that’s really all it has to be.



Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

What I Heard This Morning: The Besnard Lakes

Something else to look forward to for next year, Jagjaguwar’s The Besnard Lakes are releasing their newest LP, The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night in early March. A single from the album, “Albatross,” will be released as a 12” in February.

Cover for The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night


Cover for Albatross


This track is from their last album, The Besnard Lakes Are the Dark Horse.

”And You Lied To Me”

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

What I Heard This Morning: Liars


So, March 2010 will see the release of Sisterworld, the new album by retro-no wavers, Liars. Their first single, “Scissor,” is an electrified blues lament that wildly deviates from its melancholic intro. It’s loud and abrupt like only the Liars know how to be, providing ample hope that their fifth album will be a worthwhile addition to the library.

You can download the single at their website, or get more information over at Mute Records.



Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Lennon 29: An Update For Johnny Silver...


2009 reacquainted the world with The Beatles and your face is now alive from a virtual standpoint, staring back at video game enthusiasts holding faux instruments. To me, technology did you guys a solid this year, cleaning up your legacy in a respectful, albeit digitized, manner. As much as you wanted to forget about The Beatles, the world wants to keep remembering: All those songs, all those albums and all that brain scrambling madness that emerged from those grooves like a riot on a turntable.

29 years after the trigger clicked the mood isn’t so optimistic, no “imagine”-style whimsy aflutter with visions of bed peace or hair peace, peace of ass or peace of meat, here-a-peace, there-a-peace, everywhere a peace-peace. The war isn’t over this Christmas. Maybe you’d be disenchanted with our political climate, but you can take solace knowing that it’s still uncool to like Paul McCartney, even though he doesn’t deserve all the cold shoulders.

Cynical times and music won't change anything. Still, and I know that this may have bothered you as a living human tasked with shedding a huge past, it was good to witness excitement about The Beatles, again. There must be some comfort in knowing that you'll never be forgotten.



Otherwise, your second wife has an album out, as does your OTHER son. Are you proud of him yet?

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

On Stage Testimony From the Gods of $5 Rock...

Don’t you miss Fugazi?

In the same roundabout way that you find most things on the Internet, (i.e. “Let’s check out Pitchfork and go from there.”), I managed to find this 40 minute compilation of stage banter from the mighty Fugazi posted at Chunklet. It’s an interesting reminder as to the difficulty of trying to carve out an entirely new niche after pioneering the oft-time violent hardcore scene, Ian MacKaye and crew unfortunately subjected to the antics of children that were entirely too young to experience the spitting and punching when it was the thing to do. When I saw Fugazi in 1995, I remember hearing shouts of “Straight Edge” and “Minor Threat” from every corner of the Trocadero as MacKaye restrung his guitar after popping a high E. It’s probably the best $5 I’ve ever spent.

Anyway, hearing this 40 minute clip of Ian and Guy Picciotto either berating, defending or speaking to the crowd, my ears have received nothing other than Fugazi all day. I truly miss this band, as integral to my youth as they were. They were nothing short of brilliant and their catalogue more than confirms the truth in that assessment.







Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The Haunted House of Funerary Circumstance on Wax…


Califone
All My Friends Are Funeral Singers
Dead Oceans
Released: 10.6.09

All My Friends Are Funeral Singers will be a movie.

Before I knew that, the album version already had a narrative feel, conceptual chapters that attempt to convey something of a story. And though I’m not completely aware of what it says, Califone’s ponderous and acoustic album sounds as natural as elapsed time or budding flora, organic head-growth conveyed through risk and sensitivity.

With “Giving Away The Bride,” All My Friends Are Funeral Singers leads in with a somewhat long and looped stride that sporadically erupts into fuzz and odd instrumental moans. Califone’s experimental heart is more apparent here, the rest of the album bestowing hollow-bodied strums and blues-based sing-a-longs that take unconventional jaunts into some other headspace, maybe ghostly ideas translated into something unconfined by category.

A romantic notion? It’s possible that my expectations were so blown that objectivity is failing me, but the album’s presence, especially through the haunting licks of “1928” and the midway sectionals of “Buñnel,” convinced me that Califone is beyond such objectivity. Is it possible that feeling, or spirituality can surpass the judgment of someone moved by art, or overwhelmed by art’s embrace?

And, while typing this up, listening to the album for its umpteenth playback, I realize that my overabundance of praise within so short a number of paragraphs won’t help the album or the band, expectations now through the roof to anyone that gives this article the time of day. Though this isn’t the first album that’s ever impressed me enough to dispel the usual yardstick by which I measure music, I can’t pretend to bother with such criteria. Listen to “Funeral Singers:” Just a couple guitars and some singing, an occasional airing of strange dialogue. What makes this better than other songs of its ilk? There are literally thousands of songs that attempt depth with the same tools that don’t come close.

All My Friends Are Funeral Singers Trailer from Califone on Vimeo.



Questioning, though, diminishes its quality. All My Friends Are Funeral Singers happens to be one of those perfect little examples of doing things “right” and maintaining a heightened spirituality that never devolves into a so-called religious experience. Everything feels personal and intimate, the album’s deities exemplified through the enlivened pace of “Ape-Like,” or the slow-dance steadiness of “Evidence;” the gentle string play of “Alice Marble Gray,” or jubilant motion of “Salt.” “Krill” laments like a modern-day Midnight Cowboy, “Better Angels” morphs into a near-cacophonous array of experimental noise, steel drum and amp’d guitar.

Though I’m sure its filmic counterpart will be more fluid in its story, All My Friends Are Funeral Singers says enough by itself. Califone’s latest is an emotional combo that never feels trite, cliché or forced. It never suffers the rampant pitfalls of so many other folk-ish performers, coming off as played prosaic Earth-torn bullshit that wallows and bemoans its good fortune to play music and live through its art. Instead, Califone conceptualize and incorporate an expansive musical dialect into their idea, refusing to settle for literal storytelling or allowing that idea to be the heart of the album. It’s not often you encounter a band so perfectly expressive, or an album this happy to be alive.

Sincerely,
Letters From A Tapehead

Notes from the Record Room: Bring on the Kill Taker

I was in Ocean City, New Jersey with a friend, sitting outside on a deck with a boombox resting between us. It was 1993. On this particu...