Posts Tagged ‘2010

10
Nov
10

V.A. – We Are All One In The Sun: A Tribute to Robbie Basho

What Robbie Basho carried on with his pals John Fahey and Ed Denson in the 60s was a pseudo-guitar revolution quite detached from the rock’n’roll uprising of the time. Seemingly aloof to that kind of rabid culture, they did also forge a new way of interacting with the instrument: whereas the rockers found in blues the seed of electricity, the Takoma guys reduced to steel string guitars the complexity of avantgardish classical music, achieving their very own stream of “folk”. Their fingers eventually reached out to other cultural sensitivities: in particular Basho who, most of all, created an unique, style-binding musical endeavor in which the folk roots converged with not only European echoes, but also the music of native Americans and that of India. And eventually, as opposed to some of his genre companions, he sang. And very joyfully, I might add.

He was also snobbish enough as to steal Matsuo Basho’s name and make it his own. The fragments of still life and the passing of the seasons, the soul’s brief glimpses into the surrounding reality, which populate Basho’s haikus might seem alien to Robbie’s mostly overlong compositions, but the sense of instant poignancy and of natural reflection flows neatly through his guitar. And as the poet did achieve an timeless form of art, the musician reached, with his introspective excursions and ragas, the sort of soundscapes that have no age whatsoever. But, what of it now?

Basho’s influence is evident in the spiritual sons of American primitivism, such as James Blackshaw or the late Jack Rose; but also among broader styles of sound, specifically experimental wankery (that of the Bishop brothers and their band the Sun City Girls – of course) and freak folk. This tribute album is composed mainly of the former, but there’s also brief glimpses into more varied territory. The collection, as a result, is irregular: in terms of rhythm, but also (slightly) quality-wise. The opener is Steffen Basho-Junghans, who, as Robbie before him, incorporated the haiku master’s name into his, as if there wasn’t enough confusion. Since then Stefan has worked hard to imitate closely of Basho (the guitarist, not the poet). His oeuvre, though unremarkable, coolly enough starts where Robbie’s ended, so it’s sexy to imagine him as some sort of reincarnation. The guitarists hired for this album, besides Basho v 2.0, are top notch. There’s Glenn Jones, whose band Cul de Sac collaborated with Fahey in the 90s and whose own solo recordings are not to be overseen. The track he presents, “1337 Shattuck Avenue, Apartment D”, snatched off his last album, Barbeque Bob in Fishtown, is truly a work from the heart. Rousing. From the other side of the pond comes young Irish Cian Nugent, whose original composition is meandering, slow and a little boring. The (mandatory?) exotic flavor is brought on by Rahim Alhaj from Iraq, who whips out his oud to offer us “Baghdad AlThania”. And then there’s the more psychedelic band additions: the least accessible is probably Espers’ Helena Espvall’s lo-fi cello drone, “Travessa Do Cabral”. Creepy stuff. Arborea’s cover “Blue Crystal Fire” is downbeat and ominous but, as Fern Knight’s take on “Song for the Queen”, goes on for too long and ends up dragging. Unjustifiably tiring. The clear winner among the “sung” pieces is Meg Baird’s delicate “Moving Up a Ways”. Basho-Junghans wraps up the tribute with the most cascading and riveting of tracks: “Rocky Mountain Variations”, obviously inspired by Robbie’s record Visions of the Country. Junghans’ rendition captures awfully well the dynamics of Basho, eventually reaching a climatic bliss. It also defines the level of attention which is required to grasp the genius of American primitivism. Here, Junghans has successfully become the perfect Basho clone. Congrats.

The justification of tribute albums is something unclear. They fall into two main categories: those which actually re-work the (supposed) genius of the honored artist in a new and exciting way; and those that just make you feel like listening to the original. I’m afraid this release fits in this second group. It doesn’t have much balls, inasmuch as it niftly presents the various aspects of Basho’s music and its influences on different parts of the globe and genres in a polite, orderly fashion. As a manual, it is intriguing. As a record, it is definitely hit or miss, even when the artists’ enthusiasm is evident. Jones’ and Junghan’s in particular are excellent contributions and will satisfy anyone with a faheyan urge. Hopefully this collective yearning of Basho will spread the interest towards the mustached finger master

I didn’t die!
the end of a journey
is autumn nightfall

[Matsuo Basho echoing the current sentiments of Robbie Basho, as channeled by Stefan Basho-Junghans]

Link in comments.

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11
May
10

Michael Gira – ‘I Am Not Insane’

A few years ago, whilst listening to the Swans, I died. “A Screw” from Public Castration is a Good Idea did it. In the midst of depression, it’s not as if had the energy to get up and commit suicide, that’d been too much from my part: deliciously enough, the music was so over-bearing, it ended with my existence. Since my own death I’ve become weary of this Gira guy (ah mean, your excellency Mr. Gira). I don’t think the shady hat he got himself to appear more raunchy is fooling anyone. King of monotonous one-chord anthems, master of theoretical sexual degradation, present in most gothic americana-related nightmares, his cameos’ in one’s subconscious are met with both joy and tapdances. Now, he’s got the balls to declare he’s not insane. Thankfully enough, this new “album” isn’t called “I Am Not a Creepy Fuck”, for if that had been the case, no listener could’ve possibly stood for such a lie and Young God Records HQ would’ve been burnt down.

Still, what could he be insane about? Though his lyrics are usually not pleasant, he sure shows consistency. Is his dementia related to the re-forming of the Swans? Ah, indeed, that must be it. For there’s a reason behind such meandering introduction: surely Mr. Gira decided to drop the Swans monicker and become more light-hearted. Seems like Swans live shows had, by the 90s, become a standard in aural destruction (listening to some old live tapes, they really ressemble religious ablutions or infernal purges more than anything else), and mildly distraught by the forlorn faces of his fans, he called it quits and went on to create the Angels of Light. This new re-forming of Swans, according to his own words in his own webpage in his own internet, was required for him. He describes what he’s seeking for as “a tangible re-emersion in the sensation of Swans music rushing through my body in waves, lifting me up towards what, I can only assume, will be my only experience of heaven”. Unsurprising remarks, yet very moving. Still, Gira don’t fool no one. He has scarcely evolved in all these years. Form is one thing. It can be icky, it can be straightfoward, it can be shitty. It can morph, yet his soul remains the same. Nothing truer could be said about this new collection of songs. The good thing ’bout Gira is that he doesn’t give a crap about whatever surrounds him. In the early 90s, when asked about the “alternative” music scene, he affirmed he didn’t know anything about that, and refused to be “tagged” (it’s not as if he’s gone all indie-reunion on us). He does his thing, and as miserable as that can be, we all love him for it.

This album is, in a (many) way(s), the new Swans era starting point. We the youngsters, who hopped on the zwanz bandwagon when they were already dead, are of course highly anticipating the sight of Gira’s penis in the midst of a spiral of pounding drums and un-guitary guitars. Early speculation concerning the reunion’s first announced concert, at Supersonic superduper festival, implies they’d be back to their roots, yet Gira has said elsewhere the band will follow were Soundtracks for the Blind left off (and that this “re-formation” is not a “dumbass nostalgia act”). Either way, it’s gonna be lots of fun and laughter. Even if this batch of fresh songs will possibly be NEW Swans songs, their value in restablishing the Swans spirit is also monetary; Gira said the album will help raise funds for the “re-formation”. Apparently not much money is needed, since the edition was very limited and there’s no interest on selling a new batch. So, I’m not really overviewing the wholeness of I Am Not Insane, since I have no copy of it and cannot admire its almost-hand-made packaging or sense the smell of Young God. Here’s hoping Mr. Gira doesn’t get pissed off and rams a guitar up my ass.

But what about the music? Well, Gira has done it again. This is an enchanting set of compositions. There’s two ways to look at I Am Not Insane, some might think it’s a bunch of homely recorded, half cooked demos, others may see it as a work of unpolished genius. Well. I see it as nothing more than a creepy fuck at home with his guitar. That image will of course remind everyone of Jandek. Despite his morbidness and much celebrated (that is, until the release of this cd) insanity, Gira’s not an outsider at all: Jandek is (in the following order) more eerie, shaggy, unfocused, unharmonic and strange though, Gira’s way less obscure, and not as insane (if he’ll excuse me). Let’s just say Jandek is of the “what the hell!” variety, while Gira belongs to the “fucking hell!” category. However, both their treatment of the guitar as a “pounding” instrument (sometimes) and the vocal style don’t seem so far apart. Still, these recordings by Gira mainly breathe some sort of self-confident alienation. This is ye olde sick world of Gira, in which he sometimes embodies a god-like entity with the means of ripping the flesh of liars, swallowing sorrows of men, and stealing all oxygen. Humiliation, failure (the title of the final track and also the title of an old Swans track – consistency), weakness, love, the human body and deception are the recurring themes, as usual. The lyrics are definitely closer to late-era Swans, less emphasis put on sentences and repetitions, more interest set on allegorical and poetical significations. Not depressing per-se, but substantially disturbing. Still, of course, he achieves moments of beauty. I mean, for the love of gawd, take a look at the following words! ‘Ride your mechanical beast, hitch to the ultimate sin’; ‘I was born in the place where you kneeled / in the burning white sand / in the blood that you spilled’; ‘May I find my way to the foot of your throne / and may I find your arms ’round my neck / and may I find your little mouth inside of this bend’; ‘the sky is a yellowed vitrine / and my veins are now screaming with gasoline’; ‘[he] would gladly rip the throat of God / if only he could reach his wide ass’. The latter is probably the most comic moment in the record, only surpassed by Gira’s (unintentionally hilarious?) adlib at the start of “Opium Song”: “fucking goddamn motherfucker”, he utters (needless to say, the image of Gira cursing at his house with a guitar is just very amusing). The lyrics are, in a way, the most important part of this release. If it was just Gira crooning away, or no attention was paid to the words, the record would be as monotonous as an obnoxious, badly recorded Nick Cave tribute album. Yet, these lyrics! Oppressive, yet dazzling. Curiously, the most meandering (“experimental” if preferred) track in here is the appropriately titled “No Words” which is angular guitar strumming coupled with Gira babbling random sounds. He controls very well the guitar/voice dynamics, achieving a couple of shivering a capella moments (the ending od “Little Mouth”) and powerful lonely guitar chords – which I particularly enjoy in both “Eden Prison” versions, probably my favourite cuts here. There’s a guitar pounding at the end of the first “Eden” that is so mechanical it almost seems as if Gira was fisting a piano. His voice even becomes melodic and catchy in “Opium Song”; the duet with [unknown female] on “My Lazy Clown” is also an harmonic standout. Gira’s vocal style is disaffected and cavernous, yet oddly compelling. Those familiar with his previous (also limited) album I Am Singing to You From My Room know the drill. After a while the record (as anything Gira’s ever done) does become a tad underwhelming… the hammering guitar feels fatigued, some notes star to fall off… but overall it’s superior to most “neofolk” sub-products. This is not gothic at all… just plain dark folk. “Is this more of the same?” is not the appropriate question, since [who wouldn’t want more of the same?]; what we should be wondering is how these cuts will mutate into Swansongs. That judgment depends entirely on each listener; I believe there’s some with great potential (“My Birth”, “Oxygen”, “No Words”) and others that should remain in this raw form (“Inside Madeline” in particular), but considering the excellent musicians which will be involved in the transforming, I wouldn’t be much worried. Thing is, the whole re-formation thingy shows promise… maybe I’ll have to rise from the grave to assist a couple of their shows. Just imagine swarms of oozing drums and have a good wank.

Oh and for those interested on ART, ’tis yer lucky Gira. The music is complete alongside the 20 drawings he did on the happy occasion. Close your eyes and just try to imagine how Gira would draw, and you’ll probably come close, only erase all potential rabbits. The illustrations are fun though, I can see him as a snobby underground comic book artist. Particularly since one of the main focuses is his (I quote the man himself) “perpetually adolescent fascination with gross, icky things”. Right-O! The limited package also comes with a DVD featuring Mr. Gira hanging around, carrying out domestic chores and walking the dog. Which is something that, for the moment, I can only picture in my mind, while sobbing.

Download link posted in comments.




‘Come with your ears… leave with your ears!’

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