Thursday, September 22, 2016

Cool Ghouls! Animal Races!


There's a nice little array of bands touched by the hands of Mikey Young and lurking around the greater Melbourne circle that birthed Total Control; there's Terry, of course, featuring members that aren't Mikey Young. He's mastered albums for Wireheads, UV Race and-- oh, hell, Impose already got around to this a few years ago. But he also made his way to California's bay area and played with Kelley Stoltz for a bit, and now he and Stoltz are respectively recording and mastering records together, which they did for Useless Eaters earlier this year and which they did more recently for Cool Ghouls.

The albums they're working on would've fit beautifully into the lo-fi-garage-slash-surf rock movement we seemed to have a decade ago (which might've started around the time everyone caught onto Black Lips and won't stop, thanks to the Burger/Castle Face revival-revival still taking place in California). San Francisco's Cool Ghouls are already several years deep into this never-ending rock 'n roll period, though they're not patient enough to be called fully psychedelic; they're too alt-country to be called punk; they're not innovative enough to lead any sort of movement. They're neither wacky nor annoyingly sincere, and they don't sound to be reaching toward any source of inspiration in particular. This odd little no man's space, the vague idea of a 2010s band inspired by a few 1990s bands inspired by a few 1960s bands, is where they fit. Which, as it happens, is where Kelley Stoltz also fits, and where Mikey Young occasionally finds room to sit.



There's the moderately paced almost-freakout, then there's the sad pop, which they of course label as such and which of course features pedal steel. The track that could've been written by Greg Ashley. And then there's the song whose riff falls somewhere between the Gin Blossoms' "Until I Fall Away" and George Harrison's "What is Life." It sort of lacks aim, but the harmonies are nice enough, and Animal Races is ultimately an enjoyable album, the kind of reliable comfort you turn to when you'd like to put on a record and dance for your cat on a Saturday afternoon, nothing more.


Monday, September 19, 2016

Entertaining yourself in Port Townsend: Jherek Bischoff's Cistern


Cistern might not be so much for those who crave traditional classical music as much as for those who crave something to visualize or identify with -- much like a film score, or Margaret Leng Tan's toy piano. It is cinematic and may somehow please fans of post-rock; think Japancakes' Belmondo or even Explosions in the Sky (refer to Bischoff's "Headless" in particular). Above all else, it's the score to a movie that hasn't been created, and really, to a place.



Jherek Bischoff wouldn't be the first to draw inspiration from the Dan Harpole Cistern at Fort Worden. Long ago emptied, it extends any sound with a 45-second reverb, and requires visitors to enter through a tiny entrance, down a ladder, into the dark, dark room. Given the latter issue, it would be difficult to drag a full orchestra or even, say, a cello down there, so Bischoff composed a collection inspired by the impact of the cistern and gathered a group of musicians to perform and record it traditionally. What resulted is a collection of instrumentals in which every note slowly drags, quite beautifully, in self-awareness.

When Bischoff is live with whatever handful of musicians he manages to pull together, he's a ball of energy and a natural leader; he's an excitable storyteller, difficult to physically contain, at once like a very tall child who only recently gained the voice to say "look at me" and old enough to have built up the experience necessary to make composing and conducting fun. And still, none of this is apparent in Cistern because the album was designed around an echo and projects the emptiness of a large, dark space, which is of course quite a lonely sound.

That lonely sound is strongest on the album's title track, which Bischoff's orchestra saves for the second-to-last spot, and which is the real finish of the album. If Cistern were a movie full of wonder and opportunity, containing perhaps a tragic turn that ends in death, or the conclusion that "we were all wrong in the end" (I'm not sure what kind of script I've written here), closing track "The Sea's Son" is the piece that plays behind the end credits. If the climactic "Cistern" is the death that brings you to tears, "The Sea's Son" is the sun coming up the morning after. It's Will eating with his family after Eleven sacrifices herself to kill the mega venus flytrap whatsit. It's the asteroid breaking apart and missing Earth after Bruce Willis lets fucking Ben Affleck live. It's the dénouement after the story arc has completed. It's the sigh of relief after a really beautiful and dramatic collection.


Monday, September 12, 2016

An Interview! With Dan Melchior.


Many of the interviews featured on this site shine a light on newer artists, and given how easy it is to release music online and how difficult it is to find a gem among all those new releases, the focus on what is current partly serves to help sift through the proverbial slush pile. But it's a real joy to be able to highlight a longtime favorite, and it's been a pleasure getting to know Dan Melchior. Dan is a part-time painter, and more famously, a full-time musician who essentially plays blues in all forms. He's proven himself a witty and honest lyricist, as well as a skilled guitarist, and he releases more music in a year than many artists release in the span of a career. 

He recently returned to Durham, North Carolina, where he'd previously lived with late wife Letha Rodman Melchior, and kindly spent some time chatting about some of his work old and new. We only made it through a small ratio of his output, of course.


Choir Croak Out Them Goodies: How's the day going?

Dan Melchior: Not bad! A bit hungover earlier.

CCOTG: Ah, dear! A good yesterday, then. I was going through a couple of old interviews [of yours], and a couple years ago you said you don't like to listen to O, Clouds Unfold!, but years prior you'd said "Sticks Vs. Smoke" off it was your favorite song of yours to date. And separately, that your favorite work was usually the most recent. I think this speaks miles about the way you like what you've done until you can look back on it in hindsight and hope to evolve. It seems you're always very much about moving forward. 

DM: [Moving forward is] my main aim in doing music. I sometimes think I might be a bit too focused on it at times. I was just thinking the other day that I should try and follow up some of my previous ideas a bit more. I don't like O, Clouds Unfold! much because of how weak it sounds. It wasn't recorded well, or mastered well. I wish we had done a better job with it. It sounds puny to me, it is also very clunky in places, as I was just desperately trying to get away from the whole Medway/garage thing. We had just been on tour with a couple of really terrible bands, and it was painful to me to realize that we were thought of as playing a similar type of music to those bands. I became pretty obsessed with breaking out of that perception, and I think I tried far too hard to break out of it – it gets a bit too close to generic indie rock in places. And it is also not a very powerful sounding record. The guy who recorded it really didn't know what he was doing, and it very thin and overly compressed.

CCOTG: Do you have an idea of when it was that you realized you didn't want to be a part of a wider genre? Whether it was finally hearing too much of the same, or otherwise?

DM: I never wanted to. I always thought the Broke Revue stood apart from other bands perceived as being similar. I thought all these subtle little things that we did made us really different, but I was not seeing things from a wider perspective – not realizing how much people like to pigeonhole things, and how little it really matters, ultimately. Sixteen years later, the name Billy Childish still comes up in reviews, after several years of field recordings, backwards ukeleles, and obscure mutterings – there's no escape!

CCOTG: I think that's a double-edged thing, because of course you're your own person with your own style, but a lot of people might've initially found you through the albums you did with him or with Holly Golightly [myself included, many years ago!].

DM: Yeah, I don't care at this stage. I did then. I like some of my old records a lot. I was never part of that really, it was something I fell into. Those people were very opposed to the modern world, dressed in antique clothes, played antique guitars through antique amps, etc. I was never a true believer. I bought a couple of garage rock comps from Our Price when it was closing down, and I liked the stuff on there better than U2, so to that degree I could have been said to be a garage rock fan. However, the first music I was ever really into was hip-hop, and I was very much interested in that from the age of eleven on.

When I discovered some of the more “down home” type blues stuff later, I was struck by the same elements of groove and repetition in it. I have always been attracted to that drive, and that was something that was very much missing from the current rock music of that time. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion was the first band I ever saw that actually managed to bring some of that into their music, and it was also the first gig I ever went to that didn't bore me to death. All those Medway types would have considered the Blues Explosion terrible because of their lack of puritanical revivalism. I always thought these garage rock bands were like people who go to Renaissance faires. Some of them had something going for them, because they managed to bring some of their own personality to the music, but on the whole it has never been a very interesting scene to me.

CCOTG: That's a tough call – our Renaissance Faires are quite painful.

DM: Oh, we don't have them in the UK. I found out about them here.

CCOTG: [Going back a bit, your need to constantly evolve] got me wondering about your records this year – what made you redo "Bottom of the Sea" for Plays 'The Greys?'

DM: I was in a phase of seeing how little cohesive structure could be applied to something that could be called a “song” when I did that version.



CCOTG: You touched on it with the mention of hip hop – the interest in groove and repetition. Are you familiar with Kristin Hersh and Throwing Muses? I ask because, while I don't think you'd love most of her music, she started making music to force it out of her head. And though I don't imagine you have the same issues [with concussion and bipolar disorder], I do see certain similarities in the way [your] music is done. Throwing Muses had certain wacky patterns in some of their songs that were very daring, and you've had a bit of the same throughout your career. I think it was the Das Menace s/t release that reminded me of this – "Spectral Birds," particularly. It made me think of the Muses' "Garoux des Larmes."

DM: Yes, I know who she is, and I remember her struggling with mental illness. I've had problems with anxiety and OCD-like symptoms over the years. It was very bad when I was about seventeen, which coincidentally was the time I first started trying to play the guitar with dedication.

The structure of my songs tend to be extremely simple, as I don't like to think while I'm playing. At this stage I've pretty much lost interest in chord changes or singing, as what I love most in music is the aspect of losing yourself in it.



CCOTG: Do you think the music gave you an outlet for obsession or pushed it forward?

DM: Well, being obsessive about doing music is pretty positive, so it gave me something to focus on. I'd always put energy into art and writing poems and stuff, but music certainly gave me something to put my excess energy into – a nice channel for those feelings, and refuge from the normal strains of life, which can overwhelm people like me pretty easily sometimes.

CCOTG: When you're writing, do you start with a pattern you can't get rid of or do you start with nothing and see where you get lost in it?

DM: Yes, a pattern is usually the start – a simple hook or riff. Then sometimes words present themselves, sometimes not. Words are often just sounds for me now – I'm not trying to express my feelings through words anymore, really.

CCOTG: Which is very noticeable when I go through your records in chronological order – early on there was a lot of lyrical content, a combination of love/heartbreak, extremely British stories, and your ability to create a broad message without being preachy. Thinking "Your Lousy Floor," there. Is there less that you want to share now, or less that you find interested in putting into words?

DM: I used to write songs about my life, but apart from The Backward Path, I haven't done that for more than ten years. I think these days I just try to create an atmosphere through words. Usually a chaotic sort of thing. I suppose that's how life seems to me, quite bewildering and malevolent! Words fall together in these little patterns, with repeated phrases of almost percussive sounds. It's like using the voice as an instrument. Whether there's some hidden meaning, I don't know.

CCOTG: Is there a difference in what you're inclined to create [either music or art] based on each new place you move and settle into? You've talked about how much you love England but your music's obviously become more abstract since [living in the U.S.]. Has your work been affected by what your surroundings look like, or influenced by where you and [late wife] Letha had been in life? Or for that matter, is what you create affected by who you spend the most time with?

DM: Yes, my music is definitely influenced by surroundings, and relationships. My relationship with Letha was the pivotal thing in my life so far, and when she was here I felt far more secure and connected to things. Coming back to Durham has brought a certain amount of that back, as I just love the country here, and the people are so friendly and open. I don't really know what will result musically, but being up in Ohio was actually very productive for me. I didn't go out much!

CCOTG: Do you have the open space to experiment where you are in Durham?

DM: I am in an apartment, but I don't really need to make a lot of noise to record the way I do. No drummers smashing on things.



CCOTG: I'm really happy to see you in a new relationship, moving ahead. Do you see your [creative] style changing now that you've had [girlfriend] Emily for a bit? I saw [your recent] video for "It's a Hard Life at Sea" and I really love that you have another partner you can also collaborate with in some context.

DM: Yes, Emily is very supportive of my music, and I think she is a talented photographer. I've been on a pretty eclectic path for a while now, and I think things will continue to be pretty varied for the foreseeable future, although, as I said before, I do sometimes think that following through on some of these beginnings a bit more could be good. It becomes a pattern in itself to approach each new album as a completely new, separate thing.



CCOTG: Do you ever feel any sort of personal conflict with starting fresh versus moving back to where you shared life with Letha and staying close to Letha by putting out the last of her work? Does it affect you to have both women nearby, in a way?

DM: Well, it's hard obviously, and there is a little bit of a conflict as I still miss Letha everyday and no one will ever be able to replace her. I'm not looking for that, though. I'm just trying to keep going, really – trying not to end up living in the past. The music is just a part of it. Emily is good about it though, as she knew Letha, and admired her. She doesn't mind me talking about my feelings for her.

CCOTG: "All the Clocks" has been one of my favorites of yours for a couple years [speaking of Letha]. It's one of the nicest songs you've got and I hope she'd gotten a chance to appreciate it.

DM: I really like that [Backward Path] LP, although I don't feel the need to listen to it. I know it's there when I'm ready.

CCOTG: All understood. Speaking of family – Glen [Dan's bird]. My cat is absolutely terrified of "Elmore Blues" off this year's Home of the Blues LP. Every so often I think about his response to the music I play at home. Do you ever look for a response from Glen when you play [your own music] at home?

DM: Glen's reaction to practically every noise is to try and drown it out with his own (incidentally he is currently trying to chew a hole through some shelves, and bugging the hell out of me). I need to set up his Discogs page properly, as he is on at least twenty [of my] records. I just set my stuff up here the other day, and he managed to appear on the first thing I recorded twice. I don't begrudge him his backing vocals.



CCOTG: Does he often sing, or just create some sort of noise about the house?

DM: Well, he sings, screeches, cackles, whistles, and says “be right back,” “beaky,” “sweet bird” (in two ways: one the way Letha said it, and one the way I do), “good morning,” “hi beadle,” and “don't you know?” He also impersonates Emily's laugh and makes a gulping sound when someone takes a drink. There's a lot of cackling. That's often his reaction to loud noise.

CCOTG:  Will be going back for a listen to look for "be right back" in some of your old records! Glen aside, while your music is very much yours, is there anyone you haven't yet collaborated with that you'd like to or would've liked to? Time period/distance/status not being an issue?

DM: I would like to collaborate with lots of people. Most of them probably wouldn't be interested in working with me. I would really like to collaborate with guitarists I admire in a live setting – just improvising. One of my absolute favorites is Willie Lane, he makes fantastic records. I would also like to do something with my friend Pat Gubler. I'm up for any interesting pairing, really.

CCOTG: Why are you convinced that most wouldn't want to work with you? 

DM: Um, probably snobbery regarding perceptions about my music.

CCOTG: In an interview with Decayke a few years ago, you'd referred to "Only Fools and Horses," and mentioned a love of "middle of the road English comedies of yore." For those of us who grew up without them – what's a good starting point?

DM: Haha – well, it depends how low you want to go. “One Foot In The Grave” is pretty weird and “edgy” by the standards of the genre, but still beloved by pensioners. I like “The Likely Lads” a lot. “Open All Hours,” “Porridge” – then you've got real detritus like “On The Buses” and “George And Mildred.” I bet they're on YouTube.

CCOTG: Will make note of all. Aside from the more recently streamable “Keeping Up Appearances,” I need a good starting point. Finally – is there anything that you never get a chance to share that you'd like to?

DM: Um...Durham rules! So glad to be back here!

CCOTG: Do you have any favorite spots over there?

DM: Where I'm living now there is this amazing network of little paths that can get you where you want to go (I don't drive) by cutting through the woods. They aren't even on maps, so you just have to find them on your own. Beautiful scenery all around.

CCOTG: That sounds lovely! Thank you so much for spending a good chunk of time chatting today.

DM: Thank you! I hope you have a good day!

-------------------

Dan has many, many albums for sale, available here. This year's releases include Filthy Frozen River Rag, Home of the Blues, and Plays 'The Greys.'

Thursday, September 1, 2016

A Bit Batshit: Where I'm Matt


When the Soft Pack were the Muslims, and then, when they weren’t, singer-guitarist Matt Lamkin received a couple Charles Grodin comparisons – which used to seem fitting given his polite deadpan and affinity for sweaters. Today, the similarity is apparent more in the "I just can't win" attitude, which is strongly present right off the bat on Where I'm Matt.

Opener "Here I Am" is, for a track that's so middle-of-the-road retro that it's nearly yacht-rock, purely fantastic and sets an unexpected tone: "Here I am/I make the bed I make myself sleep in/The same idiot I've always been" is the chorus that comes shortly before "I'm getting my fill of being a fool for hire." There aren't a lot of songwriters out there who use self-deprecation as an introduction, but, you know, here he is. And this might be one of the best songs to come out this year.



Years ago, Lamkin expressed an interest in seeing his band dabble in electronic music, and though he indeed dabbled the tiniest bit with a synth, the Soft Pack seemed aware of its strengths and limitations, and what they were great at was being a modest rock band with a lot of power. Part of this was in Brian Hill's drumming. He really was a fantastic drummer. On his own, Matt Lamkin experiments much more than he could've in an established group, though he's a now-33-year old who still sings like a 21-year old Jonathan Richman and pulls off a few songs that could have worked with his old band (namely "Can't Give it Away Anymore").

The most exciting aspect of this record is how cohesive it isn't; its order was well-sequenced, but no three consecutive songs have anything to do with one another. You might get the sense that he's becoming much more carefree with age and giving himself the space to ask what if? He's growing increasingly out there as a musician, perhaps in the way Ariel Pink is considered "out there." But creating with a carefree approach – this is how musicians ought to age, and this record is enough of a peek into his head that it'll be lovely to anticipate what pops up from him in future albums.



Listen to a far-less produced and less lethargic version of "Los Andes" from 2014.



Thursday, August 25, 2016

Sweepin' Chimbleys: Fellow Fellow


It might be too bold to suggest that there's a turning point in music that took place somewhere around the rise of Neutral Milk Hotel; that pre- and post- dividing line paved the way for whimsy, and orchestral instruments in non-orchestral settings, and it made literacy king. It made room for Beirut, and the Decemberists, and perhaps should've made crossover artists out of jazz groups like Hot Club of Detroit. What kind of people claimed to pull influence from Sicilian funeral marches or drew attention to Bulgaria in the early 2000s? People dabbling in the vague genre of chamber pop, that's who.

Years later, it's still going here and there, and can be found in an unlikely place, L.A., via Fellow Fellow. Fellow Fellow shares a guitarist with Fell Runner [Steven van Betten], and is a seven-piece complete with trumpets and tuba and Wurlitzer, dabbling in waltzes and polka, all that good stuff. True to their predecessors, the band is led by a soft-spoken singer-songwriter [Cooper Wolken], and true to what it is to be a band in 2016, they are doomed to attract comparisons to those who've previously conquered this whole old timey fusion thing. But they're good at what they do.



Monday, August 22, 2016

Good Throb gives you a good shake!


London's Good Throb might be better at punk than half of its originators; thanks largely to frontlady KY Ellie, they boast a vicious delivery that seems to be missing in a good lot of American bands that give it a go. They've got the desperation that only comes with needing to spit something out urgently, and they've got the balls that post-punk acts like French Vanilla are so unfortunately lacking. This is what happens when a lyricist might have a sharp sense of humor but doesn't feel the need to hide behind it.

Ellie firmly says, "Give me validation" the way Poison Girls' Vi Subversa would say, "Now I feel just like my mother/her price is low," or Eve Libertine would say, "You take what you want when you want it." 

And they've come so, so far since 2013.



Good Throb is being very kind and offering their music for free. Be kind in return and purchase it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The damn summer's nearly over!

If you're a bit on the anxious side and looking for something to match the mania you feel, Montreal quintet Look Vibrant wants to meet you! No idea where they get their energy but they've kept this batty thing going for at least three years. They're musicians' musicians.



There's this nice band from Brighton that just joined FatCat Records and they have a seven-inch coming out on Friday!



Somehow managed to miss a new This is the Kit EP back in January. This is a nice bit off Rusty and Got Dusty, which also features a cover of “Les Plus Beaux.” Even having gone electric to an extent, Kate Stables continues to make some of the most stunning folk around.



Sharing the Brassland label with This is the Kit is Fusilier, a fella whose new single might stand out as the "which of these doesn't belong?" in this post. But he's exciting, makes dark stuff you can dance to, and gives the bass its due. And he's sassy as hell. Southerner living in New York, natch.



No joke, I've been standing next to Bratmobile/Cold Cold Hearts/Cool Moms frontlady Allison Wolfe at shows around Los Angeles for years (she likes Wreckless Eric and The Mummies, for the curious), and in all that time, her newest band Sex Stains somehow hadn't put out an album. That lull comes to an end in September! Sex Stains' debut is coming out September 2. One-minute single "Don't Hate Me 'Cuz I'm Beautiful" was floating around Soundcloud for a while and has since been replaced with You Tube audio.

It's also on their demo from last year. This is worth a little hurrah!


Monday, August 8, 2016

Another exercise in bumming out: Stove

Ovlov released a near-perfect rock album three years ago and then they ended on a swell note so that Steve Hartlett could release an album under the name Stove, for which he played all instruments. That break was short-lived, and Ovlov is once again performing together. But drummer Theo Hartlett released an EP as Flat Swamp earlier this spring, and Stove, whose Is Stupider wasn't entirely separate from Steve Hartlett's songwriting for Ovlov, already has an EP out, less than a year after his debut album's release.

So that EP, a cassette release called Is a Toad in the Rain, is performed by a full band, and is partly acoustic, partly programmed beats, and 100 percent unexpectedly, ah, chill. It would be easy to say that Hartlett went from emulating one '90s act to another with this Stove release, but for a more contemporary point of compare-and-contrast, it would likely appeal to fans of that recent Warik debut.




An exercise in bumming out: Snail Mail

The youth and androgyny in 17-year old Lindsay Jordan's voice is enough to bring Baltimore's Snail Mail into a relatively obscure position, as an American counterpart to onetime Sheffield act Standard Fare. [And if you're wondering what happened to Standard Fare, they split up and youthful/androgynous-sounding frontlady Emma Kupa released an album with Mammoth Penguins.]

Snail Mail is more mopey and less 2010s British indie pop than Standard Fare, and what Jordan particularly adds to the slow-paced grunge of Habit, outside of her tomboyish vocal quality, is the sort of harmless hopelessness that only seems to come when you're young and haven't yet sorted out the world in your mind. This is the perfect type of band to listen to at 17, and Snail Mail's followers will likely be extremely loyal and get them and eventually turn 23 and snap out of it. What's happening:

I wanna spend the entire year/Just face down



There's a weight and I feel it and it's pressing down/And it won't be for nothing/And it won't stick around/If it is about anything that I can fix/Then I'll see you on the other side if it really exists



Purchase Habit here.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

This world ain't big enough for your feelings! (A couple of lady singles.)

If anyone brings to mind Emiliana Torrini circa 2005, it's Austin-based singer-songwriter Alex Rose. That is, until you hear the B-side of "Grandmothers," a folky breakup song that aligns words like coattails and contrails like only a millennial could and would.

And life isn't always full of whimsy. 
So don't fall in love! 
Don't fall to pieces! 
This world ain't big enough for your feelings! 

Enough of that, though. Here's the A-side.



Los Angeles band JODY just released a single yesterday (recorded at the soon-to-be-kaput Smell), and they are quite a lot catchier than the Fratellis-esque Jody from Australia. Look for them out and about in Los Angeles.