Monday, November 28, 2016

The sky is falling down: Mark Sultan returns!


Nine years ago, The King Khan and BBQ Show toured, and made a cheery little appearance at Spaceland in Los Angeles, and if you'd asked their handsome German merch guy which of their albums he preferred, he might've said something along the lines of, "Oh, it depends. This one [holding up an album] is more doo-woppy than that one [pointing]. It all depends on how doo-woppy you like it." In fact, this is what he'd said. 

In August 2016, Mark Sultan returned to Los Angeles on his own, as part of a solo tour marked by angry social media posts about not receiving support unless he was touring as part of his band. The show was equally uncomfortable, Sultan alternating between his energetic croon and aggressive threats to end the show, responding to interruptions by a persistent heckler. Naturally, this distracted from would otherwise have been wildly apparent, the fact that Sultan happens to be a hell of a singer who actually sings. With his newest LP, BBQ, which is available digitally but can't seem to make its way to press, one gets the impression that Sultan just can't catch a break. 

He's done the one-man band thing for years, but his teenage longing on this album is more akin to a middle-aged ice cream man, demanding that you get in his truck, little girl. He's the 43-year old who's never stopped pining, only these love letters are interspersed with moments of brilliant madness; listen for "Agitated," "You to Be Mine," and "Black and Blue." This is no longer doo-woppy crooning and daydreaming, it's sneering and bitterly insisting that you're mine, goddamn it. He's been singing the same song all along, but he's grown a bit impatient, and he's created the soundtrack to a life that sounds to have fallen in a hole, regardless of whether it's really the case or not. So when this record manages to get released (and it appears to exist nowhere), give it a purchase and help him get to a nice, happy place where he can get back to being more doo-woppy.



Sunday, November 27, 2016

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

While Trump was giving his victory speech, I desperately wanted to explode with some comment about how no one looked more horrified than Barron Trump, or that, you know, if nothing else, at least the Imperial Wizard is happy tonight. But the alcohol has long worn off, and all I can feel is incredibly disappointed that this is the best we could do. I'm baffled at how many people place faith in the idea of a single candidate reversing the world, and the spectrum of what reversing the world means; I'm disappointed that Clinton gave Debbie Wasserman Schultz a new campaign role right after she'd resigned as DNC Chair; I'm disappointed that we've handed control to a wild card with no political experience and six bankruptcies behind him, because "at least we know what we're not getting." Never mind what we are getting.

Maybe we won't build a wall or create a registry of Muslims or repeal Roe v. Wade in the next few years; the terrifying thing is that we managed to elect him in spite of everything he's put out there, and in support of it. The smartest thing, at this point, would be to sort out what Democrats officially stand for so that we can rally behind whoever runs in 2020, as a single party.


Monday, November 7, 2016

Lower Plenty - Sister Sister


A couple years ago, Al Montfort gave an interview in which he suggested that the difference between American and Australian acts is Australia's lack of ambition, that "you're not going to go very far so you might as well try to write something that you really love rather than something that will sell." And maybe the freedom they've granted themselves is why this site seems to be filling so quickly with Montfort's incestuous circle in Melbourne; just a few months ago, it was time to sing the praises of his band Terry, and already, we've got another album by the six-years-in Lower Plenty to look up to.

Part of Sister Sister harks back to the freak folk movement of the early 2000s, and the album might be at its best during the pairing of "Ravesh" and "All the Young Men," though album closer "Treehouses" is soothing, almost like an adult attempting to be earnest and childlike. Lower Plenty's brand of mopey folk, doing its best impression of '90s individuality but with Velvet Underground-style strings, vocal duties split three ways, has character without being zany. In fact, it's a beautiful, rainy day collection, and what with some of their singing duties handed to Sarah Heyward, there's an awful lot of My Bloody Valentine's "Lose My Breath" seemingly scattered throughout the album. Not that they haven't already proven their sense of humor, of course, and one gets the impression that they might be playing these melancholy songs on the living room floor while laughing about them all the while.



Purchase Sister Sister on Bandcamp.


Monday, October 24, 2016

Aldous Harding will make you weepy



The woman who once told Australia's Beat"I look a little bit upset when I dance," and "I want to write a song like 'Quicksand,' by golly!" is unexpectedly healthy-humored in the way that Fiona Apple could give a funny and self-deprecating interview about weed shortly after releasing the saddest collection of breakup songs imaginable, or the way Rosie Thomas has managed for years to split duties between singer-songwriter and playing Sheila.

New Zealand's Aldous (Hannah) Harding is dry and confident and makes the face of a boxer when she sings. Her singing accent is a goddamn mystery. And she makes some of the most stunning but dour folk around right now, lending lines like "here I find no peace at all" and "I would rather die than sleep tonight." She wouldn't be out of place positioned between Delia Murphy and Molly Drake on a long, dark day's listening, which is really to say that she's perhaps singing in character as an Irish housewife whose husband has left for war and won't return. Or, really, who is preparing for death. You might feel the same way listening to Harding that you felt listening to Lhasa's last record. If you go and see her sing at the Smell in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, you can ask her yourself where that voice comes from.





Purchase her self-titled record, which has been out for a bit in New Zealand and was slow to reach the rest of us.

Monday, October 17, 2016

In a nutshell

Leftover from a 30-day songwriting challenge by Samira Winter, the happiest musician in Los Angeles. Essentially all of her songs are about dreaming and longing for love, and as with many of the others she's released, "Dreaming" sounds like most every movie made about drugs. She'll be at the Bootleg Theater in Los Angeles tomorrow with Ducktails.



Since being turned onto London nu jazz ensemble Kinkajous two years ago, they've actually taken a really fantastic turn, letting go of some of the electronic influence and embracing the jazz aspect of their genre. Which is really much easier to latch onto and more conducive to a live setting. Still happy to see the clarinet getting its due. They'd be enormous for a bit if they lived on the west side of Los Angeles.



The third Terry Malts record just came out last Friday and it's so incredibly straight ahead. Between the faux English accent, the three-minute track average, and the quality production that seems to have softened them up, it's a reliable go-to for poppy California rock, but is neither as jarring nor as humorous as it needs to be to make itself memorable. Still, they're good for a half-hour live set.



Jay Som's Turn Into is getting re-released on November 18, and though female acts generally don't deserve to be lumped together, she'd make a perfect fourth to Speedy Ortiz, Mitski and Winter on a single lineup. This record is dreamy and thoughtful, but she's halfway between Ash Bowie and Sadie Dupuis on guitar, wonderfully innovative. And she'll be at the Echo in Los Angeles on December 3, as part of a San Francisco lineup.



Pesaro, Italy coldwave revivalists [feeling ridiculous with these genre names] Soviet Soviet are putting out a sophomore record called Endless on December 2 and they've just released its first single. The album is in pre-order mode for another month and a half, and there are only 78 copies remaining of the initial 1000 pressed!




Monday, October 3, 2016

An Interview! With Georgio Valentino.



I first became acquainted with Georgio "The Dove" Valentino about four years ago, after posting about a split he'd done with the great Vic Godard. When I'd first run across his half of the release, "Marolles," he'd sounded so ridiculously debonair [in fact, he's been described as a one-time "impossibly debonair keyboardist with the impossibly tall pompadour"] that I assumed him to be masquerading in costume as a European. To an extent, he is, at least part-time. Originally from Palm Beach, Florida, Georgio [real name Γιωργος Jesús Παπανικολοπουλος] moved to Detroit in his 20s and then left for Brussels, where he continues to reside and collaborate with old heroes and new friends.

He's a natural writer with a knack for description, and aside from the unusually formal manner with which he presents himself, his greatest asset might be his ability to channel certain elements of his favorite musicians into his own work without managing to mimic them in the slightest. He doesn't quite sound like anybody else, and his voice and arrangements are stunning. In hindsight, an interview might've been long overdue.

Choir Croak Out Them Goodies: You've described yourself as having been "exiled" from the U.S., which speaks a great deal about how poorly matched you felt at one point. But you've also mentioned that you like the idea of one day returning to Florida part-time, and since physical environment tends to affect the mood of what we create, do you think the return and change in scenery would make it difficult to keep up your music [as it is], or that you still wouldn't be able to find your audience?

Georgio Valentino: I’m not sure I felt so poorly matched. The vicissitudes of the business are well known so I never expected much. I was happy to learn and grow and explore the world around me. And I wasn't short of like-minded souls with which to share the journey. It is true, though, that one pays one’s dues and begins to wonder what’s next, if anything. I was slowly bending toward that asymptote. But what really drove me into exile—before I even had the luxury of disillusionment with my creative situation—was debt.

As Beau Brummell quietly slipped across the English Channel and into debtor’s exile one seemingly random night in 1816, I absconded to Europe in 2008 without even saying goodbye to my boon companions in Detroit. In that sense I think I might actually have been matched all too well. Lehman Brothers reaped the whirlwind for its predatory lending practices while I was airborne over the Atlantic. It all felt rather poetic then, being one of millions who said "no" to organized extortion. For a brief moment it seemed that we had forced some kind of reckoning, that things wouldn't be the same after, or at the very least that if we went down we'd take the loan sharks down with us. Wishful thinking, of course.

Anyway, it turned out for me an opportune interruption of business as usual. I had always had a vague yearning to see more than my corner of the world. Circumstances obliged me to satisfy it. I stayed away for a few years until the dust settled but eventually became a fairly regular visitor to my home state. We even played there last year. We drafted an old pal from Jacksonville to bang the drums. Good times. We were heartened by the experience. I’m due back again in November to bolster the Democratic vote and plan to play some shows while I’m at it. It would be divine to be able to take a few months, absorb the place and the people, and develop some new material there. It’s on our bucket list.



CCOTG: Have you found what you were looking for since leaving the U.S.?

GV: Yes, I found respite from the debt collector! And in the process I found some breathing space in which to collect the scattered thoughts of my youth. And I found some perspective on “culture” generally and cultural production specifically. Last but not least, I happened upon a host of inspiring friendships.

CCOTG: Has living in Brussels and having access to Europe opened you up to partnerships you wouldn't have found here, or has social media really been the thing to create possibilities for you as of late?

GV: It’s a combination of the two. It takes all kinds but I myself subscribe to the old-school view that you have to go out into the world and see what’s doing. I find some social media helpful but only insofar as they facilitate the kind of internationalist RL that we get up to. Our bases in Brussels and now Luxembourg are ideal points of departure for almost any kind of European adventure. And there are but few that we didn’t venture. We spent years throwing metaphorical spaghetti against the wall. [Double-LP] Mille Plateaux is essentially a journal of the whole thing. We ended up recording and collaborating with folks in the places where it stuck (Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Toulouse).



CCOTG: You met Patrizia [Finzi, Georgio's bass player and girlfriend] when she was performing in other bands, yes? What is her musical background? Having watched you perform together, there's a great contrast between you two; she's got a lot of thunder in her, and I imagine her playing in punk bands prior to joining you. Is this so? 

GV: True enough. Her musical education consisted of playing punk squats in Germany and Belgium. She still hangs with Luxembourg’s only surf-punk group Surf Me Up, Scotty, which she helped form back in the ‘90s. I met her in a town called Dudelange, slightly larger than Oberkorn. I appreciated from the start that there was nothing groovy about her approach to the bass. It’s some kind of a fuzzy, minimalist grind. Just the thing to ward off evil spirits and funk musicians.

CCOTG: A great deal of your writing, in different contexts, is spent paying tribute to other people: Piero Ciampi [about whom you are writing an English-language biography], Chuck Berry [however loosely], Michel Foucault, Scott Walker. You write about the local art scene at home as well. Do you find it hard to write about abstract ideas or prefer to have someone or something tangible to reflect on?

GV: I do find it useful to hang ideas on concrete histories. (Chuck Berry’s might be the most useful of all!) Ideas are always expressed and reproduced in situ. This tangibility has a double edge, though.

CCOTG: [Regarding Piero Ciampi] I'm quite interested in how you were turned onto him, where you made a connection, and how that biography is coming along.

GV: Before I seized on Piero Ciampi as the subject of my Geistbuch, I planned to write about Paul Quinn. My book was to be titled Paul Quinn, ou les Malheurs de la Vertu. It became clear after initial interviews with friends and associates that the project was too real. I would likely never be able to approach the principals and it would be irresponsible to just make lemonade and spin a self-serving Romantic essay around a human being who is suffering profoundly. Ciampi exists at a safer distance. And still the work drags on. I hope to wrap by the end of the year but I’ve said that before.



CCOTG: You've just finished a single with some of our shared musical heroes! "Satyros Ironykos" very much sounds like a song that Mick Harvey could have created on his own, but my understanding is that it was really an initial collaboration between you and David McClymont. What role did each of you play in putting together the tracks for this seven-inch?

GV: Aye, the project started with David. We had already collaborated by remote on a Proustian sound-and-vision situation titled "It’s a Funny Religion When You Pray, ‘Hey Mr. Tambourine Man, Play a Song for Me.'" The thing was eventually presented in Edinburgh in 2013. We didn’t meet in the flesh until the following year when he and his partner Janet passed through Paris on a Grand Tour and invited me down to spend a couple of days. They’re charming folks and we hit it off. I left with an open invitation to visit them at home in Melbourne.

Fast forward one more year and it was decided, as Patrizia and I were due to play a handful of shows in Los Angeles at the end of our U.S. tour, to just call it a circumnavigation and return to Europe via Australia and Hong Kong. From there David and I started bouncing musical ideas back and forth via email, with an eye toward recording something in his home studio. He sent me a musical sketch of what would become “Satyros Ironykos” around the time we hit the road. I spent a few weeks with it, marinating, usually in the shower.

Once we landed [in Melbourne], things gathered momentum. I had a solid melody and a lyrical direction. David and Janet’s longtime friends Dave Graney and Clare Moore (ex-Moodists, Coral Snakes) came on board, making us a self-sufficient live band. The icing on the cake was when David asked Mick, another of his old pals, to record the session and play piano. Generous and talented people all around. The whole thing was an immense pleasure. Like Bill O’Reilly, we did it live with minimal overdubs. For the B-side we almost cut a Charles Aznavour cover (still warming on the back burner), but instead decided to revisit a Mille Plateaux cut that David fancied, a number titled “Washed-Out World, or Holidays in the Colonels’ Greece.”

CCOTG: Curious, what made you strike up a relationship with David and not Edwyn Collins, given that they are both accessible by social media [and given that most tend to gravitate toward the most visible member of a group]?

GV: Edwyn is not really accessible anymore. It used to be you could knock on his door at West Heath and he'd entertain you with tea and rare records all day. I know—I did it once, way back in 2001! But since his [two cerebral hemorrhages in 2005], he's well insulated by his team and, of course, he's a changed person. I never approached him about "Funny Religion," though. It just happened organically between me and David. I sent him these long-neglected tracks for shits and giggles one day when he must've been on an iMovie bender. Next thing I know I'm crashing a sold-out Edinburgh poetry slam with a defiantly conversational spoken-prose riff and a screening of David's old home movies set to a bedroom recording of a Japanese pop group from the '90s covering Orange Juice.

CCOTG: Tell me a bit about your partnership/friendship with Blaine Reininger; at this point, is he a full-time member of your band or do you collaborate and play on each other's stages when you have the chance?

GV: He's both! Uncle Blaine is indeed a member in good standing of the Société des Mélancoliques, although he hasn’t performed live with us in a couple of years. He’s been busy lately with other gigs, including a couple of tours during which he and I played material from his solo catalog. (Rumor has it there’s another such tour in the works for 2017.) Most recently I tagged along as support act on one leg of Tuxedomoon’s Half Mute anniversary tour. It’s like Hans said in Naked Lunch: “Americans love to travel but then they only want to meet other Americans and talk about how hard it is to get a decent hamburger.”



CCOTG: You've mentioned that you're a tough sell because you don't fit neatly into a genre, that you've struggled to get your records into stores. But you're not on Bandcamp or Soundcloud, which is how many artists are now getting themselves out there. Has this been a conscious decision on your part? 

GV: I think we cover the necessary bases. We have our own modest plot of internet real estate, complete with its own URL and up-to-date information, streaming media and other basic necessities. Our records are available anywhere in the world via a reliable, independent distributor with whom we have a longstanding relationship. For the rest, we go out and engage the world in all its ambivalence. We find kindred spirits not by algorithm but by happy accident, by ending up in the same venue on any given night. Once our dog-and-pony show packs up and moves on to the next town, of course, that bond is cemented by lots of telecomm glue. But I don’t know what these “social” platforms would add, besides a few cents to their own valuation. I don’t need a dashboard. I’ve learned not to worry about diagnostics. Indeed, we would only be embarrassed by the numbers. Still we feel plenty compensated by the quality of the feedback we do receive.

And yet I suppose I do moan a lot. Frustration is endemic in this line of work. I don’t think anyone is ever satisfied with their lot in the culture industries, probably because rewards are so arbitrarily decided. Like Waylon’s lover, this old business gives me just enough to keep me hangin’ on. That said, I reserve my biggest complaint not for “the culture industry” per se but its para-/quasi-/crypto-industrial fringes, those liminal spaces where professed values of respect, solidarity and broad-mindedness are tested—and often found wanting—by tech-enabled saturation and plain, old-fashioned bad faith. The underground ain’t what it used to be. Maybe it never was what it used to be. Either way, it’s a particularly ironic sting one feels being unceremoniously bounced out of the odd “independent” record shop because, “dude, nobody’s ever heard of your band. Your record’s just gonna sit there taking up shelf space.”

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

All of Georgio's releases, including "Satyros Ironykos," are available for purchase here.

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.