Born in Moscow, NYC-based painter and illustrator Dimitri Drjuchin creates bright, mystical eye candy that reads like a riddle. You may recognize his surrealist work from gig posters for comics Marc Maron, Jim Gaffigan, Eugene Mirman, and Hannibal Buress — or, more recently, you might have spotted his mind-bending cover for Fear Fun, the debut album from Father John Misty.
At first glance, Kagan McLeod’s Infinite Kung Fu would seem to have limited appeal. Despite inspiring near-religious devotion in its fans, martial-arts movies have been marginalized, commercialized, and derided in popular culture as a sort of kitschy guilty pleasure. Attempts have been made to revive the genre, most notably in anime, but Infinite Kung Fu may be the first graphic novel to stand a decent chance of creating new interest in a niche genre.
Innovative and smart, Infinite Kung Fu pays homage to classic elements of martial-arts films, from wise masters to wise-ass students, but it manages to do away with the clunky dialogue and feel of Asian exploitation that have come to dominate many viewers’ perspectives on kung fu. Instead, McLeod returns to the kung-fu story as a quasi-mystical battle between good and evil. As with the Kill Bill films, whose own master, Gordon Liu, provides a foreword, Infinite Kung Fu is a loving tribute and a partial reinvention.
McLeod, a longtime fan of kung-fu films, populates his story with familiar archetypes that nonetheless remain stylish and cool. The story begins with the eight Immortals, grand kung-fu masters who have gained superpowers, and their fight against the rapidly increasing legions of zombies on Earth. Each of the Immortals’ students has turned to dark magic, with the exception of Moog Joogular, a sort of Isaac Hayes/Jimi Hendrix mash-up with a sword.
With the help of Moog and his assistant, Thursday Thoroughgood, the leader of the Immortals trains a young army deserter in the ways of kung fu. Along the way, he must learn fighting techniques from animals, defeat a ghostly emperor, and figure out the secret of the undead’s resurgence.
Percussionist and multi-instrumentalist Martin Dosh, better known as simply Dosh, is known both for his electronic-based solo venture as well as his work with Andrew Bird, with whom he’s toured and recorded. The instrumental track is Dosh’s specialty; “Simple Exercises,” which first appeared on Dosh’s 2004 release, Pure Trash, reappeared on Bird’s Armchair Apocrypha in 2007 as “Simple X” with an addition of lyrics. In the piece below, Dosh explains what drew him to instrumental music and how a few classic, lyric-less tracks continue to inspire his own music.
The Alchemy of Instrumental Music by Dosh
I think my interest in music and sound really began when i was around nine or 10 years old; that is to say, that is when I really began LISTENING to music, to the ways instruments and voices worked together, trying to separate the sounds in my mind, trying to understand which sounds were being made by which instruments, and even what the people that played the music may have looked like. I can’t recall what the first song that really captured my imagination was, but it was likely by Devo or The Cars, maybe Billy Squier. I’ve always listened to the music first and digested the vocals and lyrics later. When I first discovered Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, I found the vocals to be distracting. I couldn’t understand why they were there; they seemed like an afterthought.
Once I started playing drums, when i was 15, that was all I really heard when I would listen to a song: the drums. And I played a little bit with some friends, but I didn’t truly discover the joy of volume until I went to college two years later. I spent more time listening to music in my first two years than I spent doing anything else — usually as loud as possible. I was lucky enough to have a few friends who had massive record collections, and I listened to everything.
Most God-fearing people would probably characterize Earth’s cinematic drone-rock music as dark, and the assumption is not without merit. Since 1989, Earth’s founder and guitarist, Dylan Carlson, has specialized in a kind of down-tempo, almost lethargic style of slow rock that easily allows listeners to conjure thoughts of an emotional purgatory.
Carlson describes Earth’s musical destinations in a conversely different light. For him, the band’s resonant, slow-forming instrumentation represents a musically cerebral path to some sort of middle ground, but it’s not so much as a waiting room to hell as it is a medieval common area, where people are free to simply be, free to do as much or as little as they’d like. Earth’s womb-like melodic cocoon is in many ways an external and extremely personal catharsis — an intimate attempt to make sense of an ever-present melancholy that pervades Carlson’s vision of humanity.
What do you think has allowed Earth to maintain the same musical continuity for so long, while so many other bands from your time period have faded from the radar, sold out, died, or come back playing something completely different than what they started?
I think it’s still pretty similar. I think the main difference is more seen by working with [drummer] Adrienne [Davies] and working with the other members of the band more; it’s more of a collective experience than before. There were times when there were very few members of the band — no members of the band — [laughs] except me, so it was definitely more of a solitary pursuit at points, where now I have the luxury of being able to attract musicians to play with me and are able to play with me for at least a couple years at a time, instead of album by album.
That’s different, and I like that. I’ve always viewed Earth as a band, and wanted it to be a band, but it’s not always the easiest thing to find musicians to work with and keep them. I’m more cognizant of what I’m doing than before.
Do you think your sobriety has played a role in that?
Yeah, I definitely think so. I’m definitely more focused on doing music now and not wasting my time running around chasing [pauses] other things [laughs], so that’s good. And I’ve obviously been more productive in this second go-around than I was in the first, in terms of output and performing live.
Has your creative process changed at all over the years?
Yeah, I mean, for the most part, I guess. To me, there are certain things that need to be there for it to be Earth, otherwise I’d do something different. Within that, it should be slow, it should be simple, and hopefully be on the longer end of letting things develop — the longer end of the scale. There’s some wiggle room to do some other things, but if those three things aren’t there, then I should do a different project.
And if I were going to do something different, I’d do something completely different and wouldn’t try to sell that off as Earth. I think Earth has an identity of its own. I don’t think that would be fair to people to make something really fast and new-wave-y and call it Earth [laughs]; that wouldn’t be Earth. That would be my really fast new-wave-y project.
Giving service to the music and the musicophiles who go in search for it, Now-Again Records has released a stunning overview of 1970s Indonesian funk, rock, and psychedelia recordings in an anthology titled Those Shocking, Shaking Days. The title is a perfect summation of the sounds coming from the compilation; deep funk gems and gritty rock riffs are captured in the lowest of lo-fi senses, driven to the head by relentless fuzz guitars, psychedelic howls, and all kinds of general weirdness.
Helmed by Now-Again’s head honcho Egon, with research and crate digging from producer Jason “Moss” Connoy (and the not-to-be overlooked assistance from Indonesian rock legend Benny Soebardja, who secured all the necessary rights), the compilation is what happens when the record-collector gods align everything just right. Add in a thick booklet with groovy album art, eccentric band photos that could only belong to the ’70s, and extensive track-by-track notes from Holland-based Indonesian ex-pat Chandra Drews, Those Shocking, Shaking Days does an incredible job of giving listeners the whole package.
Powerful, otherworldly, and beautiful, wind player Colin Stetson‘s upcoming record, New History Warfare Vol. 2: Judges, commands attention from start to finish. Largely recorded live without overdubs, Stetson exploits techniques that yield dense layers of multiphonic sound that seem impossible to have come from a single instrument. Here sounding deep and sonorous as a foghorn, there alternating between percussive popping and plaintive moans, while elsewhere emitting swirling, cyclical lines that could nearly pass for strings, Stetson pushes his horns through every timbral possibility.
With such formidable instrumental prowess, one might expect a display of flashy improvisations, yet Stetson uses his command of his instruments in service of intricate compositions, rich in atmosphere and mood, and unmoored from any genre. Moreover, the pieces function together to create a coherent whole, emotionally resonant and deeply affecting. A record that will sound arresting and fresh to even the most adventurous listeners, New History Warfare Vol. 2 (out on Feb. 22) is an early bright light among this new year’s releases and likely to resurface on many year-end lists.
Adept at bass sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, french horn, and cornet, Stetson studied music at the University of Michigan. From there, stints on both coasts resulted in work with a wide range of music luminaries, including Tom Waits, Anthony Braxton, Fred Frith, and Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra. More recently, Stetson has startled unsuspecting rock audiences as an opener for stadium indie acts such as Arcade Fire and The National. Here he explains how this integration of influences creates his own musical worlds.
When I’ve played your music for people, the unanimous reaction has been “that’s a sax?”, which is all the more impressive given that much of it was recorded without overdubbing. Can you explain how you’re able to create such a rich and diverse range of sounds, both in terms of technique and production?
Technically, regarding the instrument, I’m just employing a lot of extended techniques that improvisers have been using for decades. The basis for most of my pieces is in circular breathing; by breathing in through the nose and continuing to breath out of the mouth, you can create these longer, uninterrupted pieces of music. After that, it’s a lot of “voicing,” or using mouth and throat placement to form chords instead of single notes, specific arpeggiated lines to move those chords into individual and distinct melodies/harmonies, and also quite a bit of actual singing through the instrument.
Having been working this out for many years, when it came time to start recording this music, I knew that a straight-up stereo recording would only take a snapshot of what was happening, and would ultimately flatten the experience. There’s no way to capture the essence of live performance in this manner, not if the idea is to recreate the same image through recording. So what I try to do is to capture every distinct and separate element I can, individually with separate and different microphones, so that this information can then be reorganized in the mixing process, and, rather than an attempt at recreating the live experience, we create an alternate version of that experience, something that is specific to the process of recording. In simpler terms, I wanted to make a record like a Haruki Murakami novel or a Terrence Malick film.
With a layered, complex, and indigenous sound, Tuvan throat singers Alash sound like a mix between Tom Waits and a flock of swallows — all while inviting listeners back to their geographically diverse homeland.
Gritty garage-rock grooves from mid-’70s Zambia comprise Now-Again Records’ latest release, Dark Sunrise, the double-disc (or three-LP box set), 31-track chronicle of Zambian “Zam Rock” godfather Rizketo Makyua “Rikki” Ililonga and his groundbreaking band Musi-O-Tunya.
The anthology fits Now-Again’s current obsession with Zambia’s 1970s music scene, whose landmark bands WITCH and Amanaz have seen record reissues from the specialized global funk label. But after one listen to the killer rock grooves from Dark Sunrise, with its furious fusion of US/UK/African rhythmic dynamics, fuzzed-out electric guitars, and hypnotic brass sections, audiences will come to understand why the obsession is exceptionally reasonable, if not completely necessary.
Carnatic and Hindustani music, the classical music forms of North and South India, provide the base for the Raga Bop Trio. Saxophonist George Brooks is an established fixture in the Indian fusion scene as a devout student and purveyor of Hindustani music. He has collaborated with India’s most respected artists and his deep understanding of raga is a vital element to the trio’s melodic force. Guitarist Prasanna brings an avant-garde approach to the table by taking the ornamentations and tones found in South Indian Carnatic music and transferring them to the electric guitar. While he is able to mimic the subtle microtones of the sitar, he is also able to incorporate within them modern shape-shifting technology, demonstrated by his 2006 Carnatic/rock tribute to Jimi Hendrix, Electric Ganesha Land.
With rangy stylistic influences, impressive chops, and “naked” production, Cougar‘s brand of electro-rock is as diverse as its members, whose tastes span progressive rock, Brazilian music, New Orleans jazz, and classical works.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian’s current exhibition, Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians in Popular Culture, displays the oft-overlooked relationship between Native artists and American contemporary music with audio samples and artifacts from big-name artists like Chuck Billy (Testament), Jimi Hendrix, Link Wray, and Buffy Sainte-Marie. This ain’t your average trip to the history museum.
Inspired less by drummers and more by instrumentalists such as John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, and Ornette Coleman, drumming virtuoso Zach Hill begins his journey as a bandleader with Astrological Straits.