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.
Another year, another torrential downpour of albums across our desks. As always, we encountered way too much amazing music, from Meshuggah to The Mars Volta, Converge, Killer Mike, P.O.S, and many more.
On last year’s Goodbye Bread, garage-rock singer-songwriter Ty Segall displayed a newfound sense of maturity — most notably on “Comfortable Home (A True Story),” in which he announced the rather adult decision to invest in some real estate. Now the San Francisco wunderkind prematurely grapples with his own mortality on his newest solo release. “Took 22 years to die / 22 years to lose to my mind,” he laments amid the grinding guitars of “Ghost,” imagining himself as a specter who haunts the California coast. It’s heavy stuff — musically and lyrically — especially from a guy who used to sing about girlfriends and Coca-Cola.
Following a handful of solo records and a wealth of material as leader of The Capitol Years, singer-songwriter Shai Halperin took up a brand-new identity as Sweet Lights in 2010. (Some may also recognize his name as part of the original line-up of The War on Drugs alongside underground icon Kurt Vile.) Halperin’s most recent solo effort, born out of an amassed collection of material and not enough musicians around to play it, retains the atmosphere of previous acts with foggy vocals and sugary melodies.
In just one more trip around the sun, another swarm of immensely talented but under-recognized musicians has harnessed its collective talents and discharged its creations into the void. This list is but one fraction of those dedicated individuals who caught our ears with some serious jams.
On a biweekly basis, The Groove Seeker goes in search of killer grooves across rock, funk, hip hop, soul, electronic music, jazz, fusion, and more.
V/A: True Soul: Deep Sounds From the Left of Stax, Volume 1 (Now-Again, 5/17/11)
The Leaders: “(It’s a) Rat Race”
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In the American soul and roots tradition, there are few stories more recognizable than the legend of Stax Records. From the Staple Singers to Otis Redding and Sam and Dave to Wilson Pickett, and all the artists who pioneered and championed that “Stax” sound, the small Memphis, Tennessee record-shop-turned-record-label introduced the world to the irresistible funkiness of Southern soul music.
But from that golden era of soul and funk, there were and are always hardworking owners, musicians, and even whole scenes that go unnoticed. This is the story of Mr. Lee Anthony and True Soul Records, the label that he started in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1968. Waiting to be rediscovered on a new anthology released by Now-Again titled True Soul: Deep Sounds From the Left of Stax, the two-volume CD/DVD set is an enlightening journey offering a 28-track survey of the label’s rarest grooves.
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New Jersey-based post-hardcore band Thursday just released No Devolución, its sixth full-length album and second on Epitaph. The band’s lead singer, Geoff Rickly, is also involved in a side project called United Nations, in which he’s the only officially listed member, due to its various members’ contractual obligations. The music occupies the same hardcore-punk territory as Thursday and features comedic lyrical contributions from Daily Show correspondent Kristen Schaal. Before it was turned away by multiple retailers, its self-titled debut from 2008 originally featured a modified version of The Beatles‘ Abbey Road cover art. Here, Rickly explains his longtime interest in the Fab Four.
Ten Absurd and Wonderful Songs by The Beatles by Geoff Rickly
When I was just a boy, my mother would sometimes drop me off at my Nana’s house in Connecticut, kiss me goodbye, and rush off to work. It was one of my favorite places in the world: the way the sun came through the porch and made patterns on the curtains, the way there were treats of every possible variety (coffee cake, waffles, bacon, etc.), and, most of all, the way that my Nana had no regard for material things like money, possessions, security, or savings accounts. She would often say to my mother, “Enjoy it, Patty, you can’t take it with you.”
Case in point: my mother’s complete collection of The Beatles’ records. My Nana saw no harm in letting me play whatever record I wanted on my cheap, blue-and-yellow plastic Fischer Price record player. It completely broke my Mom’s heart that I ruined those records, but I think she was able to laugh about it proudly when it became clear, many years later, that I was devoting my life to a passion for music. A passion that started with destroying those records.
Being that I started my love for The Beatles at the age of four, I’ve always been drawn to the most absurd, childlike, and wondrous tracks by the Fab Four. Here are my favorites.
1. “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!”
Nothing conjures the joy and mania of a grand circus like the multi-ring narrative of “Mr. Kite.” The wide cast of mysterious characters like Mr. K, Mr. H, Henry the Horse, and the Hendersons dances, sings, and spins its way through Bishop’s gate and hoops of fire, while the band cartwheels through the pomp of a traveling circus band. The crowning achievement of the song is John Lennon announcing the proceedings in the disaffected eloquence of a tired but consummately professional carnival barker.
By the end of the 1960s, The Beatles had been absent from any kind of live performance for years. This supposed retirement from commercial concerts, however, never fully quelled speculation that the group could return to the stage in some way. Of the various conjectured shows, none held more what-if potential than a rumored collaboration between the Fab Four and German avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.
According to a vague report noted in a biography by author Michael Kurtz, Stockhausen was said to have arranged a meeting with one of The Beatles at his New York apartment in 1969 to discuss a joint concert, but a blizzard ultimately kept the two parties apart. Between Paul McCartney occasionally citing a fascination with Stockhausen’s “Gesang der Junglinge” in interviews, The Beatles including a image of him in the cover crowd of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and John Lennon’s “Revolution 9” getting regular critical comparisons to Stockhausen’s Hymnen, The Beatles and Stockhausen maintained at least a shred of connectivity to make such a collaboration possible.
Though the rendezvous, like most hearsay, has been proven to be devoid of truth, fiction has never gotten in the way of inspiration. Such is the case with avant-garde ensemble Alarm Will Sound and its most recent work, 1969. Mixing musical composition, scripted acting, audio dialogue, and archival video, the group’s live production uses the myth of the would-be collaboration as a jumping-off point to examine a time period rife with political, artistic, and social change. ALARM recently spoke with the ensemble’s conductor, Alan Pierson, to discuss the new work, its combination of history and falsehood, and why the year of 1969 was such a big deal.
Let me ask you about 1969. How did this concept develop?
We had been working on this for a long time. In a way, it goes back to those composer portraits as one-composer concerts. Those sorts of concerts, we felt, were a really good way for us to be developing our reputation in New York. But at a certain point, we felt like we wanted to do something broader than that. What I liked about the composer portraits was that they were a way of creating a contemporary music concert that really felt like an event, rather than just a collection of pieces.
There was a really special kind of vibe that you got when you had people walking into a hall to experience an entire evening of Steve Reich or of György Ligeti. The question was “How [do we] create that kind of experience with a broader repertoire?” and “What is a way to bring together really different kinds of music in a coherent framework?”
We did a couple of things along those lines. We did a show called Odd Couples at Carnegie Hall in 2006, which I think was really successful. But as we started brainstorming ideas for concerts, one thing I started thinking about was this idea of doing music of a single year and using a period of time as a way to connect really different kinds of music. Nineteen sixty-nine just emerged pretty quickly in that process as a really interesting time to look at. In the process of looking at that more deeply, I stumbled on this story of the planned meeting between Stockhausen and The Beatles, and it just seemed like too great a story not to tell.
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.