Beck’s Well Archived Musical Experiment

beck_record_clubI recently returned from an impromptu road trip adventure to see Animal Collective and Beck perform at Phoenix’s McDowell Mountain Music Festival.  It was a very laid back and comfortable festival experience, as I was able to basically meander up to the front of the crowd and enjoy two of my favorite artists, which I had only previously seen in cramped quarters.  Expecting a reflective evening featuring his acoustic Morning Phase work, I was pleasantly surprised to see him work back through his two decades of music to make this Friday affair electrically charged. Being so close to the action, I was most struck by the musical command and subsequent fun that Beck brings to his musical catalog.  It reminded me of his Record Club Project from 2009/10.

Record Club was short-lived but is a worthwhile collection of music to explore and enjoy, but even more so, an experiment to herald as a fresh model of collaboration and playing music for the love of creating impromptu magic with a group. The goal was to recreate an album in a day with friends and collaborators. The selected albums and parameters of the Club’s goals are explained below:

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A solid collective of musicians came out for each experience to make noise and find grooves as they showed appreciation for the genius of these albums but also celebrated the open source beauty of music in general.

It is a fun vault of music to sift through. Check it out and then go make your own record club.

Lettuce: It’s What’s Good for You

LettuceI’ve been digging the new Lettuce album Crush. The history of the band begins in 1992 as some kids first met on their arrival to Berklee College of Music in Boston.  With like minded interests, such as Herbie Hancock, Tower of Power and Earth Wind and Fire, they started brewing up their own potions in that vein.  As each of the members finished their studies at Berklee they, as so many other graduates do, headed to the big city to make a name for themselves. Working as sidemen in New York City for some of the biggest names in hip hop, funk, and pop music, the continued to nurture and develop Lettuce’s sound.  The latest offering, Crush, is a blend of the gritty old school production with a modern twist.  The influences are there certainly, but the band has put their own stamp on it. Although I personally am not an avid funk listener, I can’t seem to turn this record off. Listen at your own risk.

Chicago’s Phantom Works Defies the Sophomore Jinx

Phantom Works: Stunrise I became aware of Chicago’s Phantom Works a couple years ago and ended up going on tour with them up the West Coast. Super great people and a great band. A lot of fun to travel with, and that’s saying a lot when you cram two bands in a single van together for 15 days. Even staying tight with the best of friends can be challenged under those circumstances. The timing of this tour coincided with the release of their first full-length, self-titled LP, which followed a couple 7-inch single releases.

Originally Phantom Works began as a trio of two guitars and drums (Kris Poulin and Matt Seifert sharing guitar and vocal duties with Jim Duffy on drums), very recently adding bass (Reg Shrader) to the mix on their latest release “Stunrise”. The sound is very reminiscent of the heroes of Chicago, namely Shellac, Jesus Lizard and Tar. Super aggressive guitars and pounding, roomy drums. Each instrument demands and earns its sonic space. Even though the first LP is strong as hell, I have to say I absolutely love the new LP “Stunrise”. Follow ups can always be tricky and these fellows nailed it. The addition of bass was a good move too. A full sound got even thicker. One notable aesthetic choice is the minimal use of cymbals. I had thought long and hard on this topic being a drummer and an engineer myself. I broached this topic with the band…

MF: You mentioned that your songs intentionally lack many cymbals. Can you discuss the impetus for this?

Kris: The original rule – more of a guideline – was that Jim should “almost never” hit the cymbals and, when he did (such as on “This Sleazebag Rant”), it was to be for ridiculous effect. On the newer songs, we’ve lightened up on that regulation, but it still stands as a general rule. The impetus for this is rooted in our original plan for the band to include a more powerful, rolling approach to the drums, å la The Monks.

Reg: Cymbals eat guitars. Guitars must be free to roam.

Phantom Works: Band PhotoMF: Does this come in part from your role as a recording engineer?

Kris: I’m sure that was part of the thought process, but I don’t think it was a reason why we chose that route, more that my experience recording bands told me that this approach would work for us. Until recently, we had no bass player, which opened up all that low frequency range, where the bass and low end of guitars would have been, to be filled by massive drums and bigger guitars. In general, we love a natural & roomy drum sound, and that sound can get eaten alive when a drummer is bashing away on cymbals. In short, more power on all fronts.

MF: Since you’ve relocated to San Diego, how has the process of writing played out with Matt and Jim still residing in Chicago?

Kris: Matt & I come up with stuff at our respective homes, sharing these demos via a cloud-based DAW called Ohm. I write a part in my garage in San Diego, record it in Ohm, and it shows up in Matt’s session file in Chicago. We keep building & arranging demos in that program until we all get together in the same room and work it out further in person.

Reg: Means that crushing new ideas has to take place in the limited times when we’re all in the same room. Being in the same room w/amps & drums on is still the best way to get the thing to come to life.

Matt: We’ve had to come up with some creative solutions to songwriting, and fortunately there are some cool tools out there now like Ohm that can make things a lot easier. Of course, when you live in Chicago, winter writing trips to San Diego are great excuse to get out of the cold.

MF: Phantom Works feels very “Chicago” to me. Can you discuss some things that make up an identifiable Chicago-esque sound?

Reg: A willingness to play around w/songwriting & forms w/out getting too precious. Robust respect for volume. Big drums.

Kris: With all the great and varied bands from Chicago, it’s clear there’s not a singular Chicago sound, but I know what you’re getting at and Reg pretty much covered that. I would add that what we’re talking about here is a certain abrasiveness and heaviness without being metal.

Matt: There is just something deeply appealing about jangly, reverb-less guitars and lots of harmonics.

MF: Some of the new album was recorded at Electrical. What is that place like to record in? It seems like a mythical place, although I know you’ve recorded there a good deal of times.

Kris: It’s definitely up there in my favorite few studios I’ve ever been in. It really has more than anyone would need to make a great recording, from a wide variety of rooms that all sound great in different ways to hundreds of great mics and loads of other top gear to get the sounds to tape. And everything works – always. The staff is totally on top of all things related to running a studio, too. I’ve never had a question go unanswered correctly and quickly. I don’t really drink coffee, but I’ve heard that the particular type of “fluffy coffee” that all Electrical Audio interns are trained to make is amazing. From the reviews, that alone might be reason enough to book time at Electrical.

Matt: Recording at Electrical is absolutely one of the finest privileges I’ve gotten to experience. It is mythical, with the hand-made adobe brick walls, beyond excellent equipment, and a really wonderful staff.

MF: Are there plans to tour with Phantom Works at all in the coming year?

Kris: Maybe. We hope so. Is there a petition to add more hours to the day or more days to a year? I’ll sign it.

Matt: A full on tour might be difficult, but we are working on some shows both on the west coast and in the midwest.

MF: You’ve pressed these great, beautiful vinyl LPs. Do you think that vinyl will always be around? It seems like CDs are perhaps not really desirable for people these days. Any thoughts on that?

Reg: I think there’s a core of people that will always want the vinyl object, whether big or small. Sound issues aside, CDs all seem kind of the same when you jam the artwork into a little plastic box. Vinyl seems more intrinsically individual, somehow. You can’t wrap your hands around an MP3.

Matt: Records have such a physicality, it’s hard to imagine them disappearing completely

MF: To wrap up, here’s one last question. I know you are very sensitive to MP3 encoding. Does it surprise you that youngsters seem to not mind horrible quality audio / delivery systems?

Kris: It doesn’t surprise me that people prefer the most convenient and, often, cost-free method of getting something. Also, it really seems like the vast majority of people just don’t hear the difference between a lossy, compressed MP3 and a CD. Or maybe the difference in sound quality doesn’t justify the cost to these people.

MF: Thanks for the scoop!

Here are some places one can track down the various physical and digital releases from Phantom Works…
Both 7-inches and the new record are available here, as is first LP digitally:
https://phantomworks.bandcamp.com

First LP vinyl here:
http://www.sickroomrecords.com/shop/srr065

Live EP (digital only) here:
http://www.powerrecordings.com/id44.html

Collaborative EP with Cool Devices (digital only) here:
http://rockproper.com/sum6/fit-in-the-shanks.html

Facebook:
https://www.facebook.com/Phantom-Works-252418686852/?ref=hl

Hailu Mergia and The Walias Band- Tche Belew

I love, love, love, love this song. When you hear it, you will too.
Ethiopian Jazz and Funk from the 1970s, this being from 1977, is some serious gold. Very difficult to track down in the vinyl bins but due to a recent resurgence in popularity more reissues are becoming available. The album Tche Belew also features the great Mulatu Astatke on vibraphone. There are some definite strings to the JBs and other American soul and funk but through the melodic minor lens of African bizzaro rawness. Enjoy!

Oldie but a Goodie: Santana Debut Shredfest

Legend has it that when the members of the completely unknown band Santana arrived at Woodstock in 1969, they were told that they would be playing later in the day. Shortly after dropping acid the members were then given the grave update. They would actually be playing much sooner than previously being notified. As it turns out they hit the stage high on LSD to an audience of 400,000. That seems like a recipe for disaster, yet they burned brightly. Despite seeming a tad phased, the members of Santana rose to the occasion and delivered a seriously burning performance.

When you check out bands these days, especially at mammoth festivals, there is so rarely an opportunity to see someone at the edge of their abilities. Pushing the limits seems like a calculated risk that few venture to take in our time. Just like the banks that are “Too Big to Fail”, the festival fodder of modern times seem to mail it in. Sadly, the crowds have grown accustomed to sequenced backing tracks and a semi-performed set that accompanies a fashion show. I’m not into it.

I’m not a massive Santana fan by any stretch, but when rummaging through my vinyl I was blown away how raw and ripping the debut Santana album is. Michael Shrieve the 19 year-old drummer is particularly fantastic. A great drummer and 2 other latin percussionists is a fine, fine combination. The whole band is great on this slab. Here’s one of my favorite cuts from this awesome debut, recorded quickly and shortly after their Woodstock performance.

Mudhoney @ the Casbah, San Diego- 10/24/2015

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Photo: Jenny Morgan

             Nine albums and almost thirty years of touring and recording haven’t slowed Sub Pop veterans Mudhoney down one bit. With the energy of a band half their age, Mudhoney took the Casbah stage on October 24th playing such hits as “Suck You Dry,” “I Like It Small,” and “This Gift” right off the bat, immediately working the audience into a mosh-pit-forming frenzy.

              In front of a sold out crowd, the band expertly demonstrated their signature style of melodic punk rock with songs spanning their entire catalogue from “Superfuzz Bigmuff” to 2013’s “Vanishing Point.” Despite being old hands on the rock circuit, it was good to see that Mudhoney hasn’t outgrown some of their more juvenile lyrical content and antics with their spry sense of humor and youthful energy.

                 Mudhoney’s sound hasn’t changed in the least over the years either. Steve Turner still delivers the same dirty, fuzz-saturated guitar tones the band is famous for, while Mark Arm’s unmistakable voice has not altered since the band was at their peak in the 90’s. Original drummer Dan Peters is always fun to watch in his natural state with his laid back attitude and a proficiency that has inherently progressed since the start of the band.

                 Despite having been overshadowed by some other more successful Seattle bands throughout their long career, Mudhoney is nevertheless the undisputed godfather of grunge and they still defend their title with an unmatched momentum to this day.                                                 mudhoneycasbah-2015-3mudhoneycasbah-2015-5

Photos: Jenny Morgan

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Go See It: Mudhoney @ The Casbah, Fri. Oct. 24th

mudhoneyThe year was 1998. The place Tempe, AZ. Mobilized by my older brother’s new drivers license, he and I set out one summer night to find what we were hoping was going to  change our lives. We were in search of a show. Our first “real” show. We wanted a show that was going to do some damage, deafen our ears, rough us up a bit. A bit unstuck in time, we had just ecstatically been awakened by the discovery of grunge about 8 years too late to be cool. But we didn’t care, loved every morsel we could unearth in a pre-internet world, and for us, we were living in Seattle 1988. What we found on that summer night was Mudhoney.

I am forever grateful for Mudhoney and that night in 1998. Mark Arm and the boys, the original line-up, ripped apart that venue so hard that it launched this kid not only into his first mosh pit but launched me full force into feeling music all the way to the bone. That night made me feel that I now belonged to something special, to a scene, a movement, a swell.

The wave that Mudhoney generated almost 30 years ago has ceased to crash, only continuing to crest year after impossible year. They have proven themselves transcendent of any fad, scene or sound. The scene they are part of is truly passionate live music.

With over 65 shows under their belt in 2015 already, night after night they continue to provide an experience of being a part of their music. Their music seems to mean more to them when they are sharing it.

Go be a part of history and more importantly get lost in time and break down the barriers of any current expectations of your current life. GO SEE MUDHONEY. 

Golden Void – Berkana – Psych That Continues to Cry Out to the Heavens

BerkanacoverPsychedelic is  meant to get you lost, but the best of the genre bring you back again.  Golden Void continues to carry on this tradition.The San Francisco psych rockers’s second release on Thrill Jockey, Berkana, is another offering of wisdom backed by an unbridled intensity and limitless quest for connection. There is a fresh balance to the music being created by this group of experienced musicians, who have spent the past decades learning music together as kids, blazing individual paths, and now wonderfully joining paths along the way. The quartet, Isaiah Mitchell (Earthless) on guitar and vocals, Camilla Saufley-Mitchell (Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound) on keyboards and vocals, Aaron Morgan on bass and Justin Pinkerton on drums, have shifted gears just a bit from their freshman release, Golden Void, but the melodies continue to melt into riffed out guitar/vocal duets, both screaming out ecstatically in climactic peaks. With the help of Tim Green (The Fucking Champs), Berkana is also full of patient valleys that give repose before the inevitable mighty ascent to the summit and beyond.

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Fans of Earthless (which includes Monofesto) will be happy to find a heady heaping of Mitchell’s poetic guitar serenades. Equally cathartic and energizing, the concise album hits quickly and efficiently and even in its freedom and exploration, Berkana is tightly packaged. The opening tracks are youthful and rollicking, but the seasoned truth of the talent behind Golden Void comes out more in the ecstatic jams “I’ve Been Down” and “The Beacon”.  The album capper “Storm and Feather” is a great way to end a trip, the perfect amount of resolution and inspiration for what’s next.

What we hope is next for Golden Void is more live performances. With US dates planned, hopefully the rest of the country will be able to experience this California nugget.  They have not disappointed in their initial outings, and we know the music will continue to evolve each time out, as it has inevitably done throughout the careers of its members.

Don’t Miss:  This week in LA on 9/24 at All Star Lanes and San Diego on 9/26 at The Tower Bar. 

Low Does Not Disappoint with ‘Ones and Sixes’

LOW Band Photo

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Today, September 11 marks the official release of Low’s new album ‘Ones and Sixes’. All the things you should expect are in there: the perfectly matched vocal harmonies of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker; the spacious arrangements and patient tempos; the simple beauty of a song’s presentation, without cluttering with extraneous musical ideas. Overall, the production has a slightly more shaped feeling than the previous album, ‘The Invisible Way’, which has a very natural un-effected sound to it. With ‘Ones and Sixes’ I’m reminded ever-so-slightly of some English 4AD stuff. The song ordering is interesting on ‘Ones and Sixes’ as well.  Rather than starting off with a strong, catchy song, the opener ‘Gentle’ is an atmospheric, electronic offering. After a couple songs the material seems to get stronger and stronger.  The next thing you know, it’s been on repeat and I’ve enjoyed it for consecutive listens. Low’s music needs time to steep. If you jump in for a quick listen, you’ll end up with a weak brew.  Let it simmer, sit and soak in.  That’s when things get good.

 

Melvins and Big Business @ the Casbah, San Diego – 8/27/2015

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Photos: Jenny Morgan

When the Melvins and Big Business perform together it’s not just a show but an uncompromising experience. After an explosive performance by Big Business alone, the two bands come together as one like some sort of mighty morphing power group to cause some detrimental damage to the eardrums.

One might be skeptical of two drum sets fitting on the Casbah stage since it cannot be considered one of the biggest stages in the world, let alone big enough for a band with two drum sets. Big Business took the stage as a two-piece having plenty of room to maneuver, but it became a little cramped when Dale Crover and Buzz Osborne joined them. King Buzzo was pitted in the far left corner of the stage in his cult robe covered with eye balls and his aluminum guitar mirroring the excited expression of the audience.

The minimal room on the stage didn’t seem to inhibit anyone of the members of the “Big Melvins” to do their thing however, especially not Buzz who still found the room to bob his massive grey fro around as he rocked out to some of his classics. The two drummers, Dale Crover and Coady Willis kept the beat together immaculately as splinters from their drumsticks rained over the crowd like when Shamu splashes everyone in the front rows at Sea World. Jared Warren for his part kept the rhythm going heavily with his distorted bass, even taking over some lead vocals with his Buzz-complimenting voice.

The Melvins tend to collaborate with many bands but Big Business is one of the rare few that are able to literally become one with the group as well as play the role of opening act that properly readies the audience for the inexorable entity that is the Melvins.

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Photos: Jenny Morgan