In the course of my customary search for new music (checking the submission inbox, college radio charts, new release pages on label websites, and finally AI selections) life seems determined to return my attention to The Books. Because of my streaming service plays, The Books are a consistent suggestion. I figured I must honor this guidance and took a listen back through their catalog and was pleasantly surprised just how much the music still resonated and seemed to fit with how I was seeing and passing through the world today. I thought it was perfect to feature their remastered debut (Thought for Food), which to me captures their sound and brillance best.
The Books were an experimental folk/electronic duo from New York City consisting of guitarist and vocalist Nick Zammuto and cellist Paul de Jong. Meeting in their apartment building in 1999, they considered their collaboration pop music in comparison to their more classical and traditional training. They went on to release 3 albums with the Berlin based label Tomlab and their final album with Temporary Residence.
Thought for Food signals in 2002 the media saturation that would flood us all and seems to swim through it with grace and excitement. The guitar, cello and banjo loops settle you through the absurd yet poignant samples, snippets of commentary from everyday life and the already increasing 24-hour news frenzy that now in conjunction with social media attacks our consciousness at every looming corner. The music is produced with attention to minutia and with a focus on the effect upon the state of the listener. One thing I love the most about an album from 2002 is that it also is meant to work as an album. It takes you on a ride, picks you up if you let it. I suggest you let it. Put it on as you take a step back to observe your immediate society (take a walk through a park, drive through your city, or while sitting in an airport terminal).
Give it a spin below and give the documentary a look to understand more about the lives behind the music.
So I’ve been thinking hard about Kyle Craft’s new record. It was on infinite repeat today in my woodshed as I worked all day on some projects. I had listened to it casually a few times but then decided to really dig in and see if I could hear what was behind the voice and the songs. To be honest, I don’t know a thing about this young gentleman. I felt like it would be good to garner an opinion based solely on what I was hearing. Sub Pop kindly submitted a press kit with bio information and quotes and reviews for me to orient myself. Usually this is super helpful but in this case I’m prepared to go from the gut, and as a result, may or may not be wrong. But I suppose, when you go from the gut there really is no wrong. So here it is. Here is my psychoanalysis of Mr. Kyle Craft.
Kyle Craft – Photo: Andrew Toups
There is a depth to these songs. My sniffer is so tuned to the stench of bullshit that I have a slight anxiety listening to the new tunes that arrive at my inbox. Dolls of Highland, the new album by Kyle Craft, feels legitimate to me. The songs are good and the band’s arrangement has a classic quality to it without being some kitschy retro outfit. I sense the predilection towards the music of previous generations, but I hold no grudge. In fact, I want to party with Kyle Craft. I’d suppose enjoying a few cocktails and perusing what is likely to be in his stellar record collection would be a good way to spend an evening.
The album is filled with different presentations of these solid tunes. Some songs feel centered around the vocal and guitar, while others have a quaint upright piano and tasty Fleetwood Mac-esque thuddy drums. There are a few ways that the tunes are filled out but it never gets away from the songs and Kyle Craft’s voice. I feel influences of T Rex, Bob Dylan, Elton John, and others, but in general, I can’t put my finger on anything that this is directly lifting from. Of course this is a huge bonus! I also wouldn’t be surprised if Mr. Craft was a fan of the theater and show tunes. There are some heavy duty stories being told and the theater tradition knows how to tell a story, that’s for sure! Young musicians have a tendency to grab onto something cool from the past and merely recreate it. In my book this is total bullshit. Kyle Craft does better by making something of his own, without the regurgitated cliches and trappings that so many others copy in their quest for the shortcut to cool. Kudos to Kyle Craft. I for one have enjoyed the hell out of this record.
I recently caught the first night of tour for Kid Congo and the Pink Monkey Birds. They have a new album that was just released on April 22 on the great In the Red Records. It is fantastic! I had the songs stuck in my head for days after hearing these tunes. Deliciously warped yet pleasing to the ears. Kid Congo is a legend in his own right (The Cramps, The Gun Club, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) but to make his sound even better Kid has surrounded himself with a band that whips serious ass. Amazing musicianship, yet still rough around the edges in just the right ways. Drummer Ron Miller has recorded their albums in his crazy school gymnasium studio out in Kansas. He gets some seriously great sounds. The vibe of their live performance is playful and rocking but still feels a little dangerous. I’ve caught them a couple times and it’s always a good time. Great music and great people. Catch them if you can on their current tour across the US, or on their overseas dates.
As announced from the Swami Records website: “Metz & Swami John Reis 7” April 16
When Metz found themselves on tour in San Diego with a couple of hours to spare, Swami John Reis immediately booked some studio time with the hopes of capturing the glorious noise of their collaboration. The four of them came up with 2 songs and now they are friends for life. The sound is reminiscent of an army of sea gulls inside a burning Benihana Of Tokyo.”
With all of John Reis’s various band projects of past and present, his sound and musical style has been distilled over the years. The very “Hot Snakes-esque” sound meld perfectly with the noisy abandon and power of Toronto’s Metz. This is a great representation of current music that harkens to the raw, bombastic sounds of the early 90s, a la Amphetamine Reptile records but with a band of musicians that are of the highest caliber of musicianship. A glorious capturing of these songs was accomplished by local San Diego engineer hero Ben Moore. The sounds are big and powerful and his engineering production style matches this project perfectly. Snag one of these 7″s if you can find a copy. Both songs with thrash your ears in the best way possible.
Nothing uniquely amazing is being done here, except the final result. The parts upon initial inspection are basic and even highly reminiscent but somehow the care and attention to the collective package leaves you with a sharply satisfying listening experience. Joon Moon has you hitting the like button on your preferred streaming platform, an instantaneous recognition once a song has ended that you will want to have that in the background again.
With the coming release of their April 1 Call Me EP, Joon Moon is building upon the still sparse but well polished catalog, a 2015 Chess EP, also released on Kwaidan Records out of Paris, France. The latest release is only one new track, “Call Me”, with a couple remixes and a cover of Radiohead’s “I Might Be Wrong”. Each track sucks you in, just as each track and edit on the Chess EP does.
Joon Moon is a result of a Montmarte, Paris friendly collaboration and experimentation between Julien Decoret, Raphael Chassin, Sébastien Trouvé, and Krystle Warren. Warren, providing the mystical vocals, is a recent Kansas City expat. The are just off a couple of SXSW shows and are starting to build a buzz, that we hope inspires more work in the studio. Check out the new EP, especially the Chamberlain Remix of “Call Me”, which has been a sound I’ve been craving since the end of The Books.
I 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:
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.
I’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.
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.
MF: 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
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!
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.