BOOK REVIEW | "STARING AT SOUND: THE TRUE STORY OF OKLAHOMA'S FABULOUS FLAMING LIPS" BY JIM DEROGATIS
when thinking about the AT WAR WITH THE MYSTICS (WARNER BROS, 2006) era biography STARING AT SOUND: THE TRUE STORY OF OKLAHOMA'S FABULOUS FLAMING LIPS (CROWN, 2006) by CHICAGO SUN-TIMES music critic and CELEBRATED cohost of WCRX's SOUND OPINIONS radio program JIM DEROGATIS, i cant help coming away with the impression that despite its detail it is a rather PEDESTRIAN, STRAIGHTFORWARD narrative being presented. which is probably what i should have expected.
i dont know how else you could make a sense of a SEMINAL cult band that has managed to capture the attention of WIDESPREAD mainstream popular attention, if only for the short CULTURAL MOMENT preceding this book's publication, despite numerous lineup shifts, changing genres, the rise of sharing platforms, streaming and the fall of the RECORDING INDUSTRY and not to mention the serious handicap of being from the CONSERVATIVE, CULTURAL OBLIVION that is the state of OKLAHOMA. a TRADITIONAL episodic narrative makes sense from a writing standpoint by conceptually misses the opportunity to get WEIRD, as THE FLAMING LIPS are one of those few bands that gets more OBTUSE and ECCENTRIC with each release up to the present. its like writing an HONEST accounting of the DADAIST MOVEMENT without partaking in the FUN itself.
that being said, there was much about THE FLAMING LIPS i was unaware of:
for instance, the extent to which singer WAYNE COYNE was involved with the 1980s HARDCORE PUNK ROCK / INDIE ROCK scene in OKLAHOMA to the point he loaned out-of-town bands his PA SYSTEM and that his former girlfriend MICHELE VLASIMSKY was a concert promoter so revered that her BOUTIQUE firm BULGING EYE became the UNITED STATES booker agent of NIRVANA both pre and post-fame. i always wondered how they were able to gain an audience and network among other EXPERIMENTAL, LIKE-MINDED bands such as THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS in a pre-internet, entirely ANALOGUE environment. they were essentially a nexus point in a wider NETWORK of INDEPENDENT venues and college radio stations that made up the UNDERGROUND SYSTEM that supported everyone from R.E.M. to BLACK FLAG.
i was likewise unaware of the internal dynamics behind their storied collaboration with REVERED producer DAVE FRIDMANN who worked with them on most of their more ACCLAIMED and IMAGINATIVE releases. what shouldnt not have been surprising is that such a choice in producer was due largely to budget and control. THE FLAMING LIPS were signed to WARNER BROS and they were unable on their first string of releases to gain the SOUND QUALITY and sense of EXPERIMENTALISM by rushing through HALF-BAKED ideas in an expensive studio with producers INEXPERIENCED and UNINTERESTED in their perspective. learning about FRIDMANN and his UPSTATE NEW YORK studio at a college through a roadie seemed the perfect setting to stretch their budget and also exercise some control over the proceedings, as previous producers just dictated major decisions in terms of RECORDING TECHNIQUES and various aspects of PRODUCTION. over time FRIDMANN became an extended member of the team and utilized THE FLAMING LIPS as a starting off point to beta test EXPLORATORY RECORDING and PRODUCTION IDEAS to the benefit of both.
i wish i was able to learn more about former guitarist and all-around musical SAVANT RONALD JONES, but i guess he will just remain an MYSTERY wrapped up in an ENIGMA for the time being. i am assuming DEROGATIS with his long-term access to the band knows more than he lets on but is probably being circumspect of RESPECT and an unspoken DIGNITY for JONES' privacy. as a listener and fan, JONES is almost like SYD BARRETT in terms of his creative output, influence and stunning exit from the MUSIC INDUSTRY. the band was lucky to have him when they did, but even more FORTUNATE to have songwriter, composer and multi-instrumentalist STEVEN DROZD in their midst at same time.
if you are a fan of THE FLAMING LIPS or interested in the unfolding and unraveling of all things 1980s INDIE ROCK and 1990s ALTERNATIVE ROCK then STARING AT SOUND is worth the effort. if not, the book is a bit dry and unassuming which is quite IRONIC given its subject matter. interesting nonetheless.
i came across the sensationally TALENTED CINCINATTI-born violinist/songwriter SUDAN ARCHIVES twice back when i was writing about both the EARTHQUAKER SESSIONS (linked HERE) in early 2022 and more the recently [last month] the FRENCH-produced A TAKE AWAY SHOW (linked HERE) live performance series on YOUTUBE. the STELLAR music BRITTNEY DENISE PARKS has a VIVID quality that comes with the fact that she is playing with multiple GENRES simultaneously. the nearest approximation i can point to with her sound are other LIKE-MINDED, ECLECTIC, SHAPE-SHIFTING and sonically EXPERIMENTAL singer-songwriters in the TRADITION of BJORK, PERFUME GENIUS, KATE BUSH, M.I.A., BECK, GRIMES, TRICKY, DAVID BOWIE and FKA TWIGS.
just a PHENOMENAL talent with an EVER-EVOLVING sound that feels rooted in but not limited by various cultural TRADITIONS, which makes sense given that she studied ETHNOMUSICOLOGY in college. definitely check out her two albums ATHENA (STONES THROW, 2019) and NATURAL BROWN PROM QUEEN (STONES THROW, 2022).
parody by nacrowe
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO celebrating the ECLECTIC and EXPERIMENTAL roster of the LOS ANGELES-based independent label SARGENT HOUSE RECORDS!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO are available here at the DEER GOD website as well as in the MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC archives.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
parody by nacrowe
check out HERE this recent streaming video episode of DEER GOD RADIO celebrating the EXPERIMENTAL NEW YORK CITY-based, NO WAVE-influenced INDIE ROCK institution that was SONIC YOUTH!
past episodes of DEER GOD RADIO are available here at the DEER GOD website as well as in the MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC archives.
and if you haven't done so already get the FREE PHONE APP for IOS/ANDROID and enjoy listening to MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC 24/7 at your convenience!
this is pretty COOL. LA BESTIA TV is a live performance series recorded and filmed at the headquarters and event space of the MEXICO CITY internet radio station LA BESTIA RADIO. the ongoing series is only a few years old and has highlighted both INSPIRED SPANISH-language (CAROLINA DURANTE, TRIANGULO DE AMOR BIZARRO) and ENGLISH-language (A PLACE TO BURY STRANGERS, NOTHING, THE BLACK ANGELS) INDIE ROCK talent, both of the decidedly EXPERIMENTAL variety.
i live for discovering this sort of thing. LA BESTIA TV is most definitely worth checking out and keeping an eye out for future episodes.
sometimes you come across bands that are too clever by half.
classic case for that is PROGRESSIVE ROCK where VIRTUOSO musicians (cough, cough, DREAM THEATER) are liable to loose the plot and go down CONVOLUTED MODAL and SCALE rabbit-holes with no sense of ARTISTIC INTENT, PASSION or ACKNOWLEDGMENT of the wellbeing of a listener who potentially has to listen to this CHAOTIC, PATRONIZING mess. of course, there are notable exceptions like TOOL, RUSH and KING CRIMSON that use this EXPANDED color-box of TECHNIQUES and MUSICAL KNOWLEDGE sans SELF-INDULGENCE with SPECTACULAR results.
in the 90s there was an explosion of genre-blending at hand where PRODUCTION TECHNIQUES related to HIP HOP and ROCK AND ROLL found new JUXTAPOSITIONS and EXPRESSION. some took that PASTICHE idea and really went for it with ADVENTUROUS expansions into LOUNGE, FOLK, JAZZ, LATIN MUSIC, COUNTRY, PSYCHEDELIA, FOUND SOUND, CHAMBER MUSIC, COMMERCIALS, BLUES, TROPICALIA, AFROBEAT, MUZAK and so on like the BEASTIE BOYS, BJORK and BECK arguably most famously. but i think that STEREOLAB may have done the whole EXPANDED PALETTE thing the most cohesively as their ECLECTIC SOUND and AESTHETIC decades later still sounds MODERN and cutting edge.
part of that is the EXTRAORDINARY quality of the songs themselves and the UNIQUE, SOOTHING SINGING TONE of FRENCH vocalist LÆTITIA SADIER. whatever the SOUND-BED in the background, her VOCALS put you immediately at ease and envision a nice BRISK walk on a BREEZY, MAJESTIC summer afternoon. the MUSIC itself clears away from HARSH JUXTAPOSITIONS a la BECK and the BEASTIE BOYS that consciously drawn attention to themselves in favor of an ALTERNATE aesthetic whereby you are aware of the UNIQUENESS of the PRODUCTION and SONIC TEXTURES at play, but they are blended so adroitly that you arent consciously sussing them apart like a puzzle. instead you just let it all wash over you.
i find the music of STEREOLAB relaxing, which is insane because musically they are particularly TECHNICALLY ADVANCED relative to their peer-base at the time and somehow manufactured a STARTLING achievement of making wildly DISPARATE SONIC ELEMENTS sound COHESIVE and even NATIVE and AUTHENTIC in relation to one another. i know INDIE ROCK snobs love this band, and ive met my share, but this is a band worthy of exploration in spite of such. like MASSIVE ATTACK, DEPECHE MODE or APHEX TWIN, they exceed their own hype.
embedded below is a DEER GOD RADIO episode on nonprofit internet radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC that includes a playlist celebrating the intensely ECLECTIC and FUN music of STEREOLAB. enjoy!
i hate SACRAMENTO with a PASSION.
i spent my senior year of high school living with a relative in a WHITE-BREAD suburb of the state capital in the wake of 9/11 and was just appalled at the IN-YOUR-FACE JINGOISM, RACISM and just NAKED IDIOCY on full daily display. and that aftertaste very much still lingers. at the time, i kept thinking that nothing of CULTURAL VALUE has come from the area with the lone exception being the SEMINAL ALTERNATIVE METAL band DEFTONES. over the past two decades that list has been amended a bit with INNOVATIVE and IMPACTFUL acts such as HELLA, CHELSEA WOLFE, TERA MELOS and DEATH GRIPS.
when i first came across the debut mixtape EX MILITARY (THIRD WORLDS, 2011) by EXPERIMENTAL HIP HOP act DEATH GRIPS i was completely emotionally sideswiped. it didnt process. it was like this ABSURD hybrid of the highly MANIPULATED, IMAGINATIVE FOUND SOUND-enabled UNPREDICTABILITY of APHEX TWIN, the OBLITERATING sonic BRUTALITY of CONVERGE and the CONFRONTATIONAL, NO-BULLSHIT, STREETWISE LYRICISM of the WU-TANG CLAN. these component parts should not exist together, and yet they do and the sound is CHAOTIC and BEAUTIFUL in its TECHNICAL WIZARDRY, COMPOSITIONAL COMPLEXITY and EMOTIONAL RELEASE. EX MILITARY was easily one of the most ADVENTUROUS releases i had heard in decades. the whole VISUAL and AURAL AESTHETIC of DEATH GRIPS is absolute uncertainty conceived and played with UNRIVALED PRECISION. it is BRILLIANT.
the three-piece is made up of MC/vocalist RIDE, drummer ZACH HILL and keyboardist/programmer ANDY MORIN. HILL of course is a PRODIGIOUS, generationally TALENTED musician that came to UNDERGROUND prominence in the PROGRESSIVE MATH ROCK band HELLA. his METRONOMIC PRECISION on the kit is ABSURD, which is prefect in the context of DEATH GRIPS and their EXTREME DYNAMICS with EVER-SHIFTING AND COMPLEX TIME SIGNATURES and TEMPO SHIFTS designed for the maximum juxtaposition of DISSONANCE and AURAL DISLOCATION. key tacks included "BEWARE," "CULTURE SHOCK," "GUILLOTINE," "LORD OF THE GAME" and "KNOWN FOR IT." RIDE comes across as the most INTENSE and PRIMAL of ringleaders of a DEMENTED circus youd never wish to attend, guiding you through a sonic mind-field that is both OVERWHELMING and EXASPERATING in detail and UNRELENTING BRUTALITY alike. i see his function within the MUSIC as making it feel COHESIVE by providing a FOCAL POINT and an INTENT, even if such is purely CATHARTIC and EMOTIONAL in scope initially. his VOICE pulls you in and directs you through the CHAOS.
not sure what else to say. i absolutely adore this band and this mixtape. an absolutely ESSENTIAL release that is well worth checking out, much like other OPAQUE yet highly IMAGINATIVE and ORIGINAL releases of past decades like NINE INCH NAILS' THE DOWNWARD SPIRAL (INTERSCOPE, 1994), SWANS' CHILDREN OF GOD (CAROLINE, 1987), CAPTAIN BEEFHEART's TROUT MASK REPLICA (STRAIGHT, 1969) or MF DOOM's VAUDVILLE VILLAIN (SOUND-INK, 2003).
sometimes you put your ear out into the ether of the internet and it pays dividends. such was the case in discovering the NUMBER GIRL, the disbanded JAPANESE INDIE ROCK band from FUKUOKA on the southern island of KYUSHU. my immediate impression was that their sound had the CHAOTIC, DISSONANT and often ATONAL flair of SONIC YOUTH while maintaining CONVENTIONAL POP STRUCTURES a la HUSKER DU, THE REPLACEMENTS or THE PIXIES. this former group definitely walked the line between EXPERIMENTAL NOISE ROCK and TRADITIONAL AMERICAN INDIE ROCK.
which is fine by me because i am fan of that sound and NUMBER GIRL mined such in the late 1990s and early 2000s before their breakup. since then they have reunited on occasion for JAPANESE festival gigs, but insofar have pursued outside projects. here is hoping for new music from the group, who are definitely worth checking out.
parodies & text by nacrowe
it was around college in the early 2000s that i got into AMBIENT MUSIC and came to appreciate music that was a bit more EXPANSIVE and not subject to FAMILIAR STRUCTURES, CONVENTIONS and DYNAMICS. shortly after being able to put my head around the work of EXPERIMENTAL ELECTRONIC MUSIC artists like APHEX TWIN and BOARDS OF CANADA, through younger friends of my brother i was made aware of POST ROCK bands like TORTOISE and MOGWAI. although AMBIENT MUSIC had primed me for this genre, it still blew me away that these musicians were creating this LUSH, PALATIAL widescreen landscape of sound that utilized the INSTRUMENTATION and basic building blocks of ROCK N ROLL to a categorically separate artistic end.
after TORTOISE and MOGWAI came GODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR and SIGUR ROS, and then POST METAL artists like ISIS, SUNN O))) and PELICAN. it was as if a door had opened on what was emotionally capable in ROCK N ROLL writ large and TRANSFORMED my EXPECTATIONS therein as a listener. in a digital age now where LANGUAGE and our collective attention spans are being COMPRESSED and DILUTED, it is beyond refreshing to listen to CHALLENGING music that has WIDTH and DEPTH that is not easily digested and delights in its refusal to be abridged. it is an almost an endurance test of sorts to sit down and listen and really take in the scope of what these artists are presenting. i go back to these artists all of the time, especially during periods where i need to ESCAPE and just DRIFT OFF into my own thoughts in an EXTENDED, UNINTERRUPTED meditation. for that i am forever appreciative that this stuff exists despite its overt lack of commercial appeal.
this episode itself was made during the height of the PANDEMIC and is one of two (the other being POST METAL) that contains footage from years before that i shot from my scooter while driving around the city of MANDALAY in northern MYANMAR. i formerly worked there for a year as a secondary teacher at an international school. the music has a definite PASTORAL flair so i thought the travel footage worked well with it (although at times it is a bit SHAKY). looking back this is one of my FAVORITE episodes.
embedded below is a DEER GOD RADIO episode on nonprofit internet radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC that includes an ECLECTIC playlist of POST ROCK musicians new and old, notable and upcoming. enjoy!
one of the things i noticed almost immediately during my yearlong stay in YOKOHAMA a few years back was the RIGID SOCIAL FORMALITIES and FORCED POLITENESS of TRADITIONAL JAPANESE CULTURE. for some foreign visitors this state of affairs is a plus and a REFRESHING departure from WESTERN informalities and our INGRAINED SOLIPSISM. it only takes a second to be POLITE and by and large the JAPANESE take that second. but its CULTURALLY enforced and the INTENTIONALITY is not wholly AUTHENTIC if that makes any sense.
i was so relieved after my first month teaching in YOKOHAMA when my JAPANESE coworkers began lightly insulting and making fun me. it felt like a social barrier had finally been crossed where they werent forced to be so POLITE all the time. but what stayed with me throughout my time was how JAPANESE WOMEN were effected by this CULTURE of SILENT POLITENESS. in their CULTURE there is a MASSIVE YOUTH MOVEMENT encompassing and promoting all things YOUNG, CUTE and KAWAII. but what happens when one ages out of that? JAPAN has one of the lowest global birthrates, only surpassed by their neighbor SOUTH KOREA. it felt to an outsider like one was a prisoner to their own GENDER, which felt like a sorry CLAUSTROPHOBIC trap.
i say all this to contextualize the UNIQUE listening experience of KYOTO's OTOBOKE BEAVER, which was beyond THRILLING as their songs pedal between SWEET, HARMONIC interludes with PITCH-PERFECT MELODIC singing and CHAOTIC, HARSH, DISCORDANT noise a la MELT-BANANA and BIG BLACK. their music feels like a PRIMAL SCREAM that effectively sheds the NICETIES of a REDUCTIVE JAPANESE FEMININITY that renders them prisoner to ANACHRONISTIC CULTURAL EXPECTATIONS. it is nothing short of a REVELATION and one of the most EXCITING things ive heard in years.
definitely worth checking out.
its difficult to quantify, verbalize or even get my head around the cultural impact of FRANK ZAPPA. when you think about truly INNOVATIVE musicians from the last century, the short list includes the likes of everyone from composers like IGOR STRAVINSKY, ARNOLD SCHOENBERG, GEORGE GERSHWIN, DMITRY SHOSTAKOVICH, AARON COPELAND, SERGEI PROKOFIEV and JOHN CAGE to songwriters like BOB DYLAN, JOHN LENNON / PAUL MCCARTNEY, LOU REED, NEIL YOUNG, LEONARD COHEN and DAVID BOWIE just for starters.
what makes ZAPPA so COMPELLING in my mind was that he took a bit from both camps and was an EXPERIMENTAL songwriter and AVANT GARDE composer. not only that but he was politically OUTSPOKEN and seemingly BOUNDLESS in his drive to create, making use of virtually every genre imaginable and molding such to his IRREVERENT sonic sensibility. even friend and out-there creatives he played with and championed, like CAPTAIN BEEFHEART, are today considered musical pioneers for the ages. learning about ZAPPA is endless fascinating because he was MERCURIAL and ever expanding his CREATIVE PROCESS, whether that be TECHNIQUE, PRODUCTION, TECHNOLOGY and/or a new vein of INSPIRATION. for instance, his son DWEEZIL showcased some of his guitars and many had PECULIAR, BESPOKE preamps and out-of-phase pickups installed to expand his sonic palette (video linked HERE). it was an ongoing affair and really speaks to his unending fascination with sound.
i also appreciate his ability to speak in opposition concerning causes he passionately believed in, whether that be the VIETNAM WAR or the PARENTS MUSIC RESEARCH CENTER (PMRC) hearings. everything these days related to musicians feels TRIVIAL and part of a branding exercise, even political advocacy. none of this modern crop hold any cultural weight. LENNON had that. DYLAN had that. ZAPPA absolutely had that.
not sure who has that sense of CLOUT these days. ED SHEERAN? MILEY CYRUS? DRAKE? we're all doomed.
embedded below is a DEER GOD RADIO episode on nonprofit internet radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC that originally aired exactly four years to the day back in 2019. the playlist includes music from throughout FRANK ZAPPA's ECLECTIC catalogue. enjoy!
i recently came across the LOS ANGELES-based EXPERIMENTAL multi-media artist GENEVA JACUZZI, whose penchant for SYNTH-POP driven AVANT POP excursions is only matched by her wildly creative DIY music videos and art installations. referring to her as a musician or recording artist is a bit reductive since what she does is more akin to UNDERGROUND PERFORMANCE ART, less LADY GAGA and more LYDIA LUNCH in my opinion.
looking forward to what she puts out next as well as any future NYC-based events planned. if anything, her work is most definitely worth checking out.
ANONYMITY is an attention grabbing device that has been used in ROCK N ROLL for decade now to the point that it is beyond a cliche. ARTISTS ranging from KISS, DAFT PUNK and GWAR to DEVO, MF DOOM and SLIPKNOT have utilized this technique for varying AESTHETIC, POLITICAL and PERSONAL purposes over the years. arguably THE RESIDENTS have pioneered the choice of OBFUSCATION into an ART form. for them this SELF-DETERMINED ARTIFICE that separates their true IDENTITY from the world is ironically about maintaining a relationship with their audience and is the central premise of the recent THEORY OF OBSCURITY: A FILM ABOUT THE RESIDENTS (KTF FILMS, 2015) documentary. if having a documentary about an ANONYMOUS SUBECT seems like a farcically ABSURD concept, worry ye not, for it absolutely is.
for THE RESIDENTS, the theory of obscurity centers around how audiences perceive NEW ARTISTS, in that expectations are LIMITLESS until confronted with the actual work itself. after that something becomes attached to ARTIST and essentially defines their subsequent creative output. THE RESIDENTS, who apparently came out of the BAY AREA psychedelic movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, essentially sought to subvert this relationship by basically presenting as a NEW BAND with every release. this entailed DRASTIC shifts in CONCEPTS, MUSIC GENRES, COSTUMES, INSTRUMENTATION, etc. that UNIQUE perspective and ability to maintain their PERSONAL IDENTITY more than 40 years later has resulted in a highly INFLUENTIAL discography that has affected the likes of generations of musicians, authors and ARTISTS alike, such as those interviewed for this film including JERRY CASALE (DEVO), LES CLAYPOOL (PRIMUS), DEAN WEEN (WEEN), CHRIS CUTLER (HENRY COW), JOSH FREESE (DEVO, THE VANDALS), JERRY HARRISON (TALKING HEADS), DAVE EDWARDSON (NEUROSIS), ERIC DREW FELDMAN (CAPTAIN BEEFHEART, PIXIES), JOE HASSELVANDER (RAVEN), ROB CROW (PINBACK), JOSHUA BRODY (CLUB FOOT ORCHESTRA), MATT GROENING (creator, THE SIMPSONS), GARY PANTER (ARTIST), ADAM WELLER (ARTIST), JIM KNIPFEL (novelist) and PENN JILLETTE (magician, PENN & TELLER) among others.
the core of there legacy seems to be centered on their RELENTLESS creative EXPERIMENTATION which takes them into EMERGING TECHNOLOGIES related to the MUSIC and VIDEO PRODUCTION, COSTUME and SET DESIGN, and even MODERN COMMUNICATION and SOCIAL MEDIA apps. they always seem to use technology as a method of confronting and subverting the expectations of their audience. its INTERESTING because they have a huge discography but remain a band of the moment and are NOT NOSTALGIC in the least. if anything, their embrace makes diehard fans feel that their best work is yet to come.
i want to say just as an aside that i found it real INTERESTING to watch current and past members of THE RESIDENTS' INDEPENDENT label RALPH RECORDS and its superseding likewise private entity THE CRYPTIC CORPORATION speak of them in third-person. i am not sure if these members of the board of the corporation were the band, but it sure felt that way given how much they spoke about the INTIMATE inner-workings of the band over the decades. maybe that was the band hiding in plain sight? maybe? maybe not. does it matter?
i always welcome learning about ARTIST that challenge and provoke and THE RESIDENTS vary much fit into such. although i was familiar with them before, i plan to delve into their extensive discography unsure of the RELEVANT knowledge i picked up from this documentary. perhaps i am being misled, but then thatll work itself out if i come to the music with an OPEN MIND, which is all they or any other band could hope for with their audience. THEORY OF OBSCURITY: A FILM ABOUT THE RESIDENTS is most definitely worth checking out, irrespective of your familiarity with their IDIOSYNCRATIC ARTISTIC legacy or AVANT-GARDE music.
not even sure where to begin with the LONDON-based MATH ROCK / AVANT JAZZ / INDIE ROCK band BLACK MIDI. their sound is ever EVOLVING from track to track and is marked by rapid shifts in tempo and textural juxtapositions. once you are seemingly comfortable in one GROOVE it is abandoned. this band sounds like ORNETTE COLEMAN crossed with CAPTAIN BEEFHEART and TWO DOOR CINEMA CLUB.
no idea what i encountered here, but BLACK MIDI is well worth checking out if only to hear the future of EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC collapsing in on itself (in a good way).
SMALL VICTORIES: THE TRUE STORY OF FAITH NO MORE (JAWBONE PRESS, 2018) is an exhaustively RESEARCHED and adroitly CRAFTED biography of the expansive GENRE-DEFYING creative unit that is FAITH NO MORE. since discovering the band via a BRITISH classmate's taped copy of ANGEL DUST (SLASH, 1992) back in middle school shortly after arriving in NIGERIA in 1996, the band has continued to be one of my all-time FAVORITE groups (along with DEVO, THE SMITHS, MASSIVE ATTACK and JANE'S ADDICTION) through all of its iterations. reading this book was a bit of REVELATION, as it truly ENLIGHTENED and EDUCATED the reader to the inner personal dynamics of the group and the INSPIRATIONS and ALLUSIONS present in much of their EXTENSIVE catalogue. reading this book is not necessary to properly appreciate the music of FAITH NO MORE, but it brought their CAREER and LEGACY into a proper focus that i had hitherto not fully appreciated.
like most fans, i am obsessed with the work of MIKE PATTON, in and of his involvement with FAITH NO MORE. he's been on a CREATIVE STREAK for years with his myriad of COMPELLING yet DISPARATE projects like the seminal MR BUNGLE as well as FANTOMAS, TOMAHAWK, LOVAGE, PEEPING TOM and COLLABORATIONS with the likes of ZU, HANDSOME BOY MODELING SCHOOL, THE DUB TRIO and composer JOHN ZORN among many others. PATTON is very much a singular entity in modern music well beyond the confines of ALTERNATIVE ROCK and is UNIVERSALLY CELEBRATED by most modern rock musicians, end stop. SMALL VICTORIES makes the INTRIGUING CONNECTION between the CHARACTER STUDIES he inhabits in his lyrics and his formal pre-band STUDIES as an ENGLISH major in college, which i was most definitely not aware of. but it makes total sense since his FEARLESSNESS as a VOCALIST and writer come from a PERFORMATIVE need to due the MATERIAL justice (regardless of its author), not of SELF-EXPRESSION per se. case in point, PATTON's abundant ENTHUSIASM to sing "BE AGGRESSIVE" on ANGEL DUST, a song about the pleasure of homosexual oral sex as written by bandmate RODNEY BOTTUM about his own experience with the subject. for PATTON, this was a SINGULAR professional OPPORTUNITY and CHALLENGE presented to him that he did hesitate from, instead throwing himself into the track. something arguably most IMAGE-CONSCIOUS frontmen from the period would have second thoughts regarding, not wanting to associate themselves with what was then still very much a TABOO subject that would raise questions about their MASCULINITY (which we all know is bullshit). it is a FASCINATING dynamic that the singer, usually the focal point of a band, within the context of FAITH NO MORE, is just ANOTHER INSTRUMENT. in fact, the core of the creative unit is essentially BASSIST BILLY GOULD and KEYBOARDIST BOTTUM (who were childhood friends) and DRUMMER MIKE BORDIN. this means that one of the truly INNOVATIVE and INVENTIVE modern rock bands was steered in general not by the GUITARIST or lead SINGER, but rather by the RHYTHM SECTION. its a wholly UNIQUE situation in that regard and a sign of each members' ability to control their ego for the sake of the whole, especially the VOCALIST.
that being the case, the band was blessed with two entirely DIFFERENT yet highly EFFECTIVE generationally TALENTED frontmen in CHUCK MOSELY and MIKE PATTON. this was after years of a rotating cast of stand-ins that even famously included COURTNEY LOVE at one point. for GOULD, BOTTUM and BORDIN the focus was on the quality of the INSTRUMENTALS and the VOCALS was an ancillary necessity in order to secure live gigs. same with GUITARISTS. if you listen to ANGEL DUST the CRUSHING guitars fo not take center stage but act as a rhythmic bed for the EXTENSIVE PRODUCTION elements like the PROMINENT SAMPLES and KEYBOARDS and processed VOCALS. that immersive aural landscape is what provided contextual COMPLEXITY for the more traditional DISSONANT guitar tones of JIM MARTIN, and is what made that record such a MIND-MELTING experience for the listener. FAITH NO MORE were not a straight METAL band, or arguably a METAL band at all, but their SOUND transformed sonic expectations for the genre through such EXPERIMENTATION, as well as their SPECIALIZED sense of HUMOR and CONTRARIAN penchant for ABSURDISM that bucked audience and industry expectations. ultimately it is that STUBBORNNESS that has led them to be such a BELOVED cult(?) band.
SMALL VICTORIES shines in its attention to important details and its fondness for SESQUIEDALIAN passages that immerse the reader into the MINDSET of individual band-members through time. i recommend this book to anyone interested in FAITH NO MORE or the cultural underpinnings and history of the pre-NIRVANA ALTERNATIVE ROCK movement of the late 80s and early 1990s. i am most definitely going to seek out more publications by the author ADRIAN HARTE. SMALL VICTORIES is quite an achievement and one of the better biographies i have read since beginning this blog.
RIP CHUCK MOSLEY
i think like a lot of people i feel a certain sense of COMPLACENCY in my listening habits at times, especially as i get older. what was once NOVEL and INNOVATIVE inevitably becomes part of a growing catalogue of interesting diversions in my mind's eye. it feels like when the proper MOOD or situation arises, i am readily equipped to curate the proper soundtrack, if only for myself. at times i feel JADED by my own taste and seeming inability to appreciate new music.
what i love about the NO WAVE bands is that they are stridently UNCOMPROMISING and aggressively NONCOFORMIST. its almost like discovering that SONIC ANARCHY that was ORNETTE COLEMAN after a lifetime of initiation into the contemplative melodicism of JOHN COLTRANE, the sincere poignancy of LOUIS ARMSTRONG or technical dexterity of SONNY ROLLINS. COLEMAN was pure UNGUARDED, UNADULTERATED EXPRESSION unencumbered by traditional constraints of form or theory.
such is NO WAVE as well. when i want my musical palette cleansed, i listen to SWANS or DINOSAUR L, JAMES CHANCE & THE CONTORTIONS, LYDIA LYNCH, DNA or SUICIDE. it makes me realize that limitations are self-induced and the symptom resulting from a lack of COURAGE and/or IMAGINATION. listening to NO WAVE groups is a CONFRONTATIONAL EXPERIENCE that makes me consider what my own self-imposed limitations are not just as a music listener, but as an appreciator of art and as a CONSCIOUS HUMAN BEING in general. these artists were absolutely on the edge of something. sometimes im not even sure what. its like that classic line from THIS IS SPINAL TAP (EMBASSY, 1984), "it's such a fine line between stupid and clever." at times i dont know what side of that threshold some of these bands are on, or myself for that matter. does it even matter? who decides and who cares?
and that dynamic is pretty much the FUN and enduring appeal of NO WAVE bands. in the modern era where seemingly every flavor of music is MARKETED, COMMODITIZED and ultimately rendered DISPOSABLE, these EXPERIMENTAL groups from the late 70s and early 80s somehow found a way to stay RELEVANT and RESISTANT to being pigeon-holed more than four decades on. its like a cultural CHEAT CODE or something. im endlessly fascinated by the idea that these bands defy easy categorization, and yet their music remains VITAL and ENJOYABLE to consume.
embedded below is a DEER GOD RADIO episode from the winter of 2020 on nonprofit internet radio station MAKERPARKRADIO.NYC dedicated to the music of the brief NO WAVE era in NYC. enjoy!
ive been down on SACRAMENTO for more than twenty years now ever since i graduated from high school in the boring WHITE BREAD suburb of ROCKLIN in the early 2000s after being shipped there from KUWAIT to live with a relative shortly after 9/11. for years my opinion was that nothing CULTURALLY SIGNIFICANT ever came from SACRAMENTO outside of DEFTONES and maybe CAKE. its been a rude awakening and an education these past few years to learn that not only did the area produce a great band before that (THE CRAMPS), but also that there was amazing talent in the surrounding area when i was there. namely bands like HELLA, DEATH GRIPS, CHELSEA WOLFE and TERA MELOS.
celebrated EXPERIMENTAL MATH ROCK / POST HARDCORE / INDIE ROCK / PUNK JAZZ / PROGRESSIVE ROCK band TERA MELOS is fronted by NICK REINHART, who in recent years has become almost a poster boy / wizard apprentice for all things guitar pedal related and the EXTREME SONIC TERRORISM potential therein. this partly due to this past work testing out new product on the PEDALS AND EFFECTS YOUTUBE channel with bassist friend JUAN ALDERATE (RACER X / MARS VOLTA / MARILYN MANSON) and also due to the wildly ECCENTRIC and abruptly juxtaposed SONIC LANDSCAPES that TERA MELOS has produced over four albums on SARGENT HOUSE. listening to his guitar playing makes me remember that there are no rules in music and to have FUN. virtually every-time i listen to their music im already thinking of new combinations to experiment with on my pedal board.
also, like everyone i wish nothing but a complete and speedy recovery to JUAN ALDERATE as his knowledge and passion for experimental sounds is absolutely inspiring and contagious. i wish nothing but the best for him and his time recuperating from his terrible accident. when he is ready to return, we will be there with him again. much love.
TRANSMISSIONS FROM THE SATELLITE HEART (WARNER BROS, 1993) was a bit of TRANSITIONAL record for THE FLAMING LIPS when it came out in the early 1990s.
for one it is the first record to include both guitarist RONALD JONES and drummer STEVEN DROZD in the fold. JONES would last one more record before DROZD took over on guitar ever since and became the prominent secret SAVANT-LEVEL multi-instrumentalist, composer and co-writing partner to band leader WAYNE COYNE ever since. given such personnel shifts, this record marks what i would consider the beginning point in the evolution of the band as it has existed sonically and conceptually ever since, which is to say that they shifted from being a JANE'S ADDICTION inspired BUTTHOLE SURFERS retread to a band that pushed the genre and audience experience further with each successive recording that has only gotten WEIRDER, FREAKIER and LESS PREDICTABLE over the intervening years.
having been signed to WARNER BROS in the midst of the pre-NIRVANA rumblings of the ALTERNATIVE ROCK explosion (i.e. JANE'S ADDICTION, FAITH NO MORE, THE BUTTHOLE SURFERS, etc), TRANSMISSIONS FROM THE SATELLITE HEART was their improbable second major label release. somehow someway it managed to include the equally unlikely novelty radio hit "SHE DON'T USE JELLY" which essentially allowed the band some leeway with WARNER BROS to pursue more EXPERIMENTAL sounds and concepts on later releases, if barely. and i really believe that tension is at the heart of what makes THE FLAMING LIPS so great. they have managed to create objectively weird releases that have garnered enough crossover appeal to satiate a cutthroat major label environment that is not looking to support artist development. if anything, THE FLAMING LIPS had the luck of being at the tail end of a recording industry with a longer leash than today. with tracks like "PILOT CAN AT THE QUEER OF GOD," "TURN IT ON," "SHE DON'T USE JELLY," "CHEWIN' THE APPLE OF YER EYE," "BE MY HEAD," and "SLOW NERVE ACTION" coupled with a decidedly haphazard PSYCHEDELIC and handmade DIY aesthetic to their visuals created quite a synergy that played well in the anything-goes zeitgeist of the 1990s. this record felt at home amongst emerging EXPERIMENTAL cultural forces at the time including BECK, TRICKY, CIBO MATTO, CORNELIUS or even the BEASTIE BOYS.
in retrospect im still amazed that something this UNORTHODOX was even released on a major label. period.
the follow-up CLOUDS TASTE METALLIC (WARNER BROS, 1995) was even more sonically DISSONANT and conceptually OPAQUE before the band ditched guitars (mostly) and came up with their first magnum opus THE SOFT BULLETIN (WARNER BROS, 1999). but to understand those later records and the evolution of the band, the plot really began with TRANSMISSIONS FROM THE SATELLITE HEART and the influence of DROZD, who remains today one of the most critically UNDERRATED musicians and songwriters of his generation.
the dude is a revelation. definitely check out TRANSMISSIONS FROM THE SATELLITE HEART and every subsequent FLAMING LIPS record. they are all most definitely worthy of your time, irrespective of your interest in ALTERNATIVE ROCK, INDIE ROCK or AVANT GARDE music.
the relationship between sleeve ART and the MUSIC it promotes has always been an INVIGORATING yet SUBTLE art, especially to music lovers like me. when seeking out an unfamiliar record by unknown ARTIST, seemingly you were always attempting to accurately surmise what the MUSIC would possibly SOUND like given the cover sleeve ARTWORK. most times this was a fool's errand but a fun one. the MAGIC of this interplay between SOUND and VISUALS is now largely lost given the MODERN advent of mobile streaming and various TECHNOLOGY-enabled distribution vehicles that make AUDIO content (as well as VIDEO) available instantaneously. there is no risk in purchasing a record, since commonly in recent years there is no record and consequently there is no purchase anymore (just watch it on YOUTUBE).
the documentary 23 ENVELOPE (BBC, 1985) is short documentary regarding the design firm 23 ENVELOPE, which was made up of graphic designer VAUGHAN OLIVER and photographer/videographer NIGEL GRIERSON. their partnership lasted from 1980 to 1988 and was celebrated for its CREATIVE work with BOUTIQUE BRITISH independent label 4AD and their stable of EXPERIMENTAL artists ranging from COCTEAU TWINS, PIXIES, LUSH, CLAN OF XYMOX and THIS MORTAL COIL to DEAD CAN DANCE and XMAL DEUTSCHLAND. what ties their PHOTOGRAPHIC and TYPOGRAPHIC work together is a commitment to all things and ABSTRACT. their work carries with it an ETHEREAL, OTHERWORLDLY quality that makes it feel very much up for interpretation, much like the MUSIC it serves to introduce. their work is also LYRICAL in the sense that it has an EMOTIONAL RESONANCE despite its OBTRUSIVE nature. too often with commercial COVER ART the images being displayed do not hold up AESTHETICALLY without explicit reference to the MUSIC. famous examples where this is not the case include ANDY WARHOL's iconic THE VELVET UNDERGROUND & NICO (VERVE, 1967) cover, RICHARD KERN's early collaborations with SONIC YOUTH, as well as the images PETER SAVILLE provided for both JOY DIVISION and NEW ORDER at FACTORY RECORDS. these NOTABLE examples standout as ARTISTICALLY compelling statements outside of their commercial associations with the TRANSGRESSIVE and INNOVATIVE MUSIC they were commissioned to promote.
the whole discussion regarding the role of ART and MUSIC is endlessly FASCINATING for me since at its core it serves a MARKET FUNCTION of differentiated what crassly very much is a PRODUCT for general CONSUMPTION. but the core INTEGRITY of INTENTION at display with this documentary in reference to the work of OLIVER and GRIERSON proves that more can be accomplished and render this PRODUCT as INDESPENSIBLE to the right constituency. that interplay between ARTIST and PATRON, MARKET and CONSUMER will never be figured out as they are uneasy bedfellows. 23 ENVELOPE voices this dynamic brilliantly and is a relevant documentary definitely well worth checking out.
RIP VAUGHAN OLIVER
first off, greatest band name ever.
that being said, one would suppose that the music of AUSTRALIA's KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD would not live up to CREATIVITY of their moniker, but it does. it may even surpass it. their SOUND is a POTENT mix of PSYCHEDELIA, SURF MUSIC, GARAGE ROCK and more than a micro dose of EXEPERIMENTAL PROG ROCK embellishments thrown in (i.e. ODD TIME SIGNATURES and IDIOSYNCRATIC INSTRUMENTATION). but what centers all that WILD sonic craziness in line is a preternatural knack for MELODY. these are songs you can hum to even if there are complex NEO-BAROQUE COMPOSITIONAL ELEMENTS swirling around you.
its a jarring and UNIQUE set of juxtapositions and makes KING GIZZARD & THE LIZARD WIZARD most definitely worth checking out. plus their videos are completely BONKERS.