Category Archives: Record Review

Some Music We Missed in 2013

While we’re waiting and working on some (hopefully) awesome shows for you in 2014, we thought we’d take a moment to mention some excellent records from last year that we overlooked in our best of. While record reviews have taken a backseat to booking/promoting shows here at The Other Side of Life, there’s still some great stuff we’d like to tell you about. So here goes…

LETHA RODMAN MELCHIOR, Handbook for Mortals LP (Siltbreeze)

Way back in the 1990s, Letha was one of the guitarists in Ruby Falls, which was one of our favorite bands. Since their untimely demise, she’s explored other musical regions, sometimes without guitar, under the name Tretam. This year, under her own name, she released Handbook for Mortals, and it’s fantastic. Inspired by what I would call the “quotidian audio collage” style of Graham Lambkin (whose Salmon Run is a classic in the not-quite-genre), there’s everything from re-appropriated musics by other composers, spoken dialogue that at least seems vérité, video game interludes, you name it, all carefully constructed with a fine balance of pathos and bathos.

Over the past two years, Letha’s been dealing with health issues related to cancer treatment, and with every sale of Handbook for Mortals, a portion of proceeds will be donated to her. You can also buy the album direct — as well as make a donation — here: http://melchiorfund.blogspot.com.

Additionally, if you’re in New York City, there’s a BENEFIT FOR LETHA RODMAN MELCHIOR this Saturday, January 18th at Secret Project Robot. Endless Boogie, Crystal Stilts, Love as Laughter, The Rogers Sisters (wow!), and more will be appearing — more information here: https://www.facebook.com/events/721038087915201.

CHRIS FORSYTH, Solar Motel LP (Paradise of Bachelors)

 We kinda slept on this one, not really sure why, but while it’s not our favorite “guitar band” record of the year (that’d probably be Time Off by Forsyth’s label mate Steve Gunn), it’s still really awesome. Imagine the members of Television trying to play alongside one of Glenn Branca’s guitar orchestra, attempting to steer the musical dialogue from sheer blistering-and-bludgeoning rock to delicate moments of melody. Something like that, yeah.

Chris Forsyth’s SOLAR MOTEL BAND will be in Louisville on Wednesday, February 19th — more details here soon as they become available!

HELADO NEGRO, Invisible Life 2LP (Asthmatic Kitty) —
One of our favorite electronic releases of the year, Helado Negro’s Invisible Life has been on constant rotation in our house since it came out last March. So why did we leave it off our best of? I have no idea. Stupid oversight, most likely. Sweet soul mixed with (almost) club bangers in a syrupy, sweaty stew. Hell, just the track “Dance Ghost” is worth the price of admission. Killer fun live show, too.

SIGHTINGS, Terribly Well LP (Dais) — We were with heavy heart when we heard that Sightings, one of our favorite New York bands of all time, called it quits in 2013. But if you’re gonna go out, might as well go out on top, and Sightings did with Terribly Well, their ninth album. Despite the many that try, there’s not many bands out there that really capture truly terrifying intensity — and in a post-Sightings world, we’re not sure anyone should even try.

COPPICE, Big Wad Excisions CD (Quakebasket) — The first release on Tim Barnes’ resurrected Quakebasket label (which you might remember from those incredible Angus MacLise reissues in the late 1990s) isn’t a reissue at all, but a new work by a Chicago electro-acoustic duo who put the whomp back in free improv. Highly recommended if you like early Merzbow, early Wolf Eyes, but not early mornings.

MDOU MOCTAR, Afelan LP (Sahel Sounds) — A late entry, because we slept on this July, 2013 release all the way until December, and we really wish we were tipped off earlier! Mdou Moctar’s Afelan has the heaviness we also heard in the debuts by Group Inerane and Bombino, recorded entirely live on location in Niger.

REISSUES:

U.S. MAPLE, Long Hair in Three Stages LP (Skin Graft) — We’ll be honest: the first time we saw U.S. Maple play (at the Skin Graft “Irritational” in Chicago in January, 1995), we thought they were terrible. Couldn’t figure ’em out, honestly weren’t sure where they fit, even within the non-specific post-no wave aesthetic that Skin Graft was minin’ at the time. But then, a year or two later, it clicked and Long Hair in Three Stages was a must-have! The original 1995 LP was just about impossible to find, though, and even if you could find it, it had a pretty hefty price tag, since it came only in a sheet-metal sleeve. Thankfully, this past year the fine gentlemen at Skin Graft reissued the album, in multiple with-steel-or-without formats, so even if you weren’t there, you can pretend you were.

RODAN, Fifteen Quiet Years LP (Quarterstick)
LABRADFORD, Prazision LP 2LP (Kranky) —
Two of the most important bands to me in the early 1990s were Louisville’s Rodan, and Richmond, VA’s Labradford, and their debut records (1994’s Rusty and 1993’s Prazision LP, respectively) both have had a profound influence on how I think about music to this day. Fifteen Quiet Years compiles Rodan’s odds-and-sods, which — while certainly gratifying — exudes a melancholy sense of longing for what they could’ve achieved had they stayed together. Meanwhile, the Prazision LP reissue is a perfect re-casting of what was, for me, a gateway to entirely new sonic palettes. Both of these releases are essential!

Walter De Maria, R.I.P.

Reports across the internet indicate that Walter De Maria has died. He is one of my favorite sculptors and musicians of all time, his most famous works being the installations “Lightning Field” (in New Mexico), “The New York Earth Room,” and “The Broken Kilometer” (both in New York). He also briefly played drums in the Primitives, a precursor band to the Velvet Underground. Back in 2005, I wrote a review (for Swingset Magazine) of his self-released compact disc Drums and Nature, containing two pieces of his from the 1960s, in contrast with then-new works by Watersports:

Painting, sculpture, hell even being in a regular rock band wasn’t enough for Walter De Maria. After moving to New York in 1960, hobnobbin’ and theorizin’ and fluxus-izin’ with crazyman composer La Monte Young, playing drums for a stint in The Velvet Underground, and establishing himself as one of the prominent sculptors in the emerging “minimalist” scene, De Maria looked for – and found – the ever-larger gesture. In search of an art that was more than just “art,” De Maria in 1968 filled the Galerie Heiner Friedrich in Munich with dirt, kicking off the whole earthworks movement. That same year, he recorded “Ocean Music,” which along with “Cricket Music” (from 1964) is available for the first time on Drums and Nature. “Ocean Music,” recorded with the help of rediscovered minimalist badass Tony Conrad, is a meditative piece beginning with – you guessed it – the sound of waves crashing along some shore somewhere. Some heavy solo tribal drumming eventually mixes in, then subsumes the ocean sound, and what we’ve got is something akin to New Age if New Age wasn’t fucking lame. That is, a perfect representation of the “natural,” but with an acknowledgement of the “human” (incidentally, La Monte Young also recorded a vocal piece with the ocean off Long Island as his backin’ band around the same time for Columbia, but it has yet to see the light of day). “Cricket Music” is less meditative, but no less amazing (and no less truth-in-advertising, title-wise). Listening to these compositionally simple, yet striking pieces, it’s too bad that De Maria hasn’t seemed to have done much since, musically…

De Maria’s Drums and Nature will be available for download here for a limited time: http://www.sendspace.com/file/9vcr0i. If you miss it, you can also download it from UbuWeb here: http://www.ubu.com/sound/demaria.html.

UPDATE, 7/26/13: The Los Angeles Times has confirmed De Maria’s death by publishing an obituary here: http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/arts/culture/la-et-cm-walter-de-maria-died-20130725,0,1642854.story.

UPDATE, 7/27/13: The New York Times has published their obituary of Walter De Maria here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/27/arts/design/walter-de-maria-artist-on-grand-scale-dies-at-77.html.

C.S. Yeh, Transitions (De Stijl)

LEO Weekly ran my review of C.S. Yeh’s new album, Transitions, in today’s edition:

Defying expectations is risky, but even more difficult for experimental musicians playing pop. That challenge — of a player known for more demanding fare stretching out into “less serious” realms — is readily accepted by C.S. Yeh on Transitions. A violinist known for his Burning Star Core project, Yeh plays every instrument here, with a shaky retro sensibility reminiscent of 1980’s one-man band My Dad Is Dead. Yeh takes more than a few chances on Transitions: His icy vocals, rudimentary guitar work and synth-driven rhythm tracks are far more direct than previous experimental efforts, while lyrics like “I thought that good luck routed me to Cleveland” might be too tongue-in-cheek to take seriously. But with sly nods to the underground and the mainstream, covering both Father Yod and Stevie Nicks, Yeh makes their songs his own.

You can buy it from De Stijl here.

Howlin Rain, The Russian Wilds (American Recordings)

This week’s LEO Weekly ran my review of the new album by Howlin Rain, The Russian Wilds:

Not so many years ago, Ethan Miller’s band Comets on Fire provided a perfectly psychedelic shot in the arm — their loud, histrionic MC5-style rock ruled the day, and it seemed like a number of copycat bands have since sprung up in their wake. Nothing good lasts forever, though, and while Miller has a new band, Howlin Rain, they pack a much less potent punch. To add to the potential misery of the overly long retro retreads on their new album, The Russian Wilds, which features a number of miscues and missed opportunities, the most egregious is an embarrassingly poor faux-Latin coda (think recent Santana) on “Phantom in the Valley.” Produced by Rick Rubin, who once tried to turn The Cult into AC/DC, The Russian Wilds is thankfully no longer than an hour, though it’s an hour that unfortunately seems much, much longer.

Buy it here.

The Fall, Ersatz G.B. (Cherry Red/MVD)

My review of the latest record by The Fall was published on LEO Weekly‘s Bluegrass Catastrophe blog today:

It’s tempting to compare vastly different eras of The Fall’s career to one another. After all, The Fall has been a going affair for front man Mark E. Smith for five decades now, with Ersatz G.B. being the latest in a long line of releases. So to make the comparison, the latest, 2012 incarnation of The Fall documented on Ersatz G.B. reminds me most of the relatively accessible mid-1980s version, especially the lineup that recorded the classic album The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall. Musically, the band flirts with a slightly poppier yet hard-edged sound, including an atypical “metal” number, driven by the steady rhythm section of Keiron Melling on drums and David Spurr on bass. What little of Smith’s garbled vocals I can make out involve his usual concerns – he’s been lamenting “the highest British attention to the wrong detail” since 1982’s Hex Enduction Hour.

Buy it here.

Jakob Olausson, Morning & Sunrise (De Stijl)

My review of Jakob Olausson’s new album, Morning & Sunrise, was published in this week’s LEO Weekly:

From a part of the world where the sunlight is scarce in the wintertime, Swedish singer-songwriter Jakob Olausson delivers an album that, despite its deceptively luminous title, sounds almost as stark as a Scandinavian winter. All of Olausson’s songs on Morning & Sunrise are lyrically direct, sung as if in a relatively one-sided conversation, though musically they meander, with snaking electric guitar leads overlaid upon the foundation of Olausson’s reverb-drenched strummed acoustic. In a way, Morning & Sunrise is reminiscent of Alexander “Skip” Spence’s loner masterpiece Oar, but without Spence’s supposed drug-addled goofiness or his Nashville-produced influence on the music. Aside from the just-slightly-too-ramshackle song “Engraved Invitation,” Morning & Sunrise is a sober and serious affair, like a steaming hot cup of black coffee at the crack of dawn on a cold winter morn.

Buy it from De Stijl here.

200 Years, s/t (Drag City)

This week’s LEO Weekly contains my review of the new album by 200 Years, the new project by Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance, Rangda) and Elisa Ambrogio (Magik Markers):

At the conclusion of the Six Organs of Admittance show at Uncle Slayton’s back in August, Ben Chasny was joined onstage by singer Elisa Ambrogio, and the lucky audience was treated to a preview of their new band, 200 Years. The current concern for Ambrogio and Chasny, this self-titled debut on Drag City is superficially akin to Chasny’s Six Organs project as it features primarily acoustic guitars, delicately sweet melodies and the occasional accompaniment by harmonium. But the band is really Ambrogio’s showcase, as her voice dominates the album. However, unlike her usually confrontational work with Magik Markers, the overall aesthetic of 200 Years is one of dreamy, contemplative harmony between her voice and Chasny’s guitar. In songs such as “Partin Wayz” and “West Hartford,” there’s even a welcome sense of nostalgia and sentimentality, which gives 200 Years a sweet edge quite unlike anything previously by either artist.

Buy it from Drag City here.