bardoPsych rock lifers Bardo Pond go back to the beginning with Refulgo, a double LP of previously hard to come by recordings from the mid 1990s. Though essentially an odds-n-sods compilation, the release works just fine as a cohesive whole, thanks to the single-mindedness of the band’s intentions — like Neil Young used to say: “It’s all one song.”

Kicking off with the band’s very first seven-inch, a woozy take on the old gospel chestnut “I Want To Die Easy,” Refulgo boils psychedelia down to its purest elements: Lacerating feedback, pounding drums, disembodied vocals, fuzzed out bass, unconscionable amplifier abuse. It’s a beautiful trip throughout, but they save the best for last. “Sangh Seriatim” closes things out with a full side of free rock drift, just the barest of bass lines holding things together for a 20+ minute journey beyond the infinite. You’ll wish it was 20 minutes longer.
But if that’s not enough time spent in the Pond, Three Lobed Records has also just put out Shone Like A Ton, a never-before-reissued collection from the band’s earliest days. Actually a bit more swampy than pond-y, the six jams here are raw and rough, but thrillingly so. “Tarahumara,” in particular, is a fuzzy, dreamy delight.

Of course, Bardo Pond is still a going concern, and they’ve got some fresh material hitting the racks for Record Store Day: Looking For Another Place, a very enticing 12-inch featuring extended covers of the Velvets’ “Ride Into The Sun” and Eno’s “Here Come The Warm Jets.” Both renditions start off reverently, but in typical Bardo fashion, the band soon takes things into the outer regions. Very much worth tracking down. words / t wilcox

Bardo Pond :: Die Easy

santa dog fold 2“Do you ever… wonder who you are?” A cartoonish voice asks this question on “Aircraft Damage,” a track from The Residents’ first official release in 1972 called Santa Dog. It’s a curious debut EP, a heterogeneous mixture of deconstructoid musical satire and homespun concrète experimentalism. The aesthetic is grotesque and subversive, a spooky pop culture mélange with a heightened sensitivity to music history.

The question of identity has persisted with The Residents throughout the group’s 40 odd years of existence. They’ve made an art out of confusing who and what The Residents are—the band’s classic disguises are cartoonish, top-hat wearing eye-ball masks. However it’s not quite right to call The Residents a band, because they are visually prolific as well as musically: the Residents were cranking out overly ambitious “music videos” a decade before MTV and have made movies, scored films. Tirelessly multimedia in their understanding of medium, they were early adaptors of the CD-ROM and eager practitioners on YouTube.

The Bay Area archival label Superior Viaduct is releasing the Santa Dog EP as well as Residue of The Residents, an expansion of the band’s 1983 out-takes and rarities album of the same name. The Residents bulging oeuvre is daunting to the uninitiated, but these releases make a solid and concise point of entry to The Resident’s first decade of music-making. Additionally, a promising documentary on The Residents is in the works called Theory of Obscurity. It catches up with the masked singer “Randy Rose” on the band’s 2013 40th Anniversary tour, aiming to give some perspective on the breadth of the group’s work and the depth of their influence across several generations.

A pillar of Residents philosophy, the “Theory of Obscurity” claims that an artist can only produce pure art when the influences or the outside world are not considered—it was put forth by N. Senada, a mysterious, pivotal figure in Residents mythology (who is rumored to have been The Residents early hero, Captain Beefheart). Believe what you will and have fun connecting the dots, but as the Residents’ chief cronies and Cryptic Corporation member Jay Clem says in the Theory of Obscurity trailer, “”the idea of the anonymity eliminates barriers to the creation of art.” So with that, may the mystery live on. words / a spoto

The Residents :: Aircraft Damage

“to be anonymous, gives them license to do anything… anything because if there’s no persona there and it’s whatever you make up, their imagination is the only limitation” Graeme Whifler Film Director

“the idea of the anonymity eliminates barriers to the creation of art” – Jay Clem Cryptic Corp 76-82

The Black Swans’ Jerry DeCicca returns to AD, this time looking back at Richard Buckner’s debut long-player, Bloomed. Originally released in 1994, the remastered album was reissued earlier this month via Merge Records, also marking its first appearance on vinyl. DeCicca, in his own words, below, including his conversation with Buckner, after the jump. – AD

bloomedWhen I was 15, I bought a fake ID from a guy named Spike. It said my name was Thomas Buchanan because I wanted to sound tough. I didn’t smile in the picture. Its out-of-state-ness got me into Ohio clubs all the way to legal. I remember the last time a door guy called me “Tom” because it was the first time I saw Richard Buckner. A few weeks later, I saw Townes Van Zandt. It was a heavy summer.

Buckner’s first record, Bloomed, had just been released, but I hadn’t heard it yet. Back then, I’d go see anyone that wrote their own songs and lived somewhere I didn’t. Buckner was compelling on stage, his voice pretty and slurred, and I loved the way he made his acoustic guitar rattle. He talked a lot about his songs in a way I haven’t heard him do since. “Surprise, AZ”: inspired by a newspaper article about a mother and son that died in a car accident and their bodies were driven back home in boxes beside one another and this song was their imagined conversation. The other stories I don’t recall.

Within the next year I became a superfan, obsessed, and found ways to travel to see him wherever I could. Often times he was opening: Son Volt, Freakwater, Alejandro Escovedo, Kelly Willis. With each album, Buckner made everyone else that was doing what I wanted to do someday sound boring. Greg Brown once wrote a song called “Mose Allison Played Here” about a shithole club in Albuquerque. The last gig there, before it shut down, was The Dirty Three and Calexico. Afterwards, while people were trying to set fire to the walls, I bugged Joey Burns about Buckner. He sat me down in his rented Cadillac and we listened to a rough mix on cassette of Since (RB’s third album) that he then gave to me because he’s a nice person and I was a drunk kid that was annoying him because I couldn’t wait for its release.

Bloomed was originally released in 1995 by Dejadisc, a Texas label that housed other songwriters that believed in albums as art: Ray Wylie Hubbard, Michael Hall (now one of the best music writers in the country), Elliott Murphy, and others. It was produced by Lloyd Maines, a phenomenal pedal steel and guitar player that made Joe Ely and Terry Allen hum, among others. If you haven’t heard Bloomed, Merge is giving you another chance with bonus tracks (demos, live cuts), a greatly improved mastering from the other time it was reissued, and the album’s first vinyl edition.

Richard Buckner isn’t just my favorite guitar/words maker of the last 20 years, he’s my favorite record maker. All his albums, beginning with Bloomed, widen with listens and time. Buckner has never once tried to nudge commercialism or follow a trend. He creates his own world, uncompromising, creating within his means, and pushing boundaries of how we think about sound and song. He also avoids the silly and gross compass that guides most musicians: genre. He’s about the trip, not the destination. And everyone I’ve ever met that loves his music feels the same way.

This reissue has given me the opportunity to ask Richard some questions—things I wanted to know from a long time ago, things I thought then that may or may not be true. As usual, he knows better than to tell you too much. Our conversation, after the jump…

dave berry

I’m not a fantasy sports guy, but I do have a short-list of country versions I would have loved to have heard cut of certain material, including the 1964 Dave Berry original, “The Crying Game”. I’ll share one, here, the late George Jones, and encourage you to leave your own in the comments. Per the original, that’s Jimmy Page as session player on guitar, along with Big Jim Sullivan. Alright, one more: the mustachioed baritone cowboy, Lee Hazlewood.

Dave Berry :: The Crying Game

sidIn his tome It Came From Memphis, author Robert Gordon called Sid Selvidge the city’s “pre-eminent folkster.” Any argument to the contrary would likely be settled by one or two spins of The Cold of the Morning, Selvidge’s 1976 masterpiece.

The record recently has been reissued by Omnivore Records, produced by Sid’s son Steve Selvidge, of the rock & roll combo The Hold Steady. Under his Steve’s watchful eye, his father’s defining album is given a new opportunity to shine. And it shines: His voice is clear and present – sonorous but not affected or pretentious. His guitar work is stunning, its subtle picking demonstrating all the lessons Selvidge gleaned from Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music and bluesman Furry Lewis. Just to shake things up, Mud Boy and the Neutrons, helmed by Selvidge’s friend and compatriot Jim Dickinson, show up on a few tracks just to hint at the demented blues deconstruction Selvidge and Dickinson would help their friend Alex Chilton get up to.

Selvidge passed away nearly one year ago, in May of 2013. In his liner notes of the new edition of the record, Memphis-based writer Bob Mehr suggests that Cold of the Morning captures the “essence of the man.” Again – anyone looking to dispute should simply put the album on. Steve Selvidge took some time off from prepping for the release of The Hold Steady’s new record, Teeth Dreams, to discuss his father’s classic and his legacy.

Aquarium Drunkard: I want to start by stating that The Cold of the Morning — just wow. This is a great record, man.

Steve Selvidge:Yeah it is.

AD: How did you hear it? Was it something your father played for you growing up, or was it something you discovered on your own?

Sid Selvidge: It came out when I was three. Early on it was just kind of “what dad did,” you know? I can remember my aunts and uncles playing it, being at my cousins’ house and it being on. And then you know, as I got older it was something I got into.

I’m not sure when it stuck out as being something special. It was just one of my dad’s albums, [but] like any great album, there’s a phase where it’s all you’re listening to. As I got to be in my 20s and stuff, I’d have big Cold of the Morning phases. We’d go back-and-forth talking about it. It was really toward the end of my dad’s life that it became, “Hey, wait a minute. This is ‘the’ record, this is the classic.” Kind of the focal point, I guess. [His] mortality being a part of it, you know? There wasn’t really a winding down [but in the twilight of his life] the context shifted, and it became very apparent where this record’s place was.

AD: That was the case for you and for him as well, right? Did he feel that Cold of the Morning was his classic as well?

Steve Selvidge: Yeah, I think so. He told me that. He certainly was fine with all his records; he put all of himself into them. But yeah, he felt that this was his best record, and certainly his clearest statement of who he was as an artist.

AD: It’s such an interesting record. The tracks with Mud Boy and the Neutrons [the loose cannon roots outfit Selvidge and producer Jim Dickinson performed with], the more unhinged tracks, are really fantastic, but then the rest of the record is sonically sparse. When you compare it to its contemporary records, such as Alex Chilton’s Like Flies on Sherbert, your dad’s sound captures the other side of the coin of that stuff. Whereas Big Star’s Third and Sherbert draw a lot of emotion out of a very chaotic sound, it feels like Cold of the Morning draws its power from a different place: It’s clean, it’s distilled.

Steve Selvidge: It’s much more elegant.

AD: Yeah, “elegant” is the exact word I’m fumbling for.

Steve Selvidge: It very much is the opposite side of the coin, because the record came out of his residency at the Procapé, and you’re talking about a musical roadmap that is Big Star’s Third. All that was contemporary. It’s interesting, because I’m going through all this stuff and doing a ton of tape transfers for those bonus tracks. A lot of these songs my dad had recorded versions of way early on. I’ve got a version of “Many a Mile,” which I’m assuming was cut by Don Nix around the time of the Portrait album on [Stax subsidiary] Enterprise in the late ’60s. The version is pretty transcendent. It was a project of that environment that gave us Third. But it’s much more elegant. My dad was very determined with the way he did things. He was very much an academic, too. I don’t want to say it’s an immaculate record, because that makes it sound bookish or like it doesn’t have a soul, but he was very deliberate with the way he did things. So I think he crafted the record as such.

lowell-george

That right there is one Lowell George, he of Little Feat, whose discography has just been reissued by Rhino. In 1972 the band released their second long-player, Sailin’ Shoes, the final album not swamped in the funky Topanga Canyon cum New Orleans r&b sound that would aesthetically define the rest of their days. As such, Sam Bush’s rendering of the album’s title track makes perfect sense. All mandolin and cocaine trees, it’s near definitive in its approach.

Sam Bush :: Sailin’ Shoes

The War on Drugs were born with a sound. When Adam Granduciel’s Philly-bred concern released Wagonwheel Blues in 2008, they were already singular. There were familiar signifiers—woo-hoo-hoos stolen from Born in the USA-era Springsteen, Granduciel’s pinched vocals and turnaround chord progressions nicked from Dylan via Tom Petty—but they were specks in a maelstrom of searing synth patches and controlled feedback, with a tick-tack rhythm doing its damnedest to pin it all together. By the time of 2011’s Slave Ambient, Granduciel seemed overwhelmed by the size and potential of his creation. That record lacks the energy and sense of awe that give Wagonwheel its trajectory, its way through the tornado of sound, and their absence makes the record feel at times too dissipated, too depersonalized. It’s a good record, nearly a great one, but it’s also a record given over almost entirely to its guiding aesthetic. Granduciel haunts its heartland drone like a tired ghost, and it can be tiring trying to coax him out.

That’s no longer an issue. Lost in the Dream is easily the most direct and engaging work that The War on Drugs have ever released. It’s also the best. Those two statements—both technically subjective but still readily apparent from the moment Granduciel lets his voice unwind around a big-sky melody in opener “Under the Pressure”—aren’t necessarily complementary, and Granduciel’s particular genius has always seemed to be for obfuscation. In the past, he allowed, say, loneliness to drive him into an ambient haze and left a nice-looking chemtrail for us to gaze into. But here he forces his songs to bloom outward, exposing them and himself. It gives you something to see, a pair of eyes to make contact with, and it gives the record a sense of purpose greater than its own aesthetic achievement. It’s such a frequently and effectively heartbreaking listen that when he finally gets loose a joyous, unqualified yelp in the record’s final few minutes, you want to jump up and shout for him.

Which isn’t to say that Lost in the Dream is some kind of bummer. Sadness here is buoyed by a kind of tentative triumph. “Well the comedown here was easy,” Granduciel sings in “Under the Pressure,” “Like the arrival of a new day.” When the lyric gives way to breakdowns and runaways and pain, they’re countered by a horn chart that could’ve been ripped from Sports or Fore! and a sparkling galaxy of synth. It takes a full three minutes of ambient exhale for the song to catch its breath. Lead single “Red Eyes,” itself threaded with the kind of milky guitar line that Granduciel and former bandmate Kurt Vile practically invented, builds to a defiant, orchestral stomp.

But Lost in the Dream is at its best when it goes dark. The gentle Rhodes and synth washes of “Suffering” move like The Band lilting across space, with Granduciel floating out ahead as he repeats the title phrase. “I’m just a bit rundown here at the moment,” he sings over a float of lap and pedal steel and synthesized strings in “Eyes to the Wind,” the slow-building ballad that is the album’s emotional centerpiece. “There’s just a stranger living in me.” Suffering, alienation: These aren’t exactly new sentiments, particularly in the folk-rock realm in which Granduciel still works. But he’s harnessed all of that free-floating noise that engulfed him on Slave Ambient and put it in service of relatable pain. The result is a set of songs that sound sad, sure, but they sound sad in a way that sadness has never quite sounded before.

The prevailing narrative surrounding the creation of Lost in the Dream has centered on Granduciel’s relationship to the sonic fog that covers his group’s first two records. He spent a full year editing down Lost in the Dream, meticulously shaping and taming wild sound, trying to understand what makes his band effective. Read enough profiles and you get the sense that these disparate tones grow from him like bright mold up a humid wall. Rest assured, all of those sounds and patterns and fractals of mysterious feeling are still here, and they’re still central to what makes The War on Drugs compelling. But for the first time, really, you get a very clear sense of the source of all of that sound. Adam Granduciel sits in the center of it, illuminated. And there’s color blooming and decaying all around. words / m garner

The War On Drugs :: Red Eyes

captain-beefheart

I recently re-watched the underrated/half-forgotten Blue Collar – Paul Schrader’s 1978 directorial debut starring Richard Pryor, Yaphet Kotto and Harvey Keitel. Filmed on location at the Checker Motors plant in Kalamazoo, Michigan, the film boasts one of the decade’s most effective pairings of music during an opening credits sequence.

Schrader tapped Jack Nitzche to score the film. In an inspired move Nitzche brought in Captain Beefheart (née Don Van Vliet) to lend his rust-leaden vocals to “Hard Workin’ Man”, the Nitzche penned track that acts as an aural introduction to the late 20th century metal-machine world the film’s characters inhabit. A blues, the song hits of two fronts: the obvious (lyrics), and in keeping with the auto manufacturing plant visuals of the opening sequence, the instrumental. Raw and chugging, that’s Ry Cooder on accompanying guitar as Beefheart growls out the lyrics along to the sight of steel and sparks. Check it out, below:

The below track was later included in the collection Hard Workin’ Man: The Jack Nitzche Story, Vol. 2, sans the auto plant’s ‘ambiance’ and slightly modified lyrics.

Jack Nitzsche / Captain Beefheart :: Hard Workin’ Man

7 PM

While a younger generation has picked up the American Primitive torch in the past decade, some of the original 1960s fingerpickers have recently emerged from the mists with some damn good new material.

Don Bikoff’s magical Celestial Explosion was reissued last year by Tompkins Square, bringing its splendid, slightly spacey acoustic explorations to a much wider audience than when it originally came out in 1968. Up until this year, it was the guitarist’s only release. But Hallowed Ground shows that Bikoff’s powers are undimmed; perhaps they’ve even deepened over the years. Though the cover art may look a bit like something you’d find gathering dust in the “local” section of your neighborhood coffeehouse, don’t let it deter you. The 10 tunes here are lovely guitar soli gems that weave and wind with a loose, easygoing charm. A particular treat is Bikoff’s faithful but not overly reverent rendition of John Fahey’s classic “Sligo River Blues.”

Don Bikoff :: Good Dog, Josie

Harry Taussig was another one-and-done Takoma School guitarist. He put out the extremely rare Fate Is Only Once in 1965, appeared on the Contemporary Guitar compilation alongside Bukka White, Robbie Basho and Fahey … and then disappeared from the music scene for several decades. But in 2012 he returned with a worthy sequel, Fate Is Only Twice, and even played his first-ever gigs last year. Now there’s no stopping Harry. He’s got a third album, The Diamond of Lost Alphabets, out digitally on Tompkins Square this month, a rough-hewn beauty, full of moaning, minor-key slide guitar lines and plaintive melodies that dig into a deep well of folk and blues forms.

Harry Taussig :: Bridge Over Golden Mists

Also out now on Tompkins Square (doing the Lord’s work, as per usual), is Suni McGrath’s Seven Stars. McGrath made three LPs in the 1960s, which for some reason have never been reissued, but they are favorites among guitar soli collectors (seek out The Cornflower Suite for a taste). Seven Stars was recorded a few years back but is only seeing the light of day in full this year. It’s a showcase for the guitarist’s nimble-fingered 12-string excursions. It may be his first album in four decades, but McGrath has clearly been practicing. words / t wilcox

Suni McGrath :: Steven Stars

Previously: Glenn Jones / Chuck Johnson / Origins Of American Primitive Guitar