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Will “Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy” Oldham has a habit of materializing in interesting places: behind the camera, shooting the cover of Slint’s Spiderland; behind Johnny Cash, singing background vocals on the Man in Black’s cover of his song, “I See A Darkness”; on a tractor in an alternate Kanye West video; in films as quiet and nuanced as Old Joy and in movies like Jackass 3D, which is as subtle as a film called Jackass 3D can be.

Epic Jammers and Fortunate Ditties, Oldham’s new collaborative album with Chicago new age/minimalist outfit Bitchin Bajas isn’t an entirely surprising affair — they share a label, Drag City, and a similarly intuitive approach to folk art — but like those aforementioned instances, his appearance on the LP feels serendipitous and magical. To paraphrase Aquarium Drunkard contributor Tyler Wilcox, the combination of Bonnie and the Bajas sounds like a cult we might be willing to join.

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & Bitchin Bajas :: Show Your Love And Your Love Will Be Returned

“When I listen to their records and tapes, it’s that great thing that you end up having with music you feel a deep connection with: it feels tasty and familiar, like it’s somehow already a part of you,” Oldham says of the Bitchin Bajas via Skype.

Last year, Oldham invited the band along for a tour of the Midwest. Following the shows, conversation turned to a potential collaboration.

“We got along beyond levels of just simple conversation,” Oldham says. “We got along in practice and aesthetically…the natural progression from there was how we might apply our musical ideas into a shared concept.”

Recorded live with the Bajas (Cooper Crain, Dan Quinlivan, and Rob Frye) at Oldham’s space in Louisville, Kentucky, with additional recordings and revisions in Chicago, Epic Jammers is the result of that shared concept. Bonnie slides right into the group’s celestial drones and cosmic, contemplative tapestries — the long, blissful moments recall the meditations of Laraaji or the peacefulness of Popol Vuh.

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The genesis of Breadwoman stretches back to the early ’80s, when performance artist Anna Homler found herself singing while driving through Topanga Canyon, chanting out in a strange, rhythmic cadence. Homler’s melodies weren’t from any language she recognized, but felt like more than just absentminded moans or nonsensical babbles to her. “I still remember the moment,” Homler says via the telephone. “It was a language I didn’t know but it was musical and melodic.”

She began to tape these songs, and a few years later teamed with experimental composer Steve Mosier to shape them into an album called Breadwoman, named for a character she’d developed around the songs: a woman, her face and body obscured by bread, an mythic representation of a woman “so old, she’d turned to bread.” Released in 1985, the album represents the intersection of experimental art, tape culture, and electronic music in Los Angeles in the 1980s. It’s collected, along with two more compositions, as part of RVNG Intl.’s Breadwoman & Other Tales. The collection is beautiful and otherworldly, Homler’s glossolalia drones playfully weaving in and out of Mosier’s bending synth melodies, sound effects, and rhythms. There are nods to various cultures — tonal similarities to African, European, and Native American musics —  but their experiments feel untethered to specifics, not so much “world music” as “other world music.”

Since the first Breadwoman experiments, Homler’s thrived making art and music, with Mosier and others, like English violinist Sylvia Hallett (their 2012 album, The Many Moods of Bread and Shed, is particularly worth checking out) but the new reissue has brought her focus back to the Breadwoman character and concept. She discussed it with Aquarium Drunkard.

Anna Homler :: Oo Nu Dah

Aquarium Drunkard: When you first began singing on that Topanga drive, what were you thinking? Were you asking yourself, “What is this?”

Anna Homler: I wasn’t thinking at all.

AD: How did you realize you weren’t just humming or singing absentmindedly?

Anna Homler: I recorded it. In those days, we all drove around with little cassette players. I just taped over one of my cassettes. I noticed that every time I got in my car, the songs would just sort of come to me. [They would come] when I was washing dishes, just doing any sort of mindless task. They would be there. I recorded them, paid attention to them, and that’s why I think they didn’t just disappear into the air.

AD: What term would you use to describe what you were doing? Did you feel like you were channeling or receiving something?

Anna Homler: I felt like [the music was] deep inside of me, not that it was something coming through me. It was something that was a part of me. They were cellular songs, very organic sounding.

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Like so many of their peers, The Feelies made a stab at wider commercial appeal in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Fortunately for us, this move didn’t result in watered-down music. The band’s last two LPs (before a triumphant 21st century reunion), 1988’s Only Life and 1991’s Time For A Witness are classics — perhaps not quite as heralded as Crazy Rhythms and The Good Earth, but classics nonetheless, showcasing The Feelies at their most locked-in and tuneful. Bar/None Records’ fresh CD/vinyl reissues of both (with some excellent studio/live bonus material added on as digital downloads) are great reminders of their lasting power.

The Feelies :: It’s Only Life

Upon its release, Only Life undoubtedly gave some longtime fans pause. With a beefed up drum sound, vocals that were mixed above a murmur and glistening guitars, it was certainly far more radio-ready than anything else The Feelies had done previously. But anyone with ears would soon succumb to the album’s many charms. Buoyed by a triple-threat rhythm section (drummer Stanley Demeski, bassist Brenda Sauter and percussionist Dave Weckerman), guitarists Glenn Mercer and Bill Million deliver 10 tracks of relentlessly glorious jangle-n-strum. Mercer in particular steps out as a guitar hero, capable of the architectural grandeur of Richard Lloyd’s Marquee Moon leads, or the wild abandon of Lou Reed’s skronkier solos. Only Life also demonstrates that The Feelies could write a hell of a pop song, whether it’s the slinky groove of “Deep Fascination,” or the chiming, gentle beauty of the title track (which is given an even more “Sunday Morning”-like reading on one of the recently recorded bonus tracks).

The Feelies :: Doin’ It Again

But The Feelies saved their most infectious pop song for Time For A Witness: “Doin’ It Again” is a delight every time you hear it, riding a “Roadrunner”-y riff to the heavens. The rest of the album sees the band moving in somewhat more mainstream rock direction — The Feelies had done time as Lou Reed’s opening act, sure, but you can almost imagine them in this era winning over a Tom Petty crowd. But there was still room for exploration: one Witness‘ high point is the lengthy “Find A Way,” a slo-mo, psychedelic wonder that’s both pleasingly spacey and tightly wound. And the closing cover of The Stooges’ “Real Cool Time” is a righteous blast, the seemingly mild-mannered Feelies getting wild and loose in a way that even Iggy would approve of. words / t wilcox

Related: The Feelies :: CBGB – NYC, December 14, 1977

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Jr. And His Soulettes :: Thing, Do The Creep

ANTHEM_OF_THE _SUN_original_mixA cornerstone of psychedelic music, 1968’s Anthem Of The Sun has long been unfairly brushed off by critics and heads alike. While the group were unhappy with their studio debut (the garage-y, fun, tuneful and downright speedy The Grateful Dead, 1967), they pulled out all the stops for their second release, pushing the patience of both producers and their label along the way.

Not content with merely editing together the lp’s individual songs into a seamless suite, the group managed to incorporate both studio and live performances into one seamless whole. It’s unclear upon listening what comes from where, and even though I’ve listened to the album hundreds of times, I’m often struck by how it consistently gives the impression of pleasant disorientation, coupled with a general ‘what the fuck is going on here?’ sensation.

Early on in the sessions, producer Dave Hassinger quit the project, frustrated and disgusted. Hassinger had notably produced The Rolling Stones and The Electric Prunes; in fact, it was his work with The Stones that spurred the Dead to hire him to man the mixing board. Regarding the initial Anthem studio sessions, which found the Dead cross-country from their San Francisco in New York City, Hassinger was quoted as saying:

“I gave up in New York. We’d been working for a long time on that second album, and they had put down some new tracks in New York, and nobody could sing them, and at that point they were experimenting too much in my opinion. They didn’t know what the hell they were looking for…they were going from one end of the spectrum to the other… It was like pulling teeth, until finally I couldn’t take it anymore.”

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Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can be heard twice every Friday – Noon EST with an encore broadcast at Midnight EST.

SIRIUS 426: Jean-Michel Bernard – Générique Stéphane ++ The Fall  – Totally Wired ++ Psychedelic Furs – We Love You ++ A Certain Ratio – Shack Up ++ Felt – Something Sends Me To Sleep ++ Billy Changer – Chiller ++ The Cure – I’m Cold ++ Lilliput – Die Matrosen ++ Beat Happening – Indian Summer ++ R.E.M. – Stumble ++ The Feelies – Crazy Rhythms ++ The dB’s – Moving In Your Sleep ++ The Only Ones – The Whole of The Law ++ Love And Rockets – Rain Bird ++ The Chills – Pink Frost ++ New Order – Ceremony ++ Peter Gabriel – We Do What We’re Told ++ Paul McCartney – Frozen Jap ++ Cocteau Twins – Fluffy Tufts ++ Olivia Newton John – Love Song ++ Deerhunter – Cover Me (Slowly) /Agoraphobia ++ Deerhunter – Little Kids ++ Lower Dens – I Get Nervous (Aquarium Drunkard Session) ++ Lower Dens – To Die In La (Aquarium Drunkard Session) ++ Lower Dens – Electric Current (Aquarium Drunkard Session) ++ Lower Dens – Quo Vadis (Aquarium Drunkard Session) ++ Lower Dens – Tea Lights (Aquarium Drunkard Session) ++ The Vaselines – Slushy ++ The Art Museums – Oh Modern Girls ++ Ultimate Painting – Kodiak ++ Wire – Pink Flag ++ Wire – Used To

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.
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1974 is one of the greatest and most transformative years within the Grateful Dead’s history, with two major events setting the tone: the official unveiling of the infamous ‘Wall of Sound’ and the band ominously playing “The Last One”, on October 20th, marking the beginning of an extended hiatus. The Wall of Sound was the brainchild of the infamous LSD chemist-cum-audio engineer and early Dead benefactor, Owsley “Bear” Stanley, in collaboration with instrument manufacturer Alembic. The completed system (weighing 75 tons with 11 channels powered by 48 amplifiers, driving 586 speakers with 28,800 watts of continuous power) made its debut at Daly City’s Cow Palace on March 23 (Dick’s Pick 24). Now, even audience members in the upper reaches of the cavernous sports area could hear every strum of guitar, every plunk of piano and crash of cymbal. Phil Lesh reaped the biggest benefit of the new system with a quadraphonic encoder that sent signals from each of his four strings to a separate channel, and set of speakers, producing near subsonic notes that reportedly felt as if they were rising from the floorboards.

Grateful Dead :: Playing In The Band > Wharf Rat > Playing In The Band

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Help keep independent freeform radio alive. WFMU is presently in the midst of its 2016 fundraising marathon. To sweeten the pot Jeff Conklin, host of the weekly program The Avant Ghetto, has put together Songs to Fill the Air – a 12 track compilation of contemporary artists covering the Dead. One of the artists taking part is William Tyler with his take on “Attics of My Life” – which you can hear below, along with his notes on the track selection and WFMU.

William Tyler :: Attics of My Life

As someone who traffics in non-denominational hymns of a sort, albeit without words most of the time, I was drawn to “Attics of My Life.” I have always felt that most of the key songs on American Beauty are almost like all purpose hymns that would be appropriate at funerals, weddings, school graduations, and birthdays. “Ripple”, “Brokedown Palace”, “Box of Rain”, and “Attics” fit this model. The Jungian marriage of Dark/Light that the Dead always embodied better than any other band in the world is so stark in these fragile, timeless songs. There’s something graceful, unsettled, and truly spiritual in them and they constantly bring me comfort and insight.

WFMU changed my life. When I was in my early twenties, and there was a sort of independent radio graveyard in the Nashville airwaves, I started listening online and I’ve been devoted since.

408_900There’s an abundance of great Takoma School fingerpickers on the scene these days, but I’d be hard pressed to name one more masterful than Glenn Jones. First coming to renown as a member of the unclassifiable Cul de Sac, in recent years, Jones has established himself as one of the most quietly powerful acoustic musicians we’ve got. His latest for Thrill Jockey, Fleeting, is a stunner from start to finish, offering 10 compositions for guitar and banjo that cast a lasting, luminous spell over the listener.

Patient, meditative and graceful are the words that come to mind when describing Jones’ playing — which might make you think his work borders on the somnambulant. But it’s far from that. Subtlety is a strong suit, sure, but there’s a current of restlessness and curiosity running through every note here. Beautifully recorded by Laura Baird (often with the sounds of crickets and birds wafting through the soundscape), Fleeting is an instant classic. words / t wilcox

Glenn Jones :: Flower Turned Inside-Out