cassmccombs_mangylove“Oh, please tell me you academics, how do you wake up from a non-dream?” That impossible question is one of many loosed by Cass McCombs on his latest album, Mangy Love. It appears about half way through opening track, “Bum, Bum, Bum,” a nuanced lament about institutionalized and violent racism, built on a smoldering, descending melodic line. Mangy Love sports a new sound for Cass. His roots-inflected poem-songs have mutated into a snakey hybrid of slow jam soul music, half-Dead guitar psychedelia, and zig-zag no-no wave. All of this with a fuzzy, glow of aural nostalgia. It’s different but the same—the soul of his poetry is as clear and beautiful as it has ever been, minus the endearing sprawl of his past few deposits of work. “You think you’ve heard it all before/ well, here’s once more/we’re all at war/bum bum bum.” I think Cass considers himself a “craftsman” rather than an “artist” or “activist,” striving to attain an egoless practice but unable to tune-out that ear that’s to the ground. A difficult, contradictory endeavor, but he only ever gets better at it. “If it’s so easy, you try… here, you try” he sings from “Medusa’s Outhouse.

That said, attempting to discuss, praise, parse, or “review” work by Cass feels futile and perverted… like lining up with the hapless, helpless “academics.” All head and no heart. Instead, it’s feels more appropriate to think of Mangy Love as an ancient redwood forest, and a spin of the record as a sort of walking meditation, an attempt to listen and to harmonize with the environment.

Cass McCombs :: Bum Bum Bum

Chatter around Cass tends to focus on how he’s mysterious and oblique, a monosyllabic interview, and always-wearing sunglasses. It seems like biographical details follow him around like lost dogs looking for their owner (mange is caused by parasitic mites and afflicts the skin, the surface organ, of man’s furry friend). This is a guy who—in a particularly laudatory profile for The Washington Post—expressed a desire to see all of his records destroyed and that “biography has nothing to do with craft.” Back in 2011, when Cass—bless him—was conducting press via mail, he remarked “the greatest art of any era comes from anonymous sources.” These are provocative claims, but they reveal an artist who wants to melt away into his craft, to assimilate into folk consciousness as opposed to self-consciousness. But we live on an Earth dominated by a capitalistic hegemony. There’s contradiction here: Mangy Love is out now on ANTI- Records; it’s reified art. The inherent sin that sticks to our bones in this “rancid world” until we let go of them and float on up to heaven. “No rhetoric and no gold for bards” he sings on “Cry.” So let’s relieve ourselves of any attention to Cass McCombs the man and focus on the poetry, the sound, and how the two journey together through whatever folk-consciousness our stained brains can muster. Is that a cigarette butt I see in that redwood tree? Is it still burning?

In the spirit of disrupting commodity and to help find points in the forest on which to focus, let’s break down the boundaries of “album” and “song” and allow Mangy Love to bleed into records of the past. Peer at the unseen roots below the tree. Cass has said “Rancid Girl” is a love song, “Opposite House” is about mental illness, and “It” is about seeing a UFO; but we’re trying to forget Cass. Collaged, associative listening may bring about “Brighter” illuminations for these songs, the “Way” to the “Why?” So at this point turn up the volume.

aquarium-drunkard-siriusOur 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 448: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy & Tortoise – Cravo É Canela ++ Lizzy Mercier Descloux -Wawa ++ Can – All Gates Open ++ Annette Peacock – Pony ++ The Headhunters – If You’ve Got It, You’ll Get It ++ Sun Ra – We’re Living In The Space Age ++ Funkadelic – I Wanna Know If It’s Good To You ++ Mustafa Ozkent Orchestra – Burcak ++ Dorothy Ashby – The Moving Finger ++ Laminated Cat – Aquamarine ++ Silver Apples – Oscillations ++ Kikagaku Moyo – Green Sugar ++ Jan Hammer Group – Don’t You Know ++ Ryo Kawasaki – Raisins ++ James Mason – Sweet Power of Your Embrace ++ Spike – Kanti Dadum ++ Shintaro Sakamoto – Dancing With Pain ++ Yura Yura Teikoku – Ohayo Mada Yaro ++ David Bowie – Win ++ Singers & Players – Thing Called Love ++ The Last Poets – Time ++ Darondo – Let My People Go ++Bobby Hutcherson – NTU ++ Talking Heads – Remain In Light (commercial) ++ Talking Heads – Double Groove (unfinished outtake) ++ William Sheller – Exitissimo

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.

darren4LA’s perennial coast and canyon outfit rinse the salt off with Darren 4, their first LP in 10 years. Two decades in, led by the Zelig-like Darren Rademaker, the Tyde remain kitted out in a unique, often imitated, bouillabaisse of sound. It’s not gossip if it’s true. Kooks take note. Rademaker, on the video, below . . .

For our first video clip in 10 years, I wanted it to be as low budget as possible, I even considered making it on my phone. I enlisted my friend Alex Knost and we hatched a plan. He wanted to do it for one of the slower songs on the LP, so I chose “Its Not Gossip If It’s True” — a song about the reality of discussing things, and why hide it if it happened, etc.


Over the past 10 years or so, Tompkins Square’s indispensable Imaginational Anthem series has introduced listeners to the cream of the crop when it comes to the 21st century’s neo-Takoma School players. The latest volume, however, takes us back a few decades for a deep dig into the dusty world of private press guitar soli from the 60s, 70s and 80s. While there’s been no shortage of archival releases from this zone in recent years, the players here are extremely obscure. Un-Google-able until now, for the most part.

Of course, obscurity doesn’t equal quality. Don’t worry: the compilers here (collectors Michael Klausman and Brooks Rice, along with Tompkins Square honcho Josh Rosenthal) have expertly chosen songs that don’t land in the “rare-for-a-reason” category. Above all, The Private Press is extremely listenable. It flows magnificently from start to finish.

The knee-jerk reflex is to point to Fahey, Basho, Kottke and Bull when casting about for comparisons — and those dudes do loom large occasionally. But each track feels more like listening in on an artist’s own personal universe, whether it’s the wild electric modalities of Joe Bethancourt’s “Raga,” the bells-plus-12-string reverie of Herb Moore’s “Wen Also Found,” or the spiraling beauty of Tom Armstrong’s “White Pines.” The “private” of The Private Press starts to feel less like a reference to limited quantities of pressed vinyl and more like a kind of aesthetic descriptor. We’re lucky we get to listen in … words / t wilcox

Tom Armstrong :: White Pines
Related: Imaginational Anthem: Volume Seven / Volume Six / Volume Five

Long one of our favorite producers, it’s always extra special when Daniel Lanois steps from behind the board with his own music. His new lp, Goodbye To Language, is no exception. Of his new video for “Satie”, Lanois states “this version (of the song) was done for the camera. The result has a suspended feel to it. Rocco and I played to a Roland 808 that is not in the mix.”

frkwys13There aren’t a lot of restaurants in Bolinas, a secluded costal community in Marin County, California.

Actually, explains electronic composer Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, “There’s only one restaurant…so there’s a lot of house gatherings.”

One evening, she was hosting a dinner when she met Suzanne Ciani. It only took them a few minutes to realize their connection.

“We both bonded over being Buchla players,” Smith says.

Of course, Ciani was more than just a Buchla player. A noted sound designer — that was her distinctive “popping” sound in vintage Coke commercials — she was among the first composers to utilize and demonstrate the potential of Don Buchla’s unique synthesizers, which the designer introduced in 1963.

Ciani went on the great acclaim in the new age field, gathering Grammy nominations and influencing younger electronic musicians like Smith, whose bubbling LP Ears is among our favorite albums of the year.

“I didn’t know who I was talking to until it clicked when she asked me what I played, and I answered ‘the Buchla,’ and she knew about it,” Smith says.

When she realized she was talking to an electronic pioneer, she was thrilled. The two became friends and eventually, collaborators. Friday, September 16th sees the release of their debut album as a duo, Sunergy. Part of RVNG Intl’s FRKWYS series, which has united cross-generational artists like Steve Gunn and Mike Cooper, and Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe with Ariel Kalma, it’s an immersive, majestic record, a document of both their friendship and shared melodic approach.

We spoke with Ciani and Smith via Skype. Following, our conversation, which has been edited for clarity.

Aquarium Drunkard: Suzanne, you were one of the first people to help demonstrate to people what the Buchla was capable of. What were your initial thoughts about the instrument?

Suzanne Ciani: I was proselytized by Don Buchla himself, working in his factory for awhile. He always felt that the instrument was a performance instrument — that was his concept. I recently found out that Don’s muse, Mort Subotnick [electronic composer of the groundbreaking Silver Apples of the Moon from 1967] — who inspired Buchla to make an instrument — never thought of the Buchla as a performance instrument.

So I had come along a few years after Mort and by that time Don had crystallized the idea of what he wanted to design. I came under his vision, that this was indeed a performance instrument. My dedication to that machine was to do live performance. The problem was, there were very few outlets for that in my day. Most theaters didn’t have quadrophonic sound and I insisted on having it. I couldn’t make a living doing live performance. I needed money, and I eventually started using the Buchla for sound design [for films, commercials, and video games].


With the release of the Complete Matrix Tapes last year, you might be wondering: What exactly is left in the Velvet Underground archives? On this, the seventh episode of AD’s Transmissions podcast, we invite Aquarium Drunkard’s VU expert Tyler Wilcox (Doom and Gloom From the Tomb, author of Pitchfork’s Invisible Hits column) to speculate wildly about what’s left out there: songs which may or may not exist, early demos, legendary live performances and more. Along the way, Wilcox spins rare Velvets cuts.

Transmissions Podcast :: What’s Left in the Velvet Underground Archives?

This week’s episode is sponsored by our friends up the coast, Taylor Stitch, purveyors of quality American-made, classically-style apparel. Transmissions listeners can get 20% off their order using the discount code “Aquariumdrunkard” at check out.

Subscribe to the Aquarium Drunkard podcast on iTunes or via RSS feed.


“Everyone felt a big gap all of a sudden,” Keith Jarrett said after John Coltrane died in 1967. “But he didn’t intend to leave a gap. He intended that there be more space for everybody to do what they should.”

The same could be said of Jack Rose. Seven years after his much-too-soon passing, the guitarist’s influence is all over the underground these days, in both obvious and subtle ways. And thanks to vinyl reissues of six of his finest works via VHF and Three Lobed Records this month, it’s easy to understand why. Rose sounds better than ever, as he navigates his way through deep blues and folk forms, raga excursions, unbelievable drones, and unclassifiable zones. New Possibilities, indeed.

To celebrate these fantastic LPs coming back into print, we asked a few favorite musicians to share their thoughts on Jack Rose’s extraordinary craft – and why his spirit remains very much in the house. words: t wilcox / photo: sam erickson / photo treatment: d norsen

Ben Chasny (Six Organs of Admittance, Rangda, 200 Years, Comets On Fire, New Bums)

When I wrote about Jack Rose for Pitchfork in 2005, he had only put out his second (solo acoustic guitar) record at the time, the beautiful Opium Music on Eclipse Records. Though his ultimate statements would come later, with records like Kensington Blues and Luck In The Valley, the space he covered between his first record, Red Horse, White Mule, and that second record was a warning sign to look the fuck out for this dude with an acoustic guitar who was about to open up the space for making the sound of Takoma Records cool again. There had been some “dark precursors” to this opening of space already: Byron’s Coley’s article on Fahey in November of ’94, Sonic Youth talking about Fahey tunings in guitar magazines, Cul De Sac covering Fahey on their Ecim record, Jim O’Rourke, etc. These moments poured the foundation, but Jack took that space reserved for a small crowd of tastemakers and blew it open through dedication to a sound. The guy didn’t just know music and have it in his collection, he incorporated it into a praxis involving hours and hours of practice and playing. This dedication was folded into talent bordering on divine inspiration. That is the sound of Jack Rose.

Our relationship was confined to guitar talk. We would see each other about once or twice a year since 2000, the year we met and toured together. This guitar talk would consist of all night sessions discussing where different guitar players should be placed on the continuum from inspirational to get-that-shit-off-the-stereo. Old players, new players, everyone got discussed. I’d say we agreed as much as we disagreed. It was a special way of being friends that I’ve never really had with anyone else. All guitar, all the time. Sometimes, nowadays, I like to imagine what Jack would think of a particular player, new or old, but the fact is that Jack was not predictable in what he found to be good. I also do not know what he would have made of his recent hagiography, which has been coalescing into a concrete myth. Such is the way after an artists dies, so it is not a surprise. But no matter what, it is a wonderful thing to see more and more people being turned on to his music and this reissue campaign will do a lot to make that happen. As far as I am concerned, the more people who listen to Jack, the better the world will be. Praise should be given to Three Lobed and VHF for getting together with the awesome plan to make this happen.

Jason Meagher (Black Dirt Studios, Steve Gunn and the Outliners, No-Neck Blues Band)

One of my trusted panaceas for the musician in the studio struggling against the heavy reality commonly referred to as “red light syndrome,” is the comforting thought that a keeper take is simply an audio snapshot of a moment in time, rather than a definitive statement. The idea is to loosen up the performer enough to allow them to break the mummifying stress that a studio date brings. Perhaps then something like a moment of perfection, with all of its inherent anomalies and blemishes, will sneak through the capsule of the microphone.

It’s difficult for me to choose a favorite Jack Rose track because he was a type of living embodiment of this idea. The time he played “Sundogs” in the tiny back room of a bar in the early fade days of Brooklyn, that wounded my concepts of reality and made my stomach feel like an evening spent spinning through a summertime carnival, may be his most palpable impression on my addled memory banks. But, having worked with him in the studio’s nascent days, I quickly learned the truth about the ‘snapshot’ concept. The tracks you hear on a Jack Rose LP are the favorite takes of the man himself. These were not always my favorite takes, and I was often both surprised that he felt there were higher peaks to ascend to, as well as terrified that they would be insurmountable and the song in question might find its way to the cutting room floor. Some of those earlier takes, the other little squares on the contact sheet, were of jaw dropping beauty. And I tend to believe that out there in the infinity loops that were Jack’s tour routes, someone heard him unleash a version of an album track that allowed everyone’s feet to gently rise a few inches above the highest peaks he strove for when the shutter of the audio camera that is a recording studio went “snap!”

All of that said, I must apologize to the kind reader in advance of my next statement; there is an unreleased version of “Linden Ave Stomp,” Jack with a band consisting of people he cared greatly for – Glenn Jones, Harmonica Dan, Hans Chew and Nathan Bowles – that is brimming with so much joy it is almost tangible. Performance, snapshots, cutting room floors… I like that track quite a bit.


One last languid cruise before the summer fades into fall. A varied collection of teardrops from the Congo to Brazil, Tristes Tropiques presents the hauntingly beautiful sound of sadness from the global south. Poor a cup of palm wine and enjoy.

Aquarium Drunkard Presents: Tristes Tropiques – A Mixtape