Peddling a product that consumers can duplicate for free is a tricky business. With affordable consumer technology, you can now copy a song a hundred times, with no degradation in the sound quality—and most people seem to immediately recognize why that’s gonna make it harder to get paid for songs. But my first experiences with lossless, duplicable technology didn’t have anything to do with my career as a rapper. My first encounter wasn’t with a torrent site. Or a bootlegged disc. It was a tomato.
Seeds, quite obviously, are the mechanism of plant duplication. You drop a sunflower seed in wet dirt and, bang, you get a brand new one. Essentially, you just ‘burned’ a sunflower. The seeds of this new plant can then be harvested and planted to create an infinite, almost lossless supply of flowers and seeds. ‘Seed saving’ is the term for collecting seeds to be replanted.
So if farmers can just save seeds from previous crops, why would they still buy them from seed companies?
Monsanto is probably a familiar name to most readers. I know it’s often invoked by my generation as the archetypical hulking conglomerate, which regards ‘ethical concerns’ only as pesky hindrances to the bottom line. But I don’t have much interest in condemning agribusiness: people who know more about the industry than I do can speak to Monsanto’s record more credibly than I can. Suffice it to say that Monsanto is a really big company. It sells seeds that are genetically modified to increase farmers’ yields. The genes in those seeds are patented. Without Monsanto’s express permission, it’s illegal to save seeds for replanting. You gotta buy new ones every year.
A lot of people are concerned about Monsanto. One of those people is my mom. When I was a kid she would take me to a summer conference called the Seed Savers Exchange. Although the nature of the event wasn’t completely clear to me, I knew it had something to do with her gardening. And I knew we were to stay in a tent. And I knew she would try to make me wear a bonnet (I later learned that this penchant for homesteaders’ costuming was idiosyncratic to my mother, and is not integral to any organic movement).
At these summer events, gardeners and naturalists traded heirloom seeds, which is perfectly legal because there’s no patent to infringe upon—it’s just a tomato. Some of the conference participants were motivated by the concern that the planet’s genetic and biological diversity was threatened by big agriculture, which tends to plant only a few varietals. So it was through Seed Savers that I had my first encounter with lossless duplication. These campers were essentially taking it upon themselves to copy and disseminate DNA. They planted heirloom varietals in isolated, uncontaminated gardens; saved their seeds; and met once a year to distribute the genetic codes around the country. You can’t quite download a tomato, but in sharing seed, you can sort of upload it.
Monsanto seeds, as I mentioned, you’re not allowed to save. While farmers buy the seed, they only license the the technologies inside it. And this is why Apple and Monsanto find themselves in such similar positions.
Rap fans and crop farmers are perfectly capable of duplicating the products that they purchase. To protect and maximize their earnings, Apple and Monsanto must find ways to prevent Rick Ross MP3s and Roundup Ready® sugarbeets from being copied at home in a way that would detract from future sales.
Both companies limit the way you can use what you buy.
Apple maintains a list of limits collectively called “Usage Rules.” Monsanto maintains a list of limits collectively called the “TUG,” or Technology Usage Guide.
Apple says, “You agree not to modify, rent, lease, loan, sell, distribute, or create derivative works based on the iTunes Service in any manner.” Monsanto growers agree “Not to transfer any Seed containing patented Monsanto Technologies to any other person or entity for planting.”
It’s worth noting that both companies prevent you from transferring ownership of what you’ve purchased. Usually we’re able to sell the things we own: bikes, clothes, even used CDs can be traded, bought, or loaned to friends.
To buy their products, consumers must agree to be monitored.
When you use iTunes, you agree only to do so in the United States. As stated in their terms and conditions: “Apple may use technologies to verify your compliance.”
When growers sign up with Monsanto, they agree “To provide Monsanto copies of any records, receipts, or other documents that could be relevant to Grower’s performance of this Agreement,” and to ensure compliance, Monsanto may request “aerial photographs.”
Both companies aggressively limit consumers’ understanding of the purchased product.
Monsanto’s license states that a “Grower may not conduct research on grower’s crop…other than to make agronomic comparisons and conduct yield testing for Grower’s own use.”
Apple is known for making products whose parts are very difficult to access. Most of the iPhone 4 units, for example, are held together with pentalobular screws instead of standard screws. (Looking down at them, you’d see a little flower shape with five petals, instead of the classic plus sign of a Phillips head.) So for a while, you couldn’t open the thing without first finding someone to sell you a strange little screwdriver with a flower tip. Nancy Sims, an attorney and the Copyright Program Librarian at the University of MN, hepped me to the fact that there’s even a If-You-Can’t-Open-It,-You-Don’t-Own-It techie manifesto. (You can buy t-shirts and all sorts of stuff emblazoned with the phrase.)
By preventing crop research and by using “tamper-proof” screws, both companies make their products black boxes. You can’t look inside to see how the thing works.
These rules and regulations can undermine our fundamental ideas of what it means to actually own something. In most of our purchasing lives, we pay for product and then we can do with it as we like. As long as I’m not endangering others, I can throw the thing into the air, I can write in the margins of it, I can mail it, or strip it for parts. So If I’m only allowed to interact with my purchase in meticulously prescribed ways…it starts to feel less like mine. Like a pet I’m not allowed to touch or see.
But if you don’t abide by license agreements, bad things can happen. According to its own site, Monsanto has sued 145 farmers for saving seed. Hundreds of thousands of people have been sued for illegally downloading digital content (though not by Apple—movie makers are the busiest filers of lawsuits, mostly for films downloaded from torrent sites).
Losslessly reproducible technologies are just complicated things to own. And when you really think about what you’re buying (not the jewel case, not the disc, but a particular and incorporeal sequence of binary code) it’s easy to start sounding like a burnt-out stoner, pondering the impossibility of the whole transaction through a haze of weed smoke. “You can’t, like, own a song dude.”
Even as recording musician, I’m not sure you can actually own a song in the same way you own other stuff.
When I was an elementary kid, our American history lessons still had a good deal of the Noble Savage narrative in the curriculum. I remember learning that some tribes didn’t have a tradition of real property rights—land just wasn’t something you could own. So, according to our textbooks’ (rather hasty) explanation, everybody shared everything and generally got along. My little mind was blown by this alternate utopian paradigm.
I wondered then, and still wonder, what sort of things are okay to call ‘mine.’ Can you privatize water? Chile and South Africa think so, and the issue is debated here too. Can you own air? A gesture? An idea? What’s really ownable? isn’t as high-ass a question as it sounds; it warrants some rigorous consideration. Keep in mind that, historically, we’re not very good at recognizing what’s ownable. We tried to own people.
In many ways, the whole ownership model just seems poorly suited to duplicable technology. Square peg, pentalobe hole. When we try to force new technology into the old model, our contracts end up sounding really, well, creepy. In fact, some licensing contracts stipulate that the people who sign them are not allowed to talk about what’s written in them. That just doesn’t sound like our best work. Instead of asking, Whose is this, who gets paid for it, and how much?, the conversation might be better reset by asking What is this, who made it, who uses it, and what’s fair?
These are the lyrics, in case you don’t understand French with a Tahitian accent :
She left while slamming he door She left, may she go to hell Running after her isn’t my job That’s just for the neighborhood dogs I hope that one day I will learn that she died That a big truck has mushed her up My emotion would not overwhelm me She left, too bad too bad too bad
All these records are, as the title says, out of print. To hear them entirely you’ll need to spend a ridiculous amount of money on Ebay (and the artists/labels won’t see a penny), or invoke Culture Sharing Powers of the interweb. As we don’t particularly like commercial cyberlockers, the whole A&D crew advises you to look for it on Soulseek.
Philemon Arthur & The Dung - Musikens Historia del 1 och 2 (1992 – Silence Records – compilation of 70′s and 80′s releases)
Oh boy. Definitely in my top 5 records of all time. Again, there probably isn’t much out there that sounds like this. So fucking weird, yet they still won a Swedish grammy in 1971. I have no idea how that happened. It’s a odd, acoustic, folk mess. A Clanking, chanting, strumming pile of fun. This mysterious duo’s identity still remains unknown. But look at the art and tell me that that alone doesn’t make you want to give it a listen. What’s that baby doing with the telephone? It’s my favorite album art ever. Shame it made it onto the back:
Although this was released on 4AD, don’t expect anything ethereal. Instead, this e.p. has swelling dissonance mixed with simple tribal drums. Featuring a pre-Adam & the Ants Marco Pirroni on guitar, this album (all they released) proved influential with both goths & punks though sounding like neither (well, maybe a little punk). Big Black even went on to cover “Rema-Rema.” See, post punk even had it’s Bad Company moments of bands singing about their name.
(editor’s note: It was 4AD’s first release. Although they reissued it in 2003, even the MP3 version is now impossible to buy on their own webstore, hmmm)
There’s really nothing like asking your student why he has been suspended for the past couple of weeks and hear that it’s because he brought a crack pipe to school. And it’s even better when he, in a rather nonplussed manner, says that it’s going to add two more years to his probation. What’s probably worse was my reaction when I told him that he probably should have left the pipe at home. But it’s easy for me to say oh well and carry on. I don’t say this to make myself sound like a shitty teacher, but I’ve done this long enough to know that I’m not going to talk a crackhead out of smoking crack. They like crack. And who am I to judge? Just like I like this album and I’ve met a few people that just do not like this band. But I don’t foresee how they are going to convince me of anything other than how much this album rules. I can’t stand by all their work (especially the dancey stuff) but the early post-punk industrial cuts are aces. Adventurous, yet accessible, these tunes continue to deliver even after all these years.
If you’re wealthy and fanatic enough, Vinyl on Demand records (specialized in late 70s and early 80s industrial, noise, avantgarde…) made a TOTAL DELUXE Clock DVA reissue (6 LP + huge booklet + DVD), “Horology 1978-80″. This reissue countains four tape-releases, plus an unreleased 1979 EP, plus additional 78-80 archive-material. Get it here.
Гражданская Оборона (English: “civil defense”, or abbreviated GrOb “coffin”) is the most famous and probably the most influential of the 1980s Soviet punk bands. The only constant member was Egor Letov, who was active right up to his death in 2008 (many of his friends, bandmates, etc. ended up committing suicide in the ’80s and ’90s). I don’t speak Russian, but the songs seem to be about anarchism, running from the KGB (they had Letov committed to a mental institution in the mid-’80s), totalitarianism, depression, feelings of powerlessness, and all that kind of stuff you’d expect to hear from a punk band from a country with an overtly repressive government. Musically, it’s lo-fi punk (most GrOb recordings were recorded to tape on boomboxes in various apartments and kitchens) with chord changes and melodies characteristic of Russian folk music. Letov has an extremely expressive singing voice, and, like a good deal of other Russian punk musics, he communicates a desperate pathos commensurate with the fucked-up conditions in which he lived. Complete and total outsider music.
Egor was seriously prolific in his lifetime, with most of his earlier work coming in the form of homemade tapes traded among the Russian punks. My own collection of his stuff doesn’t even scratch the surface, but here is Optimizm (1985), Poganaya Molodej (1985), and a double album of two live performances (which, you must understand, were risky and infrequent events) from 1988 and 1989 in Novosibirsk and Moscow, respectively. It’s as good an introduction to GrOb as any, and the songs are all great. If none of this intrigues you, I have no idea what would. I’ll finish by saying this band is one of the inspirations behind Pink Reason (you can hear Pink Reason covering a Grazhdanskaya Oborona song on Freakout zine).
And here is a WFMU show on which Kevin Failure of Pink Reason plays GrOb and a bunch of other great Soviet underground bands, and shares some knowledge. The Russian sites linked below are pretty readable using Google Translate, so have at it.
I did more book reading this year than music listening but I can say the best show I have seen in the recent past was Akitsa in NYC – total outsiders and brutal and committed, really amazing. I don’t know too much about them but can say they are French Canadian and rule, like some kind of Flipper/Godflesh rhythm section led by Diamanda Galas manly black metal. Thats live at least. They put records out on Hospital Productions along with other labels.
Also Lau Nau at Issue Project Room was incredibly beautiful – rare that you see songs performed that are so surprising and elusive. Totally magical. I’m not one for music adjectives or word descriptions but I could say Lau Nau is a Finnish singer songwriter who lives on an island. She comes from a quiet snow bound domestic existence and her songs reflect that: delicate, subdued and solemn. She played with a Finnish film behind her, and it was the best pairing of music and film i’ve seen in a long time. She puts records out on Locust.
I love the Circle of Ouroborus new records, beautiful weird work, and the singer is like a stoner Mark E Smith fronting a metal band. This Finnish experimental black metal band put out lots of records (ten LPs, nine EPs, seven splits and seven demos since 2006 !) with lots of different feels.
My biggest kick of the last week or so has serious meditating on the greatness that was Royal Trux. I was going to write just about them but didn’t want to write about an old band. But I loved them when I was a kid and have been thinking about them a lot lately. They totally changed my life, and for that, I owe them a big Gracias!
As far as I understand it, the modern “indie” or “independent” music movement grew out of the late-70s punk bands who chose to manufacture and distribute their own albums, freeing themselves from the decision-making process of the existing record labels. When bands like the Buzzcocks and Crass began to take pride in the fact that their music was being created independently it made the idea of independent production into something to be proud of, not ashamed of, and that is the artistic ideal of many “indie” artists who have followed in their footsteps. But in the 1960s and 1970s it was only the most desperate and driven artists who took the step to self-manufacture their own recordings, artists who were often too strange or too unprofessional to be signed to a record label. These artists and the records they made are often called “Private Press,” meaning they had their albums pressed privately, paid for out of their own pockets, and often in very small print runs, perhaps making as few as a couple hundred or even a couple dozen copies of their recordings. Usually they made up a record label name, but these record labels were not what you might think of as an official label, and usually only existed for the purpose of putting out one or two records made by the same people who paid to press the albums. Millions of these albums exist, and more are being made every day, although there were fewer in the decades before “punk” and “indie” were things to be proud of. The vast majority of these privately made albums are indeed bad or unmemorable, but among the millions of mediocre records there are inevitably a few rare and special gems that rise up above the others, albums which can bring listeners incredible enjoyment but have almost no chance of being heard by very many people. As music lovers it is our job, when we find a gem, to help other people to hear it! So here are some of my personal favorite gems among the lost recordings, some privately pressed albums which were never manufactured in high quantity and were never heard by many people, but are some of my favorite albums of all time. I’m picking three examples from the original “private press” era (before punk) and three examples from the modern era.
THREE FROM THE EARLY ERA:
Dandelions – Dandelions
Apparently the real name of this 1970 band was “The Children of Sunshine” but on the album sleeve it looks like the band name was “Dandelions.” In any case, the album itself is titled Dandelions, and this song is called Dandelions, and the band was two young girls on guitars, with some drums and bass provided by grownups. The album is totally delightful, and until it is officially reissued you will have to find out more about it from http://www.dandelionsalbum.com/ or Google searching, and you can contact the original artist to make donations at email@example.com
The first Virgin Insanity record is the best, and it is called “Illusions of the Maintenance Man,” pressed in an edition of 200 copies around 1971 in Texas. They had two other albums which were never released until recently, and this track comes from one of those later albums. However, if you like this song I think you should try to buy their first album, which has more of this sort of feeling. Their best work is very moving, but almost disturbing in its intensity and its lo-fi atmosphere. For more info you can try contacting the original guy at BobLong@VirgrinInsanity.com or BobLong@VirginInsanity.com (it is spelled wrong on their website, and I don’t know if that was on purpose). You can order copies of all of the existing Virgin Insanity recordings, on CD, from their Japanese reissue label P-Vine here.
This is the best track on D.R. Hooker’s first album “The Truth” (pressed in 1972 in Massachussetts) but there are some other really good tracks on that record as well, and the second D.R. Hooker album “Armageddon” is also excellent if you like this sort of thing. The photo of D.R. on the album cover makes him look like Jesus carrying a guitar, with beard and robes, walking alone on a hill. Although there are many songs about religion on the albums, the peaceful solo portrait on the first album cover gives you no warning as to the full-band sound you’re about to hear, which is sometimes jazzy and cheesy and sometimes rocking, and when it rocks it rocks pretty hard, like on this track. You might like the lounge-jazz songs too. You can get re-issues of the albums here. D.R. Hooker is dead now, but maybe some of his band members are still alive.
Grey Revell recorded three albums from 1998 – 2000 that I consider lost classics. This song is from his third album, “The Green Train,” from 2000. He was a songwriter who moved to New York City from Los Angeles and began to make a name for himself with his small concerts and self-released albums but he got married and left the city and mostly vanished from the music scene, never having done a single tour, and leaving behind only a handful of CDRs to be remembered by. His music blends folk and rock and psychedelia, with a beautiful sense of lyric and melody, and often a much higher quality of arranging and production than most privately made albums. When you hear these tracks you will not believe that they have only been heard by perhaps less than 100 people – this is not “strange, lost music,” this is popular indie music which has simply never been heard because of circumstance. I just did some searching on the internet and found that all of Grey Revell’s albums, including some recent recordings which I have never heard, are available to download very cheap from Bandcamp here. I recommend you support this lost artist, where ever he is.
A rough and raw and strange antifolk duo, this band has had a very big influence on me. I once wrote a ten-page essay about their lyrics. The music seems simple and crude, just an acoustic guitar and a bucket for a drum, with the occasional use of a distortion pedal, and strange simple lyrics, but it all adds up to very smart and evocative songs that sound different than anything else I have ever heard. Some similarities to Beat Happening and the Velvet Underground, but even more minimal – most Prewar Yardsale songs are all the same two chords, sometimes three chords. Amazing to make an entire 15-year career out of only using the A and E chord, with just sometimes another chord or two. I have some amazing unreleased recordings that I bootlegged form live shows or got from their home demo recordings, someday maybe I will try to release an album of the unreleased stuff, which is all insane and excellent. As for the officially released material I recommend the first Prewar Yardsale album “Lowdown” but you can find all of their albums here.
People give me a LOT of home made albums at my concerts and in the mail, but this one is the best I’ve ever got. The album is called “An Early Bath for… Gentlemen’s Relish” and it’s very strange. The freakish album cover, a crude drawing of what seems to be a viking in a bathtub, gives no clue as to the sound of the album. It still sounds like nothing else I’ve ever heard, I don’t even want to know anything else about it because that might defuse some of its chills and disturbing charm. Despite the sort of 80s/”New Romantic” angle of it, it somehow fits in well with any collection of underground weird collector’s item “private-press” stuff from the 60s-70s. If you were having a nightmare about Morrissey, these are the songs he would sing in your nightmare, and it would be very hard to recall them when you woke up so you would need this album to help you remember. You can find the full album for sale here. Or you can contact the artist directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Shortly before summer solstice, Shawn Reed (of the impressive and prolific Iowa-based labelNight People and Wet Hair) sent us an illustrated first-rate mix of “old” music that we kind of selfishly savored during the sunny season. Hot picnic days are now gone but you can still listen to this hour and sixteen minutes of invigorating nonchalance and forget that another endless winter will soon swallow you up.
A few samples:
Deep Freeze Mice – minstrel radio yoghurt
English Subtitles – sweat
The Ropers – you have light
Yeah Yeah Noh – prick up your ears
1. The Sea Urchins – solace 2. The Weeds – baby don’t go 3. Los Yetis – llegaron los peluqueros 4. Disco Zombies – time will tell 5. Hansadutta Swami – helpless awe 6. The Terminals – batwing 7. The Apryl Fool – the lost mother land (part 2) 8. Graeme Jefferies – nothing’s that new 9. The Ropers – you have a light 10. Close Lobsters – foxheads 11. Deep Freeze Mice – minstrel radio yoghurt 12. Silicon Teens – memphis, tennessee 13. Ana Hausen – professionals 14. Fatal Microbes – violence grows 15. English subtitles – sweat 16. Lost Cherrees – real crimes 17. Colette Magny – répression 18. The 39 Clocks – stupid art 19. Danny and The Dressmakers – TV boredom on the dole 20. Ann Summer – gordisk knut 21. Portion Control – in pursuit of excellence 22. Yeah Yeah Noh – prick up your ears 23. Soldiers In A Field – lullaby
By the way, Night People has struck again this week with a fresh batch of TEN cassettes swinging from retro synth wave, cosmic disco prog and weirdo dance to garage psych pop, freak folk, diy reggae etc. You can buy them or at least contemplate the unfailing beauty of their artwork here. You can also download Spent Minds, a free mix compiling samples of each release (and others coming up soon). Here’s a selection from our favorite tapes so far, all reviewed by Shawn Reed on NP’s website :
Gem Jones – Exhaust
Gem Jones lives in Iowa and lays real low and outside the normal fray of the underground music scene. An outsider even in small town scene terms, Gems music has evolved a lot over a few years of weirdo pop cassette releases and even more rare live shows. Exhaust shows Gem in a new stretched out mode making serious nods to jazzy outsider rock, reggae, and DIY pop. Playing all the instruments and tracking the release to sound like a live full band make this tape sound like something truly out of its time. Not often in contemporary times is a songwriter able to create something so unique and also specific from so many influences so successfully. If you dig the sound of a wild cross section of Larry Young, Prince Buster, and Eddy Detroit you will enjoy this.
Gem Jones – Starquisha
Gem Jones – Just Broken
Happy Jawbone Family Band – The Silk Pistol
Happy Jawbone are a loose collection of Brattleboro musicians who come out of the same Vermont weirdo scene as fellow Night-People bands Blanche Blanche Blanche and Son of Salami. Happy Jawbone also have close connections with the Feeding Tube record label with two prior LP’s. Happy Jawbone ride a kaleidoscopic rainbow of influences stretching out from the loose jangly air of garage psych pop into country and freak folk with a bit of everything in between. Where as prior releases showed a bit more of a bent Beatles or Kinks vibe this one feels way more paisley underground (think early Rain Parade) meets Texas psych (think Easter Everywhere era Elevators) and maybe even a bit of 60s soundtrack style weirdness. Comparisons aside, this crew does their own thing in the saturated world of garage and psych pop revival. Something must be floating around the collective creative brain in Brattleboro to keep things unique and without pretension. Happy Jawbone seems so full of youthful sonic exuberance that there is plenty more room to grow even after three killer full lengths.
Happy Jawbone Family Band – Deep Dreamer
Happy Jawbone Family Band – Livin’ Foul
Blonde God – s/t
This is a reissue of a self-released CDR, which Carson Cox of Merchandise had on tour with him last spring. After playing a gig together and jamming choice deep records until the early morning hours a bond was made concrete after a couple years of short duration crossings on different tours and mail correspondence. A good warm up for the upcoming Merchandise LP on Night-People, Blonde God is Carson all by himself, or so it seems. Its hard keeping up with this Tampa crew with such a tight knit relationship to collaboration and backing up each others solo outlets that goes beyond Merchandise itself into all the bands surrounding and coming before or surely after. For those of you who have been paying attention to Night-People long term you know full well this is the kind of thing the label is all about: The end of the road destinations and cities without much of an outside identity where creation happens for its own sake. Blonde God plays good and loud, it is reflective of the overall output but has its own aesthetics at play. Carson’s voice hovers in and out of a wash of electronics and dreamy guitar work, in parts influenced by classic shoegaze and also harsher noise sensibilities, all in all if feels sad, heavy, distant and lost. There is a landscape to the sound. Is this what living in Tampa Bay can feel like?
Blonde God – I Don’t Want It (Anymore)
Blonde God – Diggin’
Two weeks ago, OSR tapes put out the first album of Better Psychics, twenty tracks of collaborative live mixing between Chris Weisman and Zach Phillips of Blanche Blanche Blanche, both international ambassadors of Brattleboro, Vermont. It kind of sounds like a blend of early Psychic TV albums and Sebadoh cassettes, with sprinkles of woodsy experimental folk and acousmatic bossa nova on top. (it’s outstanding). I never buy cassettes, as the closest tape player i could use is in the old family car, but I pre-ordered theirs as an inticement to finally get my driver’s licence and drive around while blissfully listening to it. You can download the album (then consider doing a donation) and/or order it here.
This one is short but it kills me: Better Psychics – I bet I can write one more (right click/save as)
Better Psychics - What stays
Better Psychics - With my attitude
I guess I have a thing for every band John Dwyer plays in, as they cover the entire spectrum of genres that naturally stroke my ears, from garage punk to weird doo wop and drone psych pop. However it seems that, lately, The Oh Sees have been favoring their binary rock’n'roll side (close to Dwyer’s older band, The Coachwhips), to the detriment of the numerous other facets that made the superiority of their first records. But now their new album is out on In The Red and it’s quite a gem — great name, great artwork, wicked songs. The tracklist of Putrifiers II is somehow based on a chiasmus, with rowdy garage tunes both opening and ending the record. “Cloud#1″ provides a graceful contemplative transition towards the middle of the album, which is very 60s sounding, but in a way that freshens your bronchial tubes, spruces up your hair and takes you on a fuzzy journey where Nico and John Cale (“So Nice”) are striving to deprave the Everly Brothers (“We will be scared”) while impish voices fuse with Can-like instrumentals (“Lumpine Dominus”). Makes my day.
The Oh Sees – We will be scared
The Oh Sees – Lupine Dominus
Natural Snow Buildings is an impressive French experimental duo who have released about 20 albums since 2001. They were/are mostly released on outrageously limited series, so the only way to listen to them is through culture sharing. Night Coercion Into The Company Of Witches, one of their best albums, was first issued in 2008 with 22 (yes, twenty two) copies, but people who love to manipulate cumbersome objects before listening to music can rejoice, as Ba Da Bing just made a three CD/four Lp reissue (yes, it is almost three hours long). Judd of Ba Da Bing speaks the truth: “Natural Snow Buildings make melodic, orchestrated, folk, droning compositions with layers of guitars, chants, woodwinds, percussive bells, distortion and delay. On Night Coercion, they push to extremes, producing layers of stereophonic sound both nuanced and grandiose. This record is the ideal introduction to the band’s sound, building harmonies upon noise upon harmonies, and providing a clear explanation as to why their albums (even the ones that aren’t so limited) sell out so immediately upon release”.
Right before retiring from music and going to work with chickens and goats in a farm, Sir Jason Molina recorded eight songs with just guitar, rawness and his elegant voice from Desperate Land. I have to admit I’m not a huge supporter of his whole Magnolia Electric Co. era, but Autumn Bird Songs arouses the same kind of shivers in the stomach as his majestuous Lionness album with Songs:Ohia. We will always love you Jason.
And we love them so much we’ll have to write two articles about them.Load Records (based in Providence, Rhode Island) started in 1993 (surprisingly, their first record was a garage band, Boss Fuel) but like many others I discovered this label in 2001 with a life-changing album, Lightning Bolt’s Ride The Skies.
Lightning Bolt – Ride The Skies
Since then, I’ve been following obsessively all their releases. Coherent but not monomaniac, Load likes it weird and noisy but swallows a variety of things, from punk to noise, from metal to rock. This two-people operation (Load is just Ben Mc Osker and his wife Laura, and they both have other jobs) gathers and helps to shape a significant part of today’s adventurous music. The next part of this feature will dwell on Load’s whole history, but first we wanted to focus on their recent past, as ALL the records they published in the past twelve months are fantastic.
Sex Church is a three piece grounded in Vancouver, Canada made up of Caleb Bouey (Guitar), Levon Olsen (Guitar) and Nick Groessl (Bass). Some may already be familiar with these fellas from playing in Ladies Night, Vapid, Defectors, Modern Creatures and Catholic Boys – and with this solid trash-punk background it’s not entirely surprising they’ve done something entirely different. Thus far in the Sex Church cannon the outfit have released a handful of singles and EPs for Hozac, Sweet Rot and Convulsive and after two years of recording have arrived at their full-length debut for Load, Growing Over. The album explores an emancipation of inner turmoil channeled through a love of Wipers, Rocky Erickson and Cheater Slicks. Sex Church employs elements of shoe gaze, noise and kraut in their introverted style of songwriting challenging the most, raw punk bands around today.
“Growing Over” as the title may suggest, is a record cloaked in an ever-expanding cloud of haze emanating from layers of reverb and fuzz. Cacophonous guitars, forthright beats and a panting bass cut through the fog creating eleven stormy numbers that swirl and scramble through frequencies of dejection. This is aptly shown on track “Treading Water”, embodying high levels of hitting rock bottom through sounding out discordant guitars, incoherent vocals and unrelenting, pounding beats. Another stand out track on the album for me is “Beneath The Bottom”, a menacing, urgent piece that howls, barks and charges from the darkest dirges of Sex Church’s psyche and as a result curiously creates something totally mesmerizing. The manner in which Sex Church liberate these tremors of internal anguish result in pure and savage swills of punk that are beautiful and beastly in equal measure.
Sex Church – Dull Light
Skoal Kodial – Kryptonym Bodliak (October 2011) Written by Carter Mullin of Olive Music.
Considering technological evolution, musicians have found mastery in recording and producing more tangible than ever. This is evident when glancing at the abundance of electronic music present today, and one could assume much of it to have been made on a laptop within a day or so. The electronic variety has also sprouted a cornucopia of subgenres both applicable and ill-defined, but each of which carrying artists who have found their own niche audience to cater for. Achieving stature has never been simpler.
Enter Minnesota trio Skoal Kodiak, the antithesis embodying the struggle to grasp definition. Like Mindflayer and Neon Hunk before them, Skoal Kodiak are electronic music for the Load Records listenership– a spirit lost somewhere between dysfunctional punk tumult and cocaine-inspired grooves. Their second album Kryptonym Bodliak is a massive assemblage of aggressive psychedelic whimsy. Even when attributing the band to the minuscule subset of noise-informed dance they’re abidingly one in a million.
Skoal Kodiak concisely shell seven blusterous boogies across 35 minutes, equipped with bass, drums, and paramount knob-twiddling. Opener “Teapot” exploits a funky drum lilt punctuated by slippery gadgetry and electro-damaged vocal yowls, and its successor “Hollidazzle” applies this configuration to a tune perceivably from the vault of the late and great Mayyors. As much as Kryptonym Bodliak is inherent in peculiarity, “Tomah Triangle” raises eyebrows by its aberrant tunefulness of a haunting keyboard refrain and harmonic chorus.
Each of Kryptonym Bodliak‘s tracks deserves its own helping of appraisal. With unfaltering kinetic force Skoal Kodiak explore every avenue of their dynamic; an undertaking justified for an outfit six years active. Unlike their aforementioned predecessors, they array a more congenial employment of riotous circuitry, fulfilling their shortage of patience at album’s length. In challenging the merits of most debuts, the band showcases an unmistakable and elastic design to their complexion while bearing little to no foibles.
Skoal Kodiak – Hollidazzle
Skoal Kodiak – Tomah Triangle video
Fnu Ronnies – Saddle Up (February 2012) Jonathan of Built On A Weak Spot already reviewed this album here. The sound on this weirdo noise punk record “is a murky tunnel of punked out alien frequencies with dirty vibes and ideas last talked about at NASA around the time of the last faked moon landing“.
Ed Schrader and Delvin Rice make up Baltimore rock duo Ed Schrader’s Music Beat. In its inception Ed worked solo on the project touring songs comprised of a drum accompanied by vocals. 3 years ago Delvin was invited to play alongside Ed for one gig at a rave in their hometown, the pair forged an unexpected chemistry on stage and Ed Schrader’s Music Beat acquired a permanent bassist. Since then, Ed Schrader’s Music Beat’s released a well-received debut single for Load ‘Sermon/Rats’ which primed music nerds, freaks and lovers for the savage minimalistic rock offered up on their first full length Jazz Mind.
Opener ‘Sermon’ features volatile vocals, a belching bass and tribal rhythms executed with the air punching attitude of punk touched with industrial experimentalism. Slamming on the breaks ‘Gem Asylum’ follows with eventide synthesizers and a meditative bass apace with reverb heavy vocals. “I can’t stop eating sugar, see what it does, feel what it does, but it’s always in my face, and it’s always been the cause Tyrannosaurus Rex and it’s good damn claws”, confesses Ed in “Sugar”. It’s this focus on immediately identifiable objects that give access to Ed’s musings, these little touches of reality threaded through ‘Jazz Mind’ act as an anchor as the songs drift in and out of abstraction. These eleven tracks play a tug of war as they fluctuate between pummeling and placid, from chest beaters like “Gas Station Attendant” you get the polar opposite – and one of my favourite tracks “My Mind Is Broken By The Sound”. This album wonderfully captures human experience in a pure and unmatched way; daily humdrum, boredom, love, paranoia are explored through a rock sound that carves away the gristle leaving all the meat, a really great debut. Jazz Mind is available now in Europe through Upset the Rhythm, as volunteer for UTR I can attest that we all couldn’t be more excited about supporting this project and look forward to some shows later in the year from Ed Schrader’s Music Beat.
Last years debut from Brooklyn’s White Suns was an eye opener, no doubt. An album that successfully channeled much of New York City’s rich past of punk, no-wave, and willingness to experiment. Often lumped into the noise-rock genre, it’s probably fair to say that the band often works more heavily with straight noise rather than the whole “rock” part. That was evident from the bands very beginnings among the string of cassette and CD-R EP’s that predated their first full-length. Now firmly entrenched among New York’s greatly growing noise-rock scene, White Suns have since moved on from Weasel Walter’s ugEXPLODE label to release Sinews on Load Records, who I imagine are a much better fit for the band.
With Sinews White Suns again return to the bleak cold city landscape of scraping metal and decay, at times coming full force with punches of punk-ish blasts of noise and the maniacal screams of singer Kevin Barry to tag along. These moments are skillfully introduced with the prolonged usage of droning feedback and the screeching shambles of structures crumbling to the ground. There is a level of claustrophobia induced with this practice and the result makes the whirlwind of noise to come all that much more effective and overwhelming. Simply put, Sinews is relentless. Not a moment to breath, not an ounce of light shining through on this one. One of the most aurally exhaustive listens I’ve managed to hear in awhile. While White Suns may be part of a larger group of bands making an effort to keep the noise alive in NY, they are one of the few pushing it forward to a noticeable extent. For those that were fans of the bands debut, then Sinews is an absolute must purchase.
White Suns – Oath
White Load - Wayne’s World III/ The Godfather IV (February 2012. Yes, we don’t respect chronological order but this review is so long it HAD to be the last one) written by L’ami of Don’t Buy records mailorder
The first time I came across this band was in the review section of Maximum Rock ‘n Roll. That must have been a few years ago. I remember the review immediately grabbed my attention, because of the bands White Load got compared to. Those were Street Trash, whose self titled EP was an awesome hardcore release even my friends who outgrew hardcore consider a modern day classic, and the Grabbies, who have always been unlistenable to me, but that’s the whole point. Comparisons are often off, but my interest had been peaked. I needed to hear this band that apparently considered it funny to name themselves after the product of male ejaculation.
It wasn’t long after reading about White Load that I coincidentally met their guitar player on the internet through Soulseek. We used to talk, something the guy wasn’t too fond of as one of the band’s songs subtly points out, but I was able to work out distribution with him despite his aversion of communication. A few weeks after our digital rendezvous, I had White Load’s first vinyl release in my mailorder. The thing was called ‘Talk’. It was the first release on Leather Bar Records, a label secretly ran by one of White Load’s members. Leather Bar has had a consistent aesthetic and approach to its releases from the very start. All of them look the same; a thin piece of paper with black and white artwork stapled to the record sleeve, which makes it impossible to take the vinyl out without removing two staples. Inside the sleeve is always a one-sided 7”. The whole idea behind this is to keep the records cheap, but at the same time the ethic testifies of minimalism if not downright nihilism.
The ‘Talk’ 7” contains three songs in just over four minutes. A common wisdom among sound engineers is that if a band plays like shit, there’s no way you can make them sound decent. Now White Load sure as hell can’t play and not even the lord himself could have made this band sound decent, but the band didn’t even try and you got to love them for that. Instead of covering up mistakes, the recording seems to be focused on enlarging each and every flaw and shortcoming. The snare sound is way too loud, the singer’s lyrics are indecipherable except for the occasional ‘FUCK!’ and the guitar sounds ugly as fuck. The riffs are simple but effective as is the drumming. White Load’s singer is probably what I like about the band most though. He sounds vicious and mean and makes it all the more believable that we’re dealing with three anti-social outsiders here.
After their debut the band released two 7”s on Sweden’s Ken Rock Records and they supplied one song, ‘Nothing’s Funny’, for the groundlessly underrated ‘Fresh Cuts and Cigarette Butts’ Compilation EP on Criminal IQ Records. All of these releases are pretty much in the same vein as their earlier stuff. As more people got wind of White Load, the band got listed among many other bands. Some of which flattering such as the ones mentioned above and others insulting such as Cult Ritual, a band they hated. The best reference for White Load’s music however remains Solger, whom the guitarist once listed as an important influence. White Load is every bit as inept and malicious as those Seattle misfits, whose EP is as mandatory as early Flag and the Germs in my opinion. Especially White Load’s loud, abrasive and stomping guitar playing is very reminiscent of Solger. It should go without saying that White Load’s music of choice lends itself best for the 7” format. The debate whether a hardcore band ever pulled off a decent full-length will probably never come to an end and yet White Load didn’t back down from recording an actual LP this year. And what would have been more fitting than have Load Records from Providence, the very same town this band calls home, release it? In return for their recordings the label supposedly paid the band with a fuzz pedal. Who ever said there was nothing to be made in punk? White Load is definitely among the more direct and hardcore band on the label. What you see is what you get. There’s no novelty or weirdness here. Just fast, dirty and pissed off hardcore. This record is not exactly a full length though. Both sides of this LP are separate recordings. The A-side is called ‘Wayne’s World III’ and the flip is titled ‘The Godfather IV’. Get it? As Murray Barrels pointed out in July’s Maximum Rock ‘n Roll the Hunches already claimed this joke with their ‘Home Alone 5’ compilation on In The Red Records, but either White Load never even heard of that band – the Hunches’ seem too sophisticated an ensemble for the damaged ears of this bunch – or they simply didn’t care and took pride in the fact that telling the same joke twice is never funny, just like pretty much everything else in life isn’t as they eloquently pointed out on their afore mentioned compilation track, which is also included on both sides of the LP.
Supposedly one side of the record is a studio recording and the other is a live set, but fuck if I know which is which. You can tell the recording is different as you flip the thing over, but rest assured neither side sounds polished. I guess ‘The Godfather IV’ is the live set, because there’s some banter included and I think a few songs actually get ruined unintentionally, which is all part of the game of playing live, right? The recording is shittier than the one on the flip. Not that the A-side sounds like a lot of thought was put into the recording, but on ‘The Godfather IV’ side the drums are by far the loudest to the point that they drown the guitar a bit. Whereas I remember the snare sounding sharp and shrill on the band’s earlier material, the thing just brings out a flat and muffling thump here. The singer has a hard time overshouting the drums, but he doesn’t let the snare bury him without a fight. Neither side of this record is for those who like it clean, but hell if you consider production values important this band isn’t for you to begin with. I know people like to rag on live records/recordings but personally I’ve always liked to hear bands I enjoy in a live setting even if I’m not actually present at the performance. In this particular case I think White Load raises the bar for ugliness on their live recording and it looks good on them. When listening to this record I feel like shit is happening and that’s really all I want from a hardcore band, not going through the motions as I’ve seen so many bands do on stage. Life is already so boring. I want punk not to be. To me punk and hardcore should be about destroying boredom at all costs. If nothing’s happening, you make shit happen. If the crowd isn’t moving, you shoot fireworks into their faces. I love how the singer keeps telling the crowd ‘you’re welcome’ in that clip turning the obligatory ‘thank you’ after a song upside down. I’m not sure whether I would have considered this show cool if I went home with one eye less than I arrived with, but the good thing about the ‘Godfather IV’ is that you can experience White Load live without the chance of losing eyesight. I can’t guarantee your ears will be the same after listening to this stuff on high volume – the only right way to listen to this record – though.
‘Wayne’s World III/ The Godfather IV’ contains twenty-five songs in total some of which the seasoned White Load fan already knows, but in this case I don’t mind. The tunes hardly make for ‘songs’ anyway.Even the studio recordings could have been a live set. The songs are delivered at breakneck pace without stops. You put this record on and make it waltz over you. In that sense it reminds me of ‘Landspeed Record’ by Hüsker Dü. White Load obviously doesn’t share their sense of melody – no melody here, boys and girls – or some would argue their talent, but this record has the same urgency, the same ready-set-go-mentality. Play fast, play loud, pack your things and go home. Most of these songs clock in under a minute which makes for a record with a total playtime of less than half an hour.
All in all, White Load delivers an ear shattering and relentless record. Those who’ve heard previous releases by this band will not be disappointed. White Load make being inept a quality. They carry their lack of talent with pride. These guys are no musicians and they give it their all to make this clear to the listener. Their ineptitude should be a reminder that punk is about not giving a shit and playing for the hell of it. Let this record be a wake up call to those who’ve lost their way and think punk means getting as close to sounding as the Wipers as possible. This is what hardcore should sound like, fuckface! Listening to White Load’s songs is like being spit in the face and kicked in the groin at the same time. This music is shit. This music is worthless. This music is like life itself. Another great record on Load Records.
Endnote: After speaking to the band’s guitar player recently; I was told that neither side of the record actually is a live recording. The entire record was recorded in one and the same room. The sides are both different takes with the main difference being the degree of intoxication of the band members.