Over six months on from the last proper Barn Owl release, aftershocks from 2011’s drone monument Lost in the Glare are still reverberating. When I last spoke with the ever-prolific duo of Evan Caminiti and Jon Porras, they clarified that it was merely a coincidence that so many solo and side projects were being released at the same time. An auspicious release schedule is once again in the air this Spring, as both members are set to drop solo records within a few weeks of each other.
Jon Porras’ Black Mesa is out now on Thrill Jockey. The above video documents the performance of an unreleased live piece and gives a good indication of the material on the new record. Although fleshed out with additional instrumentation on record, the focus is on long-form structure, anchored by pronounced guitar parts. The album is not your typical tape-dump of noodly sketches that typifies the output of many small-run underground labels of late (the philosophy being, “If you press it on limited vinyl, they will pre-order it”). Rather, Black Mesa may be Porras’ most cohesive solo work to date, a brooding, late-night creeper of a record that succeeds by filtering the fundamentals of post-rock dynamics through Porras’ distinctive, blurred Nor-Cal guitar tone.
Caminiti fills out the more atmospheric end of the Barn Owl equation with this video for a song off his forthcoming Night Dust LP on Immune. Caminiti put the visuals together himself utilizing the now-ubiquitous YouTube found footage montage method. The result is an effective, understated visual accompaniment, with long-shots of the sun hanging in the sky over placid horizons to compliment the bottomless, droning haze of the tune. This isn’t confrontational, abrasive noise; instead, Caminiti unpacks layers of feedback into the infinite abyss, a shimmer of light floating above the murk.
I found my way to the Temple of the Triad God by way of Friendship Bracelet’s Ian Paul Roger Nelson. Nelson, who is releasing TG’s album NXB on the UUU Tapes imprint, entranced me by declaring that he could only reveal limited information on the artist behind these sounds. His name apparently is Vinh Ngan, and he is half Vietnamese and half Chinese. Many of his tracks feature him speaking a combination of Cantonese, French, and Vietnamese over samples that draw in everything from Opera to R&B. “I Never Told You” is the one track that is mostly in English, and for that reason I feel conflicted about singling it out. However, its ability to be both uplifting and bittersweet make it stand on its own. Ngan is channeling the same mainstream pop sensibility that made Britney Spears’ Blackout both club friendly and refreshingly vulnerable. This is melancholia for the YouTube/Camera phone generation.
Deep Thuds is the debut release from Spacin’, a new group led by Jason Killinger of Birds of Maya. The Birds of Maya nexus has already spun off Mike Polizze’s closely-watched Purling Hiss project, and Spacin’ channels another aspect of the group’s preoccupation with stoned, freewheeling jams. Philly-based Richie Records has been at the forefront of cataloging the riches of the city’s rock elite, and their fixation on alternately poppy and depressive murk-rock spans from local wunderkind Kurt Vile to forgotten thrashers of the past like Violent Students (the subject of Party Addiction, a crucial recent archival release from Richie). “Sunshine, No Shoes” is indicative of the Spacin’ M.O.: riffs up front, sing-along vocals with a head-bopping melody, and a casual interest in fidelity. This is righteous afternoon beer-guzzling music for the warmer weather.
This weekend, nothing like a noise show to clear out your SXSW hangover or remind you of why local scenes will always be more important than contrived “showcases.” Friend of VR Jeff Conklin of East Village Radio presents the latest in his Avant Ghetto series, anchored by out-of-towners Wretched Worst and Form A Log (who have a forthcoming LP on Spectrum Spools) and featuring local heroes Opponents and High School Confidential (Mr. Matthews from Telecult Powers). Flier below and details at Facebook.
Journalistic shorthand often requires inventing easy categories. One of the most notorious and ill-conceived of the modern era is “the Brooklyn scene.” This monolithic tag is applied to all kinds of bands, and although you could accurately state that there are certain bands who have affinities or connections with each other in Brooklyn, this is true to an extent in all local scenes. Crucially, bands that hop from blog pages to trendy labels in the blink of an eye and are given the “Brooklyn” designation represent just a tiny sliver of the musical diversity in the borough and NYC at large. For this round of bands not participating in SXSW, I’ve chosen a number of under-exposed New York artists.
Brachiosaurus: “The Nature of the Rulers”
Brachiosauras hail from Astoria, in the musically under-appreciated borough of Queens. The band have a straightforward approach that leans heavily on instrumentals, but there is enough creativity in their use of guitar textures and distortion to transcend the banalities that plague much “heavy” music. They’ve just released their self-titled debut and you can find them on Tumblr in addition to Soundcloud and Bandcamp.
Tezeo: “Open Windows”
Tezeo are a duo from Brooklyn working in the extremely fashionable electronic pop idiom. There is a shimmering optimism to the group’s recordings, foregoing the damaged, sample-based scuzz of some of their peers for a clean, welcoming sound. I prefer the flip of their just-released “Friends”/”Open Windows” single on Dummy (instructively, the single is mastered by Sam Haar of Blondes).
Jerry Paper: “I’m A Body”
Jerry Paper is the current moniker of Lucas Nathan (formerly Zonotope™). The Brooklyn-based artist’s Vol. 1 tape is imminent from Digitalis Limited. His damaged pop sensibility is an inversion of the confessional singer-songwriter method, deadpanning ambivalent platitudes over murky plongs and campy whirrs. The result is disorienting and singularly weird, a fully-formed aesthetic space that deserves more attention.
I am still receiving very encouraging dispatches from all over the globe in response to my call for artists not attending SXSW. A few longtime Visitation Rites favorites with a slightly higher profile have also sent along some special videos and unreleased material. I took the time to briefly ask those artists about their thoughts on South by Southwest.
Trouble Books: “Dead Bee in a Golden Bowl” (Previously unreleased track from upcoming album Concatenating Fields)
Visitation Rites: Have you considered attending SXSW in the past?
Keith Freund, Trouble Books: Actually, I’ve already played SXSW. I was there with another band in 2007, I think? I watched a middle-aged industry dude try to get two wasted teenage girls to go back to his hotel with him while some twee band played and the next morning I saw one of those girls as a completely annihilated zombie trying to hand out flyers to people walking by who threw them on the ground. Scorched Earth, TX.
VR: Do you believe at this point in your career “showcase” or industry events can help expose your band to a wider audience?
It really takes an over-the-top gimmicky live set to grab any attention at those things, so that wouldn’t work for Linda and I when we’re staring at our ‘tronics and mumbling into the mic in an empty tent at 2 PM.
Visitation Rites: Have you thought about or made plans to attend SXSW in the past?
Nathan Amundson, Rivulets: Once, in 2002. I didn’t enjoy it. I don’t have the sort of personality to schmooze people and I hate crowds. I can see how for a certain type of band or music fan it could be a pretty intense and concentrated blast, but it’s not for me.
VR: What are the options, besides CMJ or SXSW, for artists to promote their work on their own?
NA: Get on the road and in front of people who’ve never heard of you. I think that’s still the best, if not easiest, way to win new fans. Go places where no-one else bothers to go. I have a great bunch of fans deep in south-central Spain – not because I’m special, but because I care enough about them to travel all the way out there where most bands don’t. It’s rewarding to see these same faces time after time.
VR: Are there any particularly worthwhile or rewarding events that you’ve been a part of in your career – a moment where the dreamed about “breakthrough” or “connection” happens?
NA: The little personal connections– becoming friends with artists whose work you admire– that sort of stuff. Right now I’m stoked to be opening for Codeine in July. They were hugely important to me and I never thought I’d get to see them live, much less be playing shows with them.
VR: You’ve toured pretty extensively in Europe and all over the states. What are alternative networks that you have found to disperse your music and book tours, etc.?
NA: In Europe, I’ve worked with booking agents for most of this time, but I’ve been doing it long enough now that I know a lot of the promoters personally, so it’s not hard to drop them a line if I’m booking a run of shows on my own. I’ve never really had a booking agent in the US so I tend to do more one-off shows here than full tours. Much easier for me to wrangle than a US tour, which is logistical bananas to me.
For dispersal of music I dig Bandcamp, but I hope they keep it simple and don’t get too cluttered with it. It’s good to have your stuff up on iTunes and Amazon, too. People seem to like small handmade editions of things, too– and will still buy physical product if you make it unique.
Every band should have their OWN website. Not Facebook or whatever, but yourbandname.com (or .net, .org etc). All of these services come and go over time, but if you plan to stick around you should have your own home that you are 100% in charge of. Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier – “The First Forest (Edit)” (from upcoming LP A New Age of Wonder on Shelter Press)
Visitation Rites: Have you thought about or made plans to attend South by Southwest in the past?
Félicia Atkinson, Je Suis Le Petit Chevalier: SXSW is not that famous in Belgium or in France. Frankly, I heard about it only 2 years ago and it seemed like an exciting place to go! What makes it exciting is that It seems so far away from Belgium! I mean, Texas! It would be fun to take a little van from Belgium with some friends, take the boat in Antwerp until New York and then hit the road! We would bring Belgian beers!
VR: What does South by Southwest mean to artists outside America?
FA: I think it is a bit of a myth because we can’t just “go” to hang out. It is way too far! I imagine it is very crowded and there are a lot of kids there. So it might be a bit scary also: so much indie crowd! So many loners gathered, seems a bit like a paradox in a way! My friend High Wolf went to play there last year, driving with friends, and we were all very impressed, like, “How was it?!” The drive was impressive, too.
VR: Do you have a personal philosophy or plan related to your artistic work, and does something like SXSW fit into this or not? How?
FA: My philosophy in my artistic work is that I will always do what I want, never trying to fit especially to something ” a la mode”. I need to be free. I released 22 cassettes and records over the past two years. Some editions were only 18 copies, some were 500. In my artwork it’s the same, I don’t care of doing gigantic pieces that would suit perfectly for collectors. If I want to do small and complicated to understand, I will do so.
Does a festival has a philosophy? I don’t know…maybe we could just say that festivals have “tastes”. I like the ideas that they have a lot of different scenes and curators for the shows.
Also, I want my music shows to be unpredictable, not in terms of energy or seriousness but in terms of sound and type of vibes. Sometimes it is very noisy, sometimes very calm, it changes often. My concern is also the experience as a listener: do people go to SXSW just to have fun– or do they go to listen to music? I guess both? Are you allowed to do music that is not fun there? Maybe if I would go to SXSW, I would expect a feeling of positive uncertainty, a kind of thrill, from the musicians and from the audience.
Since opening up my call to artists who are not attending SXSW, I’ve been inundated with an array of great new music. As the clock ticks away at SXSW, I’ve attempting to listen to and sift through all this material as fast as possible. In the next few days I’ll have some more elaborate and well-defined features, but for this go-around I wanted to shine the spotlight on some artists who have a minimal Internet presence beyond a Bandcamp or Soundcloud page, and whose sound should have much wider appeal. Underground music has reached a critical mass of outlets and points of distribution, and day after day music pours itself out of artists and onto the Internet. The greatest and most awe-inspiring result is how excellent much of this music is, how it fulfills the promise of discovering your new favorite band out of nowhere.
Alex Tedesco: “Trust”
Alex Tedesco is an artist from Detroit who started off working in sound collage and ambient modes. With his just-released Pretty Lies album (available on Bandcamp and Soundcloud) he has gone all in on songwriting. His deep baritone is most strongly reminiscent of Magnetic Fields, but the inventive production and theatrical flourishes of his music bring to mind Xiu Xiu and a host of other nu-goth cohorts who have wedded transgressive lyrical content with the benefits of cheap and easy access to sophisticated production techniques. “Trust” is one of the more beautiful and understated tracks, but Pretty Lies is a fully formed musical statement, worthy of your time and attention.
Wapinitia is a one-man bedroom recording project from Maryland. “Bed” is a gnarly, no-nonsense jam that dates from 2009. Most of Wapinitia’s material is acoustic, but the blown-out distortion of “Bed” is more compelling to my ears. As far as new music credibility goes, this is the first time that any Wapinitia material has been highlighted online.
Soft Parts: “Bay 12″
Soft Parts’ music came to me in the most mysterious way possible: in an email, with the subject “Submission” and just a Soundcloud link. The Bandcamp page is no more enlightening: “just some guy,” it states in the headline. The music on offer is sound collage, a bit too dynamic to be ambient or droney, instead reminiscent of scene luminary Oneohtrix Point Never’s sample-based symphonies in miniature or a damaged take on Monster Rally’s goofy po-mo pop. “Bay 12″ is a bite-size chunk of the oeuvre to date, concisely conveying the dizzy, transporting vibe and brittle atmosphere that exemplify the Soft Parts sound. The longer “Carbon Dating” is also highly recommended; a bit more space to breathe allows the compositional sophistication of Soft Parts to reveal itself.
Palmz: “Teenage Heartthrob”
Finally, Palmz from beautiful Santa Cruz, California bring us a video that some classic footage from the Florida Department of Tourism with a gorgeous, throwback doo-wop song. Palmz is led by Lexie Corfiatis, and the group’s embrace of early rock’n'roll aesthetics is refreshingly devoid of irony, avoiding the contrivances of Best Coast and often achieving the haunting catharsis of contemporary masters like The Sandwitches. All of this is on display on the mini-album X-Ray of Fun, which glides effortlessly between ethereal, shoegaze-influenced guitar jams and pitch-perfect girl group pop. It’s a miracle that the group hasn’t found a wider audience, as they seem to be hitting all the right points of influence in a highly personal and refreshing manner.
Since I impulsively put out a call to artists who were not involved in SXSW this year, I’ve received an overwhelming amount of stuff, and worst of all, most of it is excellent. I’m continuing to accept submissions for now at firstname.lastname@example.org, so please spread the word and keep the music coming. If you have submitted and aren’t covered over the next week or so, it’s only the result of the high volume of material. I’ll be filing away all submissions for future inclusion at Vistation Rites.
Space Shuttle Oprah: “House Hunting with Osama Bin Laden”
Space Shuttle Oprah is the somewhat mysterious moniker of a solo guitar project out of Chicago. This video collage re-contextualizes footage of Osama Bin Laden and the Chinese company Next Media’s absurd computer graphic recreations of his capture with a hypnotic backing track of looping guitar. The simplicity of the artist’s approach recalls the relaxed pleasure of Mark McGuire’s earliest releases, and the noisy dénouement is a well-earned payoff. More Space Shuttle Oprah tracks can be found on SoundCloud. Follow Space Shuttle Oprah on Twitter and Tumblr.
Man-Made Objects: “Tricia with Color Bars”
Man-Made Objects is a three-piece group from Oklahoma City led by Grant Provence. The band is a throwback to slowcore and the poppier end of shoegaze, right down to their debut EP being produced by the legendary Kramer (Galaxie 500, Low). Their sound combines the swelling, reverb-soaked guitar of those groups and the naive pop sensibility of early Magnetic Fields or Beat Happening. You can download their EP on Bandcamp and check them out on Twitter.
breatherholes: “Let Me Go”
breatherholes is Lew from Austin. Yes, breatherholes lives in Austin, and won’t be attending South By Southwest. “Let Me Go” is a previously unreleased track intended for a tape compilation that never materialized. His sound mines the rather unpromising “dude with a guitar singing pained vocals” territory, but there’s a genuinely oft-kilter– dare I say “Outsider”– atmosphere to the recordings, spanning a continuum of influence from ur-weirdo (and fellow Texan) Jandek to the earnest songcraft of rediscovered legends like Bob Desper. Most startling is a willingness to flirt with banal singer-songwriter clichés before throwing a curveball of unexpected instrumentation or theatrically overwrought vocalizing. No small debt is owed to early lo-fi legends like Lou Barlow’s Sentridoh project and the starker moments of Guided By Voices, but breatherholes has a highly developed personal style. Previous tape release Give It To U is available on Soundlcoud, and a brand new tape is promised for this year.
Check back all this week as I add many more non-SXSW groups.
A week doesn’t seem to pass without the announcement of a new group formed from disparate members of incestuous experimental music operators, with the results running the spectrum from profound to dull. An improvisational sensibility is de rigeur and the end product suggests a glimpse at greatness, rather than a cohesive statement. It was such a delight, then, to hear the self-titled debut from Rhyton, released in January on Thrill Jockey. The trio of Dave Shuford (D. Charles Speer & The Helix, NNCK), Jimy SeiTang (Psychic Ills) and Spencer Herbst (percussionist for overlooked droners Messages) have emerged with a fully formed psych-rock manifesto. Rhyton certainly do jam, but they know when to cut their losses too; their momentum-building tunes a testimony to economy in a notoriously indulgent subgenre. Most appealingly, they never allow their instincts to result in dissonant, interminable feedback fests, sharing more in common with the wilder moments of Gustav Estjes’ beloved vintage rock project Dungen.”Stone Colored” exemplifies these qualities, and the video’s deceptively simple montage of abstract natural landscape shots recalls the easy expressiveness of Ralph Steiner’s pioneering work.
Words: Max Burke
Rhyton’s self-titled debut is available now from Thrill Jockey. Rhyton tour the east coast, midwest and Canada this month.
Mar 10, 2012 Brooklyn, NY Death By Audio
Mar 24, 2012 Baltimore, MD Golden West Cafe
Mar 25, 2012 Pittsburgh, PA The Shop
Mar 27, 2012 Chicago, IL The Burlington
Mar 28, 2012 Ypsilanti, MI Woodruffs
Mar 29, 2012 Detroit, MI Lager House
Mar 30, 2012 Toronto, ON Double Double Land
Mar 31, 2012 London, ON Sweet Magic London Festival
Apr 01, 2012 Hudson, NY Jean Deux Books
It’s hard to create truly confounding and mysterious music in the age of information, and yet here we have Thought Broadcast. Inspired by “bands whose atonality and libidinal force were free from any purpose” and currently based in San Francisco, Thought Broadcast is defined by recordings as paranoid as they are restrained. Instrumentation slides in and out of time, mistake becomes intention, things are being said, but anything discernable is just out of earshot.
The recently released Up-Maker 7″ on Phaserprone acts as a perfect introduction to the project’s music and philosophy – one which values confusion and personal connection over accessibility and passive consumption. The record was released in an edition of 175, computers were avoided, clues were planted with the past in mind, you will not find mp3s on Mediafire, you will be rewarded with music and thoughtful design if you put in the effort to track down the object. However, there don’t seem to be many left, so don’t dawdle. Living in a landscape where exhausting promotion has become the norm, it’s easy to forget that some of the most interesting music will still wait quietly to be discovered.
Thought Broadcast: “Noted Guerrillas”