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.
One thing that has always stood out to me about Ezra Buchla‘s music is its timeless quality. So much of what bubbles to the surface from the contemporary underground (is there still an underground?) seems to be a fun house mirror reflection of our current mass culture, or the mass culture that was prominent when this generation of artists were coming of age. Although Buchla (who happens to be the son of Don) has some traces of grunge in his aesthetic, he seems happily removed from the tide of the current electronic subculture. If you’re lucky enough to catch one of his performances at LA DIY haunts such as Dem Passwords or Pehrspace, you will likely be struck by the quiet power of his meditative violin and his haunting voice, which are often employed in unison. He is a master performer, but not a bombastic showman. The mastery lies in his ability to pull the audience into his dream world through an atmosphere of feedback and echo, and the vulnerable, oratory nature of his voice. These elements are often looped a few times over, creating a textured sound space. “Black Rabbit”, the track posted below from his split 7″ with Whitman, is an excellent representation of the ambiance of his live sets. It builds from a murmur and a whisper, to a rich storm of electrified tones and schizophrenic chatter, slowly fading back into a more subdued state. Buchla might not be placeable in the musical trends adopted by his peers, but the emotional impact of his music places him in the non-temporal tradition of folkloric singers and song writers.
Words: Samantha Cornwell
Ezra Buchla, “Black Rabbit:
The Ezra Buchla/Whitman split is available now from Folktale records
In August 1974, sixteen year old Victrola James had started to feel a sudden malaise with the Sunset Strip scene. Those nights at Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco, decked out in her latest glittery ensemble pressed against the lips of some vapid rocker boy no longer possessed that feeling of magic The music, however, still made her go wild, and she couldn’t help but lose it as Mick Ronson’s guitar tones vibrated across the dance floor. Timmy, her hippie brother, had given her an electric guitar as a birthday gift, hoping that her love for chasing rockers might transmute into a love for being one. However, the thing had been collecting dust for the last month in a remote corner of her bedroom. Blaze, a boy with a fake British accent, whom she had snogged on her last English Disco visit had promised her that if she came with him to the Whiskey A Go Go that evening, he would introduce her to Iggy Pop. He claimed that he and Pop had engaged in an affair that had taken place in the deepest chambers of their minds, and way out in the astral planes. Victrola didn’t know if this was true, but she did know that they were on the guest list, which was good enough. However, despite Blaze’s assurances, she didn’t see Iggy anywhere in the glamorous chaos of the club. As Blaze’s mouth ran with a myriad of excuses, a cloud of purple, glittery fog faded into the room, and surrounded the stage. In a flash of black lightening, a group of young rockers appeared on the stage. The three girls and the male bass player launched into a stirring ejaculation of Rock n’ Roll. It had everything that Victrola loved, from dagger sharp electric guitar tones, an urgent pace, and snotty, tough vocals, which in this case were delivered by a female singer who was only slightly older than herself. The musicians said very little, but from the rumbling of the crowd she was able to pick up that they were called Heavy Cream, and their song was called “The Jam”. Apparently they had been beamed here all the way from Nashville, TN in the year 2012, and their song had been produced by someone who called himself Ty Seagall. She didn’t know what any of that meant, but the sounds awoke a deep primal instinct within her that could not be controlled. A magical force catapulted her towards the foot of the stage, where her body erupted into convulsions. After a three minute sonic assault, the band faded into the purple myst, presumably returning to their own era. Kim Fowley, who had been lurking near the stage in the hopes of getting the group to sign their souls over to him, stormed off after this. Blaze suddenly emerged, announcing that he had at last located Iggy Pop. Victrola informed him that she no longer cared, and abruptly left. She had an electric guitar at home, and a meeting with Heavy Cream in the astral plane.
Meadowlands is the solo project of Michael McGregor, creator of Chocolate Bobka and The Report, Kickstarter staffer and all-around New York scene personality. Meadowlands is an occasional outlet for ambient meditations, which often stretch into the half-hour range and beyond and chronicle a diversity of approaches to subtle sound art practice. “Next Century Cathedrals” is the result of a collaboration with Michael Collins, well known for recordings under the Run DMT moniker.
McGregor had this to say about the collaboration: “The weekend it snowed in Jannuary I went to Baltimore to visit my friend Mike Collins. Late that night Mike and I set up a small system in his room. I played bell tones, he looped them live. The result is seemingly familiar, but also super out, with jack in the boxes, canned TV sounds and cathedral reverberations all giving each other space to coexist.”
“Next Century Cathedrals” is a spooked audio journey and strong evidence of the democratizing influence of online distribution to facilitate music sharing and creation. Follow McGregor on Twitter and listen to more Meadowlands on Soundcloud.
In fall 2011, I took my car-less in Los Angeles self over to the Echo, by way of two buses, to spend the evening watching the legendary Hans Joachim Roedelius. After talking my way out of a would-be disaster (I stupidly left my ID at my Cypress Park apartment), I made my way into the club that was populated, but not packed, with attentive Kraut lovers in their 20s and 30s. After a long wait, Roedelius, in all of his towering glory took the stage. The small, but fascinated audience packed tightly around the podium. This was something hat proved to be necessary, because Roedelius gave what might have been the quietest musical performance I had ever seen, and maybe the quietest in the venue’s history. The tones emanating from the dryers in the bathroom at one point blended with the electronic washes in Roedelius’s sound scape. Meanwhile, Dub Club, a weekly reggae party, was in full swing at the adjoining venue, and was far from being the quietest show in the venue’s history. As the boisterous sounds from down stairs vibrated into his classically inspired ambient sound scape, Roedelius considered calling it a night. If it weren’t for the crowds enthusiasm, I’m sure he would have. The set continued despite the noise pollution, and ended with Roedelius standing defiantly while a pre recorded version of the Ode to Joy played. He seemed like a bald headed general who was beaming with pride after conquering our village.
In light of the low key, low tempo atmosphere of that night, it feels ironic to be presenting this particular track today. With its exhilarating high hats and seductive pace, “Digitalo 3” is a loud call to arms, or just to the dance floor. If Roedelius had been in this mode on the night described above, he could have rivaled the vibrancy of the Dub Club with an equally intoxicating futuristic disco club. As amusing as it is, it goes to show that the Kluster member has as much command over slow brewing piano studies as he has over hypnotic beats.
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.
The last week of receiving and listening to a huge amount of new music was an invigorating experience for me as a writer. It is very easy to get distracted by the day in, day out cycle of tweets, posts and snarky commentary that too often typifies online music coverage. Although there is no question that a SXSW appearance can be invaluable for certain bands, I must question the sincerity of an enterprise whose central is uniting the music press, record labels and corporations into an unholy alliance for a week of self-aggrandizing reinforcement over a dying business model that will certainly result in a loss for the vast majority of artists attending. No doubt the live experience is even more vital now than ever, but SXSW’s mission of “discovery” seems more beside the point than ever with the Internet at any artist’s or fan’s disposal.
I want to thank all the bands that sent me their music and engaged in a dialogue about South By Southwest. Please don’t take it personally if you were not featured. There was a ton of material to listen to, absorb, and hopefully say something meaningful about. Selections were mostly subjective and were limited by time and space, rather than my own disinterest in any of the material. I have saved every submission (around 40!) and may feature some of them in upcoming pieces. I leave with you a few stray groups that deserve your time and I hope you enjoyed listening to and reading this series as much as I enjoyed creating. And maybe, just maybe, it made you feel a little less cynical about music during a week when it’s easy to be a skeptic.
Younger : “New Message”
Younger is a Chicago/San Francisco collaborative duo who explore long-form compositions that combine disparate genre approaches. The epic-length “New Message” progresses form ambient to synth noodling and ends up as gorgeous Arthur Russell-inflected electronic pop. The juxtaposition is jarring at first, but repeated listens reveal the clever logic at work from a group that’s not afraid to combine current trends in popular music with an adventurous approach to composition. “New Message” is available on a 12″ from Positive Beat Recordings, due for imminent release.
“Cucumber Salad” is the last track on internal symmetry, the latest cassette from Radio Shock (available here). The self-described “Jank Music” of Radio Shock, the moniker of Brooklyn’s MP Lockwood, creates nasty, lo-fi jams that are a mix of purposefully clumsy techno, the cold aggression of Suicide and the don’t-give-a-fuck attitude of forgotten early aughts fashion punks A.R.E. Weapons. “Cucumber Salad” is a relatively terse and subdued piece, a user-friendly introduction to the world of Radio Shock.
Tetras – Pareidolia (Album Preview)
Tetras are an improvising trio consisting of Jason Khan, Jeroen Visser and Christian Weber. They have just released their debut double LP Pareidolia on Flingco Sound System, also available through VR friendly label/distro Experimedia. This 16-minute sampler contains selections from all the tracks on the album. I highlight Tetras not just because of their sterling international avant credentials and the very special chemistry the players have together, but also to draw attention to the fact that SXSW offers very little room for artists straying too far outside of the “rock” idiom, however broadly defined. Contemporary composition and improvisation, jazz and international music of all stripes are just a few musical worlds that are largely excluded from the party. This is particularly disappointing in the modern era, as genre definitions have collapsed and dude to the ubiquitous availability of massive music catalogs, listener adventurousness seems to be on the increase. It would be great for SXSW to give a platform to these emerging and increasingly popular musics.
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.