ISSUE #5           FEBRUARY, 2001

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The rock and roll band from Chicago called U.S. Maple have an incredible schtick – the playing of rock songs that are barely holding together rhythmically or melodically at all times, due to various pure-sound and post-jazz experiments, both vocal and instrumental.
Unfortunately, as U.S. Maple’s adherence (or perhaps subjugation?) to this schtick is so strong, it eventually starts to overpower the music. Halfway through an album like Talker or Sang Phat Editor, hearing vocalist Al Johnson enter into the fray of another lurching and stumbling rhythm exercise by going "ih ih ih aaayyyy, uh…eh eh aahhhh, uh…" in the same understated rasp he's used on every previous song might make you might start looking for your Fela Kuti CDs. Sometimes Al sings words, and I’m sure there’s a legend about how ‘everything he sings is written out, man,’ but either way, he’s still another ‘limited indie-rock vocalist,’ not unlike even David Yow of the once-mighty Jesus Lizard, the band who, at the end, U.S. Maple resembles the most. (People talk about how U.S. Maple plays "deconstructed rock," but a more accurate description would be "deconstructed Jesus Lizard.")
         And, like Yow and the Jesus Lizard, Johnson and U.S. Maple have the ability to transcend their limitations, and often do, especially live. Just a couple years ago, long after the J. Lizard’s albums had ceased to be interesting in any way, I saw U.S. Maple open for them. Both bands were amazing, U.S. Maple in the way they confounded the audience and immediately put everyone in a rather exhilarating fight-or-flight mode, which after a few songs evolved into a blank-stare quasi-heckled languidity for the remainder of the concise 40-minute set. The Jesus Lizard were amazing in the way that they, much less abstractly, rocked the holy ass off of every person in attendance with groove after pummeling groove. In person, Yow is much more than a monotone barker -- he becomes a a carnival barker, a goofy ringleader, the band's full-time dancer, an unlikely stripper, and the town drunk, all at once, altogether proving he's no one-trick pony. But on a record album you can't see all that.
       Al Johnson has some tricks of his own which you also can't see on a record album. As U.S. Maple took the stage and began making the final tuning and amp-fiddling preparations, Al simply stood back by the drum kit, staring down the crowd from underneath a silly cap, slouching backwards in a quietly ostentatious pose somewhere between swaggering and slovenly, but completely motionless. Before the band was ready to begin, audience members started noticing his stance, along with other odd details like the magic marker scrawls that were on his left cheek, emerging from underneath the shadowy bill of his cap. I vaguely remember the crowd’s heckling of U.S. Maple starting a little bit even then, before a note of music had sounded, but Al stayed completely still. Until, that is, the band was ready to begin, at which point he took one single and unforgettably graceful step across the stage and to the microphone, and with the step the band lurched defiantly and crisply into their first song, as Al clutched the mike and emitted the first of the many rasping "ay-yuh"s he was going to do that night. From there on, I was pretty entranced, not only by the post-Incus guitar spitting/skittering, but also by the band's anti-sexy stage presence, the drummer’s concentration and compositional sense, and of course, by Al, who struck me, roughly, as a cross between your Yow-or-Selberg method-acting (underground-indie-post-)rock front-man and, for the unique part, an incarnation of Harvey Fierstein guest-lecturing a modern dance class while on a peyote trip. The crowd was very participatory – someone was either heckling, screaming with ironic joy, or screaming with non-ironic joy the whole time they played, filling up all the quiet spaces in their songs. One long-haired metal guy stood at the front of the stage and for possibly two full songs thrashed his head in the ‘hairwhip’, normally an appreciation for the hessian rhythm of a metal band, but in U.S. Maple's case unable to have anything to do with the rhythm at all, making it simply an act of pure (non-ironic?) appreciation.
        It was a wild scene, and U.S. Maple both instigated it and rode it out. Still, as striking a performer as Al was, I found his singing approach to get a little tiresome about halfway through, just like it does for me on their records. Don’t get me wrong – recorded U.S. Maple can be just as exhilarating as live U.S. Maple. They are so adept and focused in the delivery of their ‘thing,’ that any one cut on either album will instantly satisfy. And there’s always moments like the incredible last minute or two of "Songs That Have No Making Out" from Sang Phat Editor, in which guitarists Mark Shippy and Todd Rittman and drummer Pat Samson kick up a quiet hailstorm of streaming pure-sound notes, the three of them almost sounding like one single playing card ticking through the spokes of a speeding bicycle, or some sort of bizarre ritual involving knitting kneedles come to life. Or, the instrumental "So Long Bonus," especially it’s last two minutes, when the drums drop out and a haunted feedback-melody guitar duet ensues. Maybe I just don’t have a lot of patience for Johnson’s role in the band, as both of those examples are instrumental. Still, he was great live, fronting a great live band, and a great live band’s gotta make albums, right?
         Ah hell, who am I anyway...what do the professional music writers say about U.S. Maple? Like, for example, the people who write for the CMJ. Well, thanks to our friend "The Internet," here's an example:

"It's a droopy cliché to say that a band is deconstructing rock, but U.S.Maple breaks down the form, shredding its conceptual blueprint and allowing the tattered scraps of guitars and drums to settle in exciting, almost randomly recontextualized patterns. Awash in barbed-wire knots of treble and shot through with Al Johnson's extroverted, husky grunt, Talker is the most cohesive of the group's three albums, partially thanks to the loud-and-clear production of Michael Gira (ex-Swans, Angels Of Light). Fractured elements of free jazz, no wave cock rock form a stark, singular screech, over which Johnson blurts his common-man abstractions. U.S. Maple's Drag City debut remains a testament to the art of skewed songform but, for the first time ever, the quartet's carefully sharpened chaos makes perfect sense."

         The parts about "tattered scraps," "knots of treble," and "husky grunt" are good-enough music writing, but this is basically just an example of meaningless press-kit redundance, not so much rock journalism as simply a collection of sentiments delivered directly through the pen of the unnamed CMJ writer by the Drag City press team, if not already permanently stored in the writer’s repertoire of press-kit redundance. (Anyone who works as a writer in today’s culture has one, as PR and marketing are more or less the only writer’s markets that consistently pay. Even I, Larry "Fuzz-O" Dolman, have such a repertoire, but I have to admit it’s getting pretty rusty, as I haven’t gotten paid for writing in a long time. I think the last time was in 1997, for the short-lived Lincoln Reader. Wrote about four local band profiles for ‘em. Mandated puff pieces, at least two of 'em for bands that weren't especially good, got paid about $30 each. So, if you total the last three years, I’m pulling down about $40 a year from writing gigs. It’s not something I mention to the IRS. But I digress.)
        The most grating cliche from this CMJ press release, excuse me, album review is the one about how US Maple has – ugh -- matured or something and "make perfect sense" "for the first time ever," just in time for their debut record for the hallowed Drag City. "Partially
thanks to the loud-and-clear production of Michael Gira (blah blah, hip pedigree, blah blah)." Well, Sang Phat Editor, produced by Jim O'Rourke, is just as loud-and-clear -- in fact, there’s really nothing "first time ever" about Talker at all; it actually sounds very similar to the previous album, in both songwriting and production. I should know, because I have a cd-r with both albums on it, back to back, and if I'm not paying attention to the track listing, I'll be damned if I can tell when one ends and the other begins.
        That’s not a bad thing, either. It’s a good, creative sound, and US Maple have dang near mastered it. Admittedly, more lyrics are intelligible on Talker than on Sang Phat Editor – the word "Vietnam" can be discerned in the very first song, as if Johnson is making up for the fact that Sang Phat Editor, a purported concept album about Vietnam, has no discernible lyrics whatsoever. Also, in the song "Breeze, it’s your High School", the words "high school" can be discerned in the first line Johnson sings, a confluence of events that for U.S. Maple practically begs the release of a radio single. But despite these odd and very occasional submerged hooks, Talker features some of U.S. Maple's most obtusely exploded song-forms yet. If the CMJ writer is looking for "cohesive" songs that make "perfect sense," he should be writing about the band's 1995 debut, Long Hair In Three Stages, which almost exclusively features verse-chorus structures and much surprisingly rote math-rock riffing.
        Better than the CMJ puff-piece is the following description, quoted at length from a seemingly uncredited review of Sang Phat Editor from a webzine called Last Sigh ( :

"The title of the second track on the album -- "Songs That Have No Making Out" -- really goes further in defining U.S. Maple's sound than anything else. U.S. Maple's songs consist of perpetual starts and stops. It would be wrong to refer to their halting style as consisting of many breaks or shifts, because the songs never settle into any conventional arrangement for very long -- there are no real patterns to break. Individual songs constantly mutate; momentarily, all attention will be focused on the musings of a single guitar, or the tappings of a drum, but then, without warning, the other musicians will join in to support or counter the soloist. On a similar note, the members of the band often wander off to explore unpredictable tangents in the midst of songs. Breaking off from the forward flow of a given piece, a guitarist will stop and pick at the strings of his instrument for a short while, or stroll away with his companion-guitarist to elaborate on some melodic possibility. Al Johnson will occasionally assume center stage and deliver a short vocal expression or two, before being engulfed by the music once more."

That's a fine description of what actually happens during U.S. Maple songs. Still, the "deconstructed Jesus Lizard" description holds completely for me. However, Captain Beefheart’s Magic Band has to be mentioned too, specifically their playing on Trout Mask Replica, which was deconstructed Jesus Lizard some fifteen years before such a thing was even possible. U.S. Maple does the most natural job yet of playing the same trebly force-fitted guitar harmonies over unlikely rock rhythms. There are differences: as wacked as they are, the rhythms of John "Drumbo" French are more conventionally driving than the consistently shifting sound-of-surprise beats by Pat Samson, and of course Beefheart beats Johnson, right along with every other avant-rock singer ever, in every department: articulation, melodic development, timbral variation, and the consistent communication of a developed imagistic poetic style. But just look at the way "Breeze" falls from a herky-jerky repeating riff-song into a seemingly unrelated and all-instrumental langurous melancholy free-fall section, a structure that mirrors EXACTLY that of "Veteran Day’s Poppy" on Trout Mask Replica. I'm sure U.S. Maple are sick to death of the Beefheart comparison, but at least I'm not using it in a press release or a puff piece -- I just think U.S. Maple are better at it than most, mainly because they filter out the overt blues influence and boogie rhythms that Beefheart influencees often get sunk by.
          However, I'm still waiting for US Maple to really challenge themselves. A couple years ago I heard rumor of a collaboration between them and Derek Bailey -- did this ever happen? Maybe that'll get the band into some new vistas of sound and song-form...although, in the end, I think that whether or not they do that is up to Johnson. C'mon, Al, we've gotten used to your curve ball...where's your slider? Your high & tight? At this point, even a good ole 90-mph fast ball would be a refreshing change of pace...

L-R: Al Johnson, Pat Samson, Todd Rittmann







You're not gonna believe this, this friend of mine just gave me 20 Fela Kuti albums. ON ONE CD-R. Yep, that's right, using the exciting new "mp3" technology, he was able to put his entire Fela collection onto one disc...and there's still about half of the room left over. Sure, I can only play the disc on a computer that has Winamp or some other such mp3 player installed, but shit, 20 ALBUMS ON ONE CD-R!!!

(Correspondence with, February 2nd, 2001. The "jj" is for Joe Jackson.)

Thanks for the site. Any line on some bass tab for Steppin Out?

Brad S

Hi Brad,
You wrote...

> Any line on some bass tab for Steppin Out?

I only have guitar tabs for "Steppin' Out" which I once found on the web and archived - see attachment. (I haven't been able to check them since I don't play guitar myself.) I've never seen tabs for bass except for the ones in the following article from Bassplayer magazine (scroll to the bottom of the page):


Hmm. "3% lycra," it says here. Y'know when you take socks out of the package? Like those regular white crew-cut socks? You ever take a minute to read the package? The "fine print," as it were? Things like "90% cotton." "7% stretch polyester." I love the word polyester. I think it's a pretty word. Shapely. Musical in a post-rock'n'roll pop-culture kinda way: "Polly Ester." "Polly." "Esther." And of course, the thought of "polyester pants," that great symbol of kitsch, tackiness, and disposable culture in the post-Warhol/Waters world. And just what is polyester? The word was born in 1929, which was a couple decades before John Waters was even born. Ya know what it means? I don't…but I'll look it up. "any of a group of polymers that consist basically of repeated units of an ester and are used esp. in making fibers or plastics." Okay, don't exactly get all the 'science talk,' but fibers, and probably even some plastics, seem to make up those pants, which is certainly what they look and feel like. What's a polymer? "a chemical compound or mixture of compounds formed by polymerization and consisting essentially of repeating structural units." Okay, so those pants are made from chemicals. Now that is fucking hot. Chemical pants! "Poly" of course is Greek for "many," and "mer" comes from the Greek word "meros," which is "parts." So, pants made from polymers are pants made from many parts, but John Waters would never put it like that. And what is ester anyway? "any of a class of often fragrant compounds that can be represented by the formula RCOOR' and that are usu. formed by the reaction between an acid and an alcohol with elimination of water." So pants made from acid and alcohol! Now that's punk rock!

You've heard of "Top 10 of 1998" lists or whatever (how boring?), or "staff picks," (who cares?), but here's something that actually matters a damn in this shill-dense global culture we're all breathing right this 'fucking' second:

Gastr Del Sol Crookt, Crackt, or Fly
It starts with the sound of crickets, very 'avant-indie', and then a brazen imitation of the first 40 seconds of "Oyster Thins" by Mayo Thompson, but after these dubious beginnings it just keeps expanding. The songs on side one are played almost entirely on just two acoustic guitars, giving the album a big sense of mystery considering its 1994 indie-rock pedigree. (Where's the band, man??) And, instead of sounding like the credited four songs, it really sounds like one big suite, with vocals only occasional, five or six lines (of Grubbs' dubious 'language poetry') sung here and there over obtuse chords, separated by the real meat, blissfully long instrumental sections of jagged, knotty, repeating duo guitar riffs that sound part-prog, part-metal, part-flamenco, part-Bailey/Kaiser/Frith, part-everything. Then there's a long-ass bass clarinet-and-organ soundscape, a lo-fi piano-and-vocal snippet that previews a loud guitar-and-drums section that comes crashing in somewhere on side two (oh, there's the band!), and not a few other striking events as well. No matter how uninteresting the ubiquity of Grubbs and O'Rourke in their neck-in-neck race to become 'the next Zorn' is, I can't deny how enjoyable this early work by them remains..

Nico Desertshore
As soon as you see the title spelled like that, and the cover photo of Nico, black hair, white dress, riding a white horse on sand, being led by a little dark-skinned boy (very Jodorowsky), you want to love this album. And shockingly, the music does not disappoint, not for one second of its 29 minutes. It's just Nico on vocals and harmonium and John Cale on (mostly) piano and percussion, building up the ancient dirge folk song style into big thick hymns, Nico's vocals sounding deathly sad and elegaic over the top of tracks like "Janitor of Lunacy" and "The Falconer." Recorded in 1970, this is the first goth rock album by a long shot. Okay, it's probably the second goth rock album, the first being Nico's The Marble Index (1969), but I haven't even heard that yet, so I'll take Desertshore as my fave rave...

Sun Ra The Solar Myth Approach Vols. 1 & 2
Back when the BYG/Actuel "hey some freaks in Paris want us to play at a festival and record a free jazz album for 'em, all we have to do is get over there somehow" heyday of 1968 was going on, Sun Ra and his massive Solar Myth Arkestra were just too massive to make it over. However, Ra & co. undauntedly recorded this incredible double set of music and mailed it in their stead. Maybe the hasty nature of it is why, but even after having heard some 25 or 30 Sun Ra albums, this one still seems unique; a lo-key, lo-fi, totally entrancing slab of scary jazz numbers, unaccompanied solos for synthesizer electronics, extended wall-of-sound percussion jams, quasi-classical mood explorations, and hushed late-night chants. ("Satellites Are Spinning" and "Outer Spaceways Incorporated" appear, among others.) The original vinyl release is naturally quite rare and collectable, but it was just reiussed on CD by the label Charly. However, their reissue seems to be a collector's item itself--it's already out of print, anyway. .

to h*ck with label addresses, if you wanna connect with any of this shit just go to and do a search on the band name and title too if its different (using "__" + "__" format) . that's honestly your best chance of buying any of this stuff, it's just not economically feasible to stock it in most record stores..

Soft Skull Press has published a book by Lee Ranaldo called JRNLS80s, featuring "poems, lyrics, letters, observations, wordplay, and postcards from the early days of Sonic Youth." I like this book better than Lee's poetry chapbooks, also on Soft Skull Press, but still…there's just something about Lee's performance, they work pretty well, whether it be his solo stuff (see Scriptures of the Golden Eternity) or on occasion with Sonic Youth, on such tracks as "Pipeline" (appearing here in print form amid all the journal entries and stuff), "In the Kingdom," "Skip Tracer," and "NYC Ghosts and Flowers." On paper, however, they just seem to fall into one of two rather dull modes: one, the "what am I doing here? why is the world so intense? how can I get it back? what am I ever to do?" line of solipsistic questioning, and two, the "driving through rich green and brown fertile hills underneath a stunning pale blue sky dome" line of post-Beat landscape description. I mean, c'mon Lee, even I learned years ago (the hard way) that listing all the colors you can see at the moment you're writing does not make you Kerouac. My favorite bits are all too infrequent, but that's just because Lee (tastefully, I suppose) doesn't dwell on them: the various bits of backstage gossip and descriptions of his celebrity friends 'n' co-workers. (It is surprising that cocaine is mentioned four or five separate times.)

                                      Brad Sonder is a writer who lives in Lincoln, and presumably does nothing but sit at his computer and listen to records -- no one knows anyone who has seen him. Don't miss his dense 'new records' column, So Much Music, So Much Time as published in Nougat. Brad also writes a column about the Lincoln music scene for


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