Blastitude 9
issue 9  august/september 3001
page 6





That's CD, not CD-R, for all you playa hatas. If you thought Four Raga Moods was good (and it was really good), you've gotta hear Tristes Tropiques. I think it's better. In fact, I think this is IT, the pinnacle of the whole one-man-and-a-tape-machine-against-the-universe genre. It's like Phil Todd and Campbell Kneale are duking it out, laying down as many overdubs in a year as a boxer throws punches in ten rounds, and each one is a solid right or left, some to the gut, some to the face, but really, Tristes Tropiques is a knockout punch if I ever heard one. Am I mixing metaphors? Probably. This album will mix your metaphors before they even make it to paper. The first track is 19 minutes long, though it actually consists of five or six totally different short tracks run one after the next. (Mr. Todd used this technique on Four Raga Moods as well, creating an album of something more like, I don't know, seven raga moods...) The highlight is about ten minutes in when some of the baddest-assed tabla playing I've ever heard comes down the pike with the expected (but still effective) space/drone heaven-rock accompaniment. Track two is also 18 or 19 minutes long but instead of being five or six different things it's very much just ONE thing, an incredibly subdued and quiet little buzz-hum frequency-crackle that I could honestly handle for twice as much time. These two tracks alone are more than enough for your money (would make a great LP, better than the Siltbreeze LP), but there's still five high-quality tracks left, clocking in at nearly 30 more minutes. In other words, it would make a great double LP. How generous!

BOTTLED OG: The Gas Money Demo EP CD-R (self-released)
This is a band, like the Thinking Fellers Union Local 282, from that elusive state called Californiowa. You may or may not've heard of 'em when their name was Bottledog…that was when they lived in Iowa City and were freaking (and, rumors have it, before and after shows, smoking) crowds out….they were all pretty much weird-music lifers and were desperate to escape from the rude vastness of the Midwest…the only thing keeping them there was a bandmate (a girl, hence 4 boys+1 girl, just like the Thinking Fellers) who had yet to graduate from the University of Iowa. She finally graduated, and then quit the band. O well, these things happen. The remaining 4 boys lit out for the Bay Area, and changed their name to Bottled Og to reflect all that was new. It's appropriate that they did, because their sound is new too. Where Bottledog was a very good band, they couldn't really play more than three notes in a row without making anyone listening think about those other Fellers. Now they're onto some next shit, a unified frontal assault, playing a bass-heavy nearly-grooving spastic art-punk sound, with nary a 'quirky' genre leap or 'wacky' change in sight. It's pretty much art-pummel city nowadays. They put down a rousing 25-minute set in Lincoln recently…more than one person in the audience described them as sounding like Wire and The Fall, but the more I listen to this appropriately titled CD-R they were selling at the show, I keep thinking of "Heart of the Sunrise" by Yes. You know, that crazy sixteenth-note bass riff fanfare thing? Take that and blend it with a rough version of the ensemble riffing towards the end of "21st Century Schizoid Man" by King Crimson, and then replace the quirky prog drumming chops with a beat that grooves in the finest Wire/Fall trance-punk sense. That's what I'm hearing here. The word "demo" is also appropriate…it was recorded quickly and basically, and there is a sense of 'let's put on every song we know' instead of 'let's use 8 or 9 of our best songs and really arrange them into an album.' Just a minor warning there…I doubt you can even really buy this unless you go to one of their shows, and if you see 'em play, you'll know what I'm talking about anyway. Go bottle some og!

EUGENE CHADBOURNE: Country Music in the World of Islam, Volume XV CD-R (self-released)
I bought this because Eugene is backed by the Sun City Girls on it. It cost fourteen dollars, even if it is a CD-R packaged in a xeroxed piece of construction paper casually folded over twice and taped in one spot (with one piece of scotch tape, no less) to form a makeshift pouch. And you know what? It's well worth it. The B&W line art and copy looks good, the construction paper is sturdy and a nice shade of yellow. I might have to replace the piece of scotch tape at some point, but so far it's been doin' great. Now if the CD-R craps out after 50 or a 100 plays (I've heard rumors that CD-Rs do that, but surely they've been around long enough that we're starting to pass that many listens? Any crap-out stories out there?)
         And besides, handsome/lavish/expensive packaging can be wonderful, but even at its most expensive and considered, whether or not the record is any good still hinges on the music above all. "You can't polish a turd," like my Uncle Jesse always said. Conversely, you could say "you don't need to polish something if it ain't a turd." Right? So who cares if this package is cheap, the album AIN'T a turd.
        What's more, guitar fans can delight in the quality of Rick Bishop's accompaniment throughout. It's very good right from the beginning, and then it really starts to kick in with the second track, "Perfume of the Desert." He plays an ongoing echoplexed slide guitar melody, that completely holds the tune together with dusty desert majesty, freeing up Chadbourne to rattle and plink all over the place in between every one of his rambling phrases without breaking the mood at all. More top-notch whittle-rattle-plink improv follows, one of many entrancing segues from one song to the next. For this sort of of quiet rock/folk energy-whittle thing, Chadbourne and SCG are well-matched (listen to the last half of Severed Finger With A Wedding Ring and picture Chadbourne sitting in).
        Speaking of sitting in, who should show up on here playing soprano saxophone, lap steel, and dobro, but Elliott Sharp! Ole E#! Well, I've heard some good music by E#, especially for when I was a budding 'out-ster', but I never really heard anything great...until now! E# truly rocks on this record, revealing a hitherto undiscovered-by-me penchant for 'sheets of sound' sax music. As for the supposed star guests, Bishop Alan Bishop and Goucher Charles Goucher [sic] play a more supportive role here, rarely surfacing out of their background stew like the 'frontmen' do. (For example, the often omnipresent vocalising of Bishop Alan is nowhere to be heard).
        The group ambles through several songs in Chadbourne's trademark segue-mad free-folk style, one memorable tune to another, as when an original Chadbournes '80s protest' song
"The Man Who Made Off With the $" ambles into an old country song called "Luxury Liner" and a parable like "Hippies & Cops," and a little later on, a cautionary tale called "I Wouldn't Live in NYC," a punk song called "The List Is Too Long" (..."of all the people I hate"), cover versions of Gram Parsons, Buck Owens, and the old standard "I Cover The Waterfront," plus more political numbers like "Don't Burn The Flag, Let's Burn The Bush" and "Castro's Surgery." It clocks in at almost 70 minutes without ever getting especially boring, and when, for the 13-minute closing track, the combo lays down a MONSTER psychedelic rumble-jam and then drifts into a mush-mouth version of a Christmas standard (I forget which one), it'll snap you back into it in case you'd been drifting.

PILLOW live at the Empty Bottle, 8/1/01
Saw Pillow tonight. Sort of a Chicago free music 'supergroup,' with Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, Michael Colligan on dry ice, Ben Vida on guitar, and Liz Payne on the double bass. It was pretty good, though I must admit as a critic, I can indeed find some things to critique about the performance. First off, there was a certain lack of momentum that became a little too palpable a little too often. To give them credit, with a name like Pillow, they seem to be exploring a more 'mellow' and perhaps even 'oneiric' style of free music, with a refreshing eschewal of the usual 'hi-energy rave-up' and/or 'excoriating shriek-fest' qualities that SO much free(k) improv overdoes. Or, in member Fred Lonberg-Holm's words, their m.o. is "very quiet and dry improvising." This is a promising tack to take, but I believe that however mellow, the music should still have its own momentum, its own pace. In other words, there should be no 'looking for another toy in my instrument case' moment, no 'waiting for the other guy to play a drone' moment, none of that at all. The audience should never be able to even notice such a moment. Maybe I'm just persnickety, but I felt like I witnessed quite a few of those moments.
       The group seemed to use two basic approaches constantly: one was the 'saw-drone on one note' section, and the other was the 'kind of soft, fiddling-around, looking-for-a-bassline' section. That's all well and good, but whenever one player would hit either another saw-drone or another soft looking-for-a-bassline section, everyone would jump right back on it, as if they were relieved to be on the same page again.
       Lonberg-Holm, who I always assumed to be an extremely resourceful and confident player due to his reputation and discography (and because he definitely rocked on the Max Factory LP), surprised me by seeming especially detached and uncommitted. This was epitomized when, at one point, he pulled out a piece of styrofoam. He moved towards the cello with it, as if to, you know, use it somehow, and then stopped as if doubting himself, watching the other players for a moment. Then, with a gesture that seemed to say "oh what the hell," he just went ahead and started rubbing it against the strings. It made a good sound, to be sure, but I couldn't help but think that the whole process shouldn't have been that protracted and telegraphed. You could defend it with the old postmodern 'laying the process bare" saw, but I don't know if that's good enough, and I couldn't help but wonder if the performance might be better experienced as a recording, where the crunchy sound of the styrofoam on the cello strings would come more out of nowhere. (Derek Bailey always says that free music recordings are problematic, that the performance is the thing, but I almost completely disagree. When I'm at a live performance of free music, I enjoy it more, get more inside the music etc., when I close my eyes. All the rather mundane approaches such as rubbing a cello with a piece of styrofoam become so much more mysterious when granted the cloak of invisiblity.)
       Ben Vida's guitar playing was pretty nice, using standard tuning, well-done volume pedal, and vaguely Miles Davis-ish spacing and phrasing to create nice effects. His trumpet playing, ironically, was a little less Davis-worthy, a little less enveloping. Liz Payne had some good moments, especially when she played rattling percussion with a weird stick-thingie. Her bass playing was solid too, but I gotta say I wasn't transported by it. Maybe a little too much plucking and fiddling, too many searching-for-a-groove bass lines played at too slow of a pace. (If you're gonna play sound, let it rip! If you're gonna play basslines, let 'em rip! I found her playing too 'quasi' one or the other.) Michael Colligan stands as the most ostentatious player in the group, and also the most refreshing. An accomplished reeds player in various projects, including Ken Vandermark groups and the Flying Luttenbachers, Colligan here showed a desire to transcend cliches by taking a sort of kitchenette approach to sound-making, boiling water, making popcorn, sticking knives and metal cans onto a block of dry ice and letting the constant evaporation vibrate, all processes more-than-adequately contact-miced. Without Colligan, the performance would've really been underwhelming. He was the much-needed wild card, both visually and sonically. I mean, hey, it was a good performance overall. I definitely liked it, and on disc I'd probably really like it. Especially if it was edited.


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