July 17th, 2005

operesque

CDs and DVDs put into my hands

In the course of three New York weeks (all those New York minutes!) I've accumulated a big heap of CDs and DVDs from kind / my kind of people. The new Boredoms album from Jesse at Vice, the new records from Rusty Santos and Phiiliip, and a ton of demos from young unknowns who might have something to tell us about the sound (and look) of the future. So I thought I'd sit down and listen to a big stack of them and tell you my reactions as honestly as I can.

Billy Nayer Show "Rabbit" (BSG Recordings) I played with Billy Nayer Show on July 15th at Tonic. I must say I wasn't terribly taken with the group, and sat out their set in the lobby talking to Mai. Their album doesn't really change my mind. It's a weirdo-glam stomp with silly lyrics ("Mama Hen why don't you do it again?"). The songs have a kind of "Akron Ohio" quirkiness which I ought in theory to like, but I just find the arrangements and themes unappealing for some reason (I don't like the resonant way the drums are recorded, for instance, or the broody, stabby guitar). Sometimes the singer sounds like Bryan Ferry circa "In Every Dream Home A Heartache". "Chippy Chin" is quite fun as a glam novelty record, in a Devo sort of way. The songs are mercifully short. I have no desire to hear it again. HOWEVER... Cory McAbee, leader of the Billy Nayer Show, has another talent: he's a film director. And a brilliant one.

The American Astronaut (Film on DVD, written, directed by and starring Cory McAbee) This is a great film, a black-and-white folktronic space epic of stunning imaginative power. It has the same weird feel as early David Lynch, and might just be as important a debut as "Eraserhead". Hobos, gold-diggers and a birthday boy travel through space. Men and women are segregated on different planets and sex leads to smuggling and body-running. The lighting and acting are really strong, the odd atmosphere cumulative and unforgettable. Already well-received at film festivals all over the world, this is destined to be a late-nite weirdo cult classic. The only thing I'd say against it is that the film sometimes seems structured as a showcase for its Billy Nayer Show soundtrack. Since McAbee is so much more talented as a film-maker than a musician, this seems like putting the cart before the horse.

Terrestrial Tones "Oboroed / Circus Lives" (UUAR) This is a side project by members of Black Dice and Animal Collective. It's droney, druggy, ambient. The two tracks unfold slowly through lofi samples, getting more and more disturbing. Gently deranged, like the dreams of a mad Syd Barrett. Track 2's barnyard sounds build towards a climax of distortion. I like this... It's funny how these young Brooklyn kids are turning into Can, Faust, Tangerine Dream and Neu! Something in the drugs makes you a 1970s German, I guess.

Rusty Santos "The Heavens" (UUAR) Rusty Santos runs this label, United Acoustic Recording Company, which is partly an offshoot from fashion house United Bamboo (Rusty lives with Miho of UB). He also produced the Animal Collective's excellent "Sung Tongs". His first ever gig was as support at my March 2002 New York swansong at Joe's Pub, and his most recent gig was at my Tonic show on July 15th. Rusty spends a lot of his time reworking other people's music (he's been working on material from Eye Yamataka, Ariel Pink and the forthcoming Animal Collective album, "Feels"), but he's also a songwriter of startling originality in his own right. I like how he takes quite simple acoustic guitar songs and adds strange, subtle sounds. He'll put his vocal way down behind a dry-strummed guitar like a telephone message, with lovely tappy cymbal hits and panned ticking. Everything's deranged, yet nothing is too aggressive. The songs are often haunting ("Villains", with its octave-stacked vocals) and anguished. I went to an avant-folk show at Cakeshop and saw Mike Wexler and PG 6 from Tower Recordings. I was expecting more acid and less folk, perhaps, but I must say that although they were skilled guitarists and songwriters, they lacked the originality Rusty shows here. I'm not sure whether Rusty will make more of a mark as a songwriter or a producer, but either way this is the kind of talent that moves genres on somewhere fresh, and without that pop music sinks and fades. As he sings on "Nation", "Use your imagination!"

Kumi Matsuzawa gave me three CDs of demos by friends of hers:
1. A three-track ambient ep of cosmic New Age electronica by Ryoho Kobayashi, sort of in the "On Land" school. It sort of reminds me that Eno recently said that since this sort of music can now be made "at the touch of a button", he'd gone back to writing songs with lyrics, "the last really difficult problem in music".

2. Number 0. Three tracks by Takuho Yoshizu. Straightforward singersongwriter stuff (in Japanese) with voice and acoustic guitar. Suggests that Eno might have been wrong. Track 2 sounds remarkably like My Bloody Valentine crossed with mainstream j-pop. The electronic effects get wild on the third track, sort of BBC Radiophonic Workshop jamming with a busker.

3. Number 0 again. Another 3 tracks. More rocky, with drums. MBV chordchanges, David Sylvian "elegant sobbing" vocals. "About A Funny Cloud" is sort of Cute Formalist fascist, restrained synth-pipes and bleeps with a skittering parade-ground snare. It sounds like early 80s YMO. It's in cutely odd English "Oh hello as you wish!" Nice! Track 3 has a lovely kalimba and tenor recorder melody. Sentimental!

Slow Ghost "Snow in the Portrait of Eyes" (CD and DVD) Well, the trippy underwater sounds of these songs again raise the spectre of My Bloody Valentine. Most of these short, fragile, strange songs are lovely, like Jeff Buckley songs rewritten by Bjork or Vincent Gallo. And yes, Devendra Banhart's ghost wows and flutters over them like a raven over a corrugated tin shack. BUT... as in the case of The Billy Nayer Show there's a visual talent lurking behind these songs which exceeds them. The DVD of "Snow in the Portrait of Eyes" is incredible, a full-length video art piece which takes us into a strange world (part Peter Greenaway, part Matthew Barney, part John Bock) in which an author, Pinzy Merton, is rejected by publishers, queer-bashed, addressed by 18th century characters in periwigs, speaks to the camera out of lip-synch, sings Slow Ghost songs, shows us his paintings and poems and photographs, inserts inter-titles like "Pawnsy a little lesser swims through the sea", and travels through snowy landscapes. It's all ravishingly strange and beautiful, and makes me think that its creator, Brian Szente, might become an important artist in the future. If I were a billionaire philanthropist he'd already have a million dollars for his next project, and if I were a curator I'd put him in a big show. A show about beauty and its return in an ugly age.

Boredoms "Seadrum House of Sun" (Vice Recordings) The new Boredoms is a terrible disappointment. The Boredoms are one of the most influential bands right now on the American avant garde, but this record doesn't show any of the inventiveness of its predecessors or the group's descendents. Two endless tracks of beached-out hippy bliss with crescendoing cymbals and tinkling piano runs... you can't help feeling it's a sort of "contractual obligation" record like Lou Reed's "Metal Machine Music", a hoax designed to be unlistenable. In fact, Eye has admitted that it's boring, and says he thinks that's cool. But whereas "Metal Machine Music" was avant garde enough to be reassessed later, this sounds retro already, jazzy New Age post rock.

Phiiliip "Divided By Lightning" This is the follow-up to 2001's "Pet Cancer", which came out on my label American Patchwork. This one didn't, because I have no money to break new artists. Here Phiiliip sounds like Tom Tom Club on downers, speaking in tongues. And he sounds like Phiiliip, which means he sounds like a more cynical and gay and druggy Beck. I mean Beck when he was good, in the early 90s. "Hark the heroin angels sing", Phiiliip drawls. Tempos change suddenly. Phiiliip pushes the structures of the songs to their limits. The cores are simple acoustic guitar strums boosted by faded, fractured electronic beats. Syd Barrett is here too. It's amazing how present Kevin Shields and Syd Barrett are in the work of the young. Then again, "Pants Down", with its guest vocal by Tigra about how she prefers her boys with their pants down and their mouths shut, is like a bizarre rap track, a sexually-explicit nursery rhyme with bubbly eletro percussion. Best tracks are "Off The Leash" (Khan remix) and "Fuck Music".