Sunday, July 24, 2016

A Trip to the Acid Mothers Temple

From the heavy guitar freak-outs of the Cosmic Inferno to the disorienting raga-folk of Floating Flower, the bizarrely hypnotic solo guitar work of the collective’s leader Kawabata Makoto to the constantly morphing sound of the collective’s primary project, the Melting Paraiso U.F.O. (along solo projects, collaborations with legendary psych bands like Gong, and random one-offs), Acid Mothers Temple has one of the most intimidating and overwhelming discographies in music history. The only true way in is to throw yourself right into the deep end where I am currently struggling to keep my head above water.

So, after a two and a half year hiatus from No Exchange, expect periodic capsule reviews and other commentary on various Acid Mothers Temple projects and offshoots in the coming weeks. I am trying to make a point of listening to one Acid Mothers Temple album every day. Since attempting to work through their catalog in chronological order is an almost impossible task, what with the sheer number of projects and offshoots, I’ll be picking them basically at random. Get ready.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Operation: Doomsday 33 1/3 Proposal

In late February, I submitted a proposal for Bloomsbury’s generally excellent 33 1/3 series. Unfortunately, my proposal for MF Doom’s classic Operation: Doomsday was not accepted, but I am still proud of the work I put in and think it would have made a great book. The process of conceptualizing and putting together a book proposal burned me out, so I took a break from this blog for a few months. I’m starting to have a few irons in the fire again for No Exchange, and I thought it only fitting to kick things off again with the draft introduction and full chapter breakdown from my rejected proposal for Operation: Doomsday. Regular No Exchange content will be resuming in the days to come.

Monday, January 27, 2014

When I'm Gone: The End of the Vivian Girls

Around the middle of the 2000s, there were a few years when it seemed like a ton of indie rock kids rediscovered the pleasures of vintage Guided by Voices and Exile in Guyville all at once. As a result of this (or because all of these kids were broke), lo-fi briefly became a viable trend again. After all of the initial lo-fi excitement subsided, most of these bands were promptly forgotten, but a few left us with records that still stand up to their initial hype. Wavves’ second album Wavvves remains a delightfully cracked collection of surf rock tunes. The Thermals’ first few records, and especially its first album More Parts Per Million, are packed with songs that are still as catchy as they were a decade ago. Times New Viking and No Age ripped apart pop and punk with the kind of noise that only the cheapest recording technology can provide. And a few psychedelic garage punks, including Ty Segall and Thee Oh Sees, moved past their lo-fi beginnings to create some of the most exciting catalogs in 21st century rock.

While they were never quite the best of their class of lo-fi rockers, the Vivian Girls possessed an easygoing charm that, paired with their impressive songcraft, pushed them through one of the most consistently satisfying careers of any of their contemporaries. They broke up last week, putting a fitting cap on a final phase of their run that saw the band’s members being pulled in different directions by new ambitions.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

BYG Actuel 14: Acting Trio - Acting Trio

The European free improvisation scene has produced a handful of genuine iconoclasts. While that term tends to get thrown around a lot, especially when talking about free jazz and free improvisation, the greatest of the European free improvisers truly reoriented music permanently. They managed to break free from the bonds of the jazz tradition that ran through the music of their American contemporaries and create something wholly European. Peter Brötzmann, Han Bennink, and Alexander von Schlippenbach from Germany and Evan Parker and Derek Bailey from the UK stand as possibly the most recognized of the titanic iconoclasts of European improvisation. These five are not only representative of the scene as a whole in terms of their musical advancements but in their countries of origin. Germany and Britain have served as the binary stars around which European improvisation has orbited for the last 45 years.

Yet this does a disservice to the other countries that have produced great, innovative players who haven’t reached the level of recognition as their German and British peers. While BYG Actuel primarily released records by expatriate American musicians, it wasn’t totally blind to the advancements occurring in its own country. Michel Puig, Jacques Coursil, and the ever-present Claude Delcloo all led albums for the label, but these artists (with the exception of Coursil) are eclipsed by the mysterious Acting Trio, whose self-titled album was the fourteenth that Actuel put out.

Friday, January 17, 2014

I've Had It: The Sorry State of Black Flag

This is certainly up for debate, but in most fans’ estimation hardcore punk’s ground zero can be found in October of 1978. That month, an inauspicious Southern California electronics company called Solid State Transmitters morphed into SST Records and released the first salvo from what would make up one of the best runs of any record label in any genre ever: Black Flag’s debut EP Nervous Breakdown. With SST founder Greg Ginn on guitar and Chuck Dukowski and Brian Migdol filling out the rhythm section, the young band proved themselves an immediate and exciting force in the world of punk. Frontman Keith Morris found the perfect balance of snotty and intimidating, fashioning his own gritty style out of the remains of Johnny Rotten.[1] It isn’t too surprising that his charisma and amazing voice have allowed him to sustain the most satisfying post-Black Flag career of any member.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Top 13 Non-2013 Albums of the Year

I have regular segment called Fresh Produce on the MusicVox on Vocalo Public Radio in Chicago every Tuesday. I highlight three to five new albums that are out that week. As such, I listen to at least five and usually closer to ten new releases each week, most of which I never listen to a second time. Even with all of this time I spend keeping up with the torrent of new releases, I still find time to listen to great older albums. To honor some of these older albums that dominated my year, I put together this list of my top non-2013 albums of the year in no particular order. Some are albums I’ve been listening to for years, and others are ones I discovered for the first time in the last twelve months. All of them are excellent.

 #1: Mr. Lif - I Phantom (2002)

Mr. Lif was one of my first favorite rappers. Mo’ Mega and the Emergency Rations EP were so important to me in high school, and Mr. Lif was more instrumental than almost any other rapper in getting me to really plunge into the world of hip-hop, but I didn’t hear I Phantom until a couple of years into college. Spurred on by El-P’s phenomenal work last year, 2013 has found me listening to a ton of Def Jux stuff again, and I Phantom has gotten the most plays from me this year out of that crop of exceptional albums. It’s a great album that follows a loose multi-part concept, and Mr. Lif proves that he is a remarkably talented rapper, especially on tracks like the second half of “Return of the B-Boy.” More than anything, revisiting I Phantom reminded me why I got into hip-hop in the first place. And “Live from the Plantation” helped me get through a lot of drives to a shitty job.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Top Albums of 2013: #10-1

#10: Ty Segall - SLEEPER
Throughout his insanely prolific career, Ty Segall had certainly given the impression that his strengths came from fuzz and noise and general garage rock abandon. So when word came that his first album after his trifecta of amazing albums from 2012 would be largely acoustic, it was cause for some minor concern. Sure, his knack for songwriting could be expected to remain intact when it was ported into an acoustic setting, but what about that power? SLEEPER dashed those fears, finding the power in quietude. Even the most pleasant of dreams often come with a feeling that something isn’t quite right, and the prettiest songs on here are the most unsettling. Songs like “She Don’t Care” are gorgeous, but the lyrics signal the deterioration of an important relationship. It’s a dark, sad, beautiful, catchy record, and it’s possibly the best of his career so far.
#9: DJ Rashad - Double Cup
Electronic music has spawned so many distinct subgenres over the last forty years that it’s hard for a relative outsider such as myself to find a good place to start with most of them. Outside of the recent L.A. beat scene which I have listened to a lot of, my explorations of other vibrant electronic forms, such as house, techno, jungle, drum and bass, dubstep, minimalist/ambient, and others is unfortunately been very limited. As a Chicago native, the sound that I am most disappointed in myself for ignoring is footwork, which was built by local producers from pieces of house, juke, hip-hop, and R&B. It’s a sound that’s gained increasing traction over the past few years, and it’s pushed into prominence through the Bangs & Works compilations, exciting live performances by Traxman and others, and Chance the Rapper’s Acid Rap, which counts footwork as an important influence. DJ Rashad’s debut album Double Cup proves that the community of footwork artists is ready for and deserving of more attention. It’s about as funky and soulful as electronic music, even sample-based electronic music, gets, and it makes the most of footwork’s sonic parameters. Rashad’s canny use of vocal samples and guest features, which he chops up and uses in the same way he uses the instrumental, is the best part of this record, which situates him as the man to beat among footwork producers in Chicago.