On March first of this year, not a note of this music existed. I had much of it in mind one way or another for some time but didn’t know where to start or how to capture it. It came to me, finally, that I could put together a modest but effective studio, sing the primary chords of each piece, record them over basic drum tracks, and send the results to cellist Gordon Withers. Gordon then sent me his cello ideas for each piece, frequently several at a time, which I edited and shaped into skeletal versions of enumerated compositions eventually called “Freedoms.” From there, the sketches were sent to J. Robbins and Mark Cisneros, and we all met at Magpie Cage in Baltimore to record their ideas and improvisations. I finished the pieces back at my studio, sent the files to J. for mixing and Dan Coutant for mastering and that is the story of these recordings.
“But why ‘Freedoms?’ Freedom from what?” one might ask. Freedom from oneself, perhaps, as one is freed when captivated by acts of creation; freedom from the limitations one has habitually and wrongly set for oneself; freedom from the despair and fear of the cascading and escalating crises of the last several years and especially the last couple of years. These freedoms are temporary, of course, and rarely concurrent. But they are at times all we have, and it seems suitable if humble tribute to capture and share some of their spirit in music.
Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoy it.
I’m on a record-buying break for the time being and the immediate result has been twofold: I’m digging through the collection more than I have in recent months, and I’m listening to more streaming music. This latter shift has brought me back to Tidal, a platform with the somewhat anachronistic characteristics of superior sound and inferior social media interaction, and Bandcamp, a familiar home to a multitude of of out-of-print and digital-only releases. In which light, I’ve started to include digital plays here as well, so long as they serve as the source of daily deliberate listening.
Links to plays will continue to provide what I understand to be the most useful destinations. In the cases of streaming plays, I’ll add the streaming service I used to the usual stuff (e.g. providing both the Tidal and Spotify links to the Kashkashian set). I imagine most of these recordings are available on YouTube as well but since I don’t listen there, I don’t know.
I missed several days in the second half of the month, no doubt in part to busy-ness but also due to feeling ground-down by the fatigue of our moment. Austin Kleon, in a blog post addressing resolutions, favors February as the month of resolution. I’m not one to argue.
I recently had to confront a new bad habit: I wasn’t listening to enough music. It was a carryover I think, slurry from the very beginning of COVID, when it seemed like everything took forever while any larger sense of time vanished, absorbed into a kind of recursive panic and withdrawal.
Days became weeks became months, and in October I decided to set aside time each day to listen to one record in its entirety without other distraction or complement. It was a good start, but I missed some days and thought logging the nightly plays for the entirety of November would hold me to the plan.
It worked. I’m not sure I’ll do this again but if I do, I might include CDs and digital releases as well, instead of limiting the exercise to vinyl. I’m pretty attached to putting on music though, so I’m not sure how that would shake out. We’ll see.
It’s worth noting that these listenings offered no escape as such — I’ve had enough of that — but have rather given me something to experience outside of my usual routines, which is, of course, why I got into music in the first place.
11/01 Paul Bley, Alone, Again LP (Spotify)
11/02 Albert Ayler, Don Cherry, John Tchicai, Roswell Rudd, Gary Peacock, Sonny Murray, New York Eye and Ear Control LP (Spotify)
11/02 Luke Stewart, Exposure Quintet LP (Bandcamp)
11/03 Alan Braufman, The Fire Still Burns LP (Bandcamp)
11/04 Benjamin Britten, String Quartets Nos. 2 & 3, performed by the The Alberni Steing Quartet (Spotify)
11/05 Aquiles Navarro + Tcheser Holmes, Heritage of the Invisible II LP (Bandcamp)
11/06 Rob Mazurek, Alternate Moon Cycles LP (Bandcamp)
[You can hear Chris’s music here, here, and here.]
Way back in the simpler times of Jan/Feb 2020, one of Zach’s groups (Jawbox) asked one of my groups (Hammered Hulls) to play a few shows with them down south. Watching him kill it with J., Kim, and Bill those winter nights that seem so long ago has been a nice memory to look back on during this global pandemic that we’re still in the middle of.
Speaking of that global pandemic…. A) Wear a mask B) beginning the month after everything shut down, and recently extended through the end of the year, the great website Bandcamp has been doing “Bandcamp Fridays” where the 1st Friday of every month they waive their fees and givie 100% of the money made on purchases to the artists. Almost everyone mentioned below (along with Zach’s and my bands) have music on there. In this age of no live music, every little bit helps.Hugh Masekela, Masekela: I became aware of this record in the summer of ’99 while on tour with Sean Tillmann’s Sean Na Na. We did a few shows on the east coast with my future longtime bandmate Ted Leo, who was at the time playing with a backup band of himself on a reel to reel. He would open those shows by covering the opening track on this record, “Mace and Grenades.” This is one of those albums that is huge to me, but there’s very little info about it online. The wiki page for it can’t even pin down exactly when or where it was tracked, saying “the album was recorded in Los Angeles, possibly between September 12 and 30 1968.” Fitting that the back cover reads “The music contained herein speaks for itself, Nothing more need be added. All there remains to do is to do.” If you can find a copy of his autobiography Still Grazing, pick it up.
Crumbsuckers, Beast on My Back: I bought this a couple years after it came out when the Camelot Music in the mall of my hometown of Hot Springs, AR moved all of their Combat Records releases into the clearance bin giving me access to some late period albums by GBH, The Exploited, and Circle Jerks that don’t hold up super well, but also some metal classics by Possessed, Exodus, Tankard, and this gem. I’d like to say this is my favorite crossover record but by this point they had dropped any of their lingering NYHC roots, and went full on thrash. Mad riffage, and….a robot voice!
Unwound, New Plastic Ideas: While not necessarily their best (that distinction might go to Repetition, The Future of What, or Leaves Turn Inside You, which is about as perfect of a closing statement as any band has ever made), this one has always been my favorite. And now that autumn is here, it’s a great listen during those first sweater wears of the season. Always hoped that someway somehow i’d get to see them live one more time, but that’s not to be. Never met Vern, but he was one half of one of the greatest rhythm sections of all time. RIP.
Go Go’s, Beauty and The Beat: We all know that The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame is a joke of an institution. But would you believe that it’s also an incredibly misogynistic institution? If you need an example to verify that claim, look no further than The Go Go’s. The only all-female band to write their own songs, play their own instruments, and go to the top of the charts (and if you need an example of how misogynistic the entire music industry is, think about that. There have been thousands upon thousands of all female bands writing their songs and playing their instruments, but The Go Go’s are the only ones to achieve that level of success). Guess how many times they’ve been nominated for entry into the R&R HOF? Exactly zero. While they are fully deserving of every accolade sent their way, maybe the Hall of Fame should keep fucking off because they’ll probably just treat them like some cute novelty act. Speaking of fire rhythm sections, Kathy Valentine’s bass playing is perfectly busy, and Gina Schock is perfectly rock solid. One of my favorite records since I was old enough to have a favorite record, and Our Lips Are Sealed is one of the first two 45’s I ever bought. The other was “Pop Musik” by M. Don’t judge. I was 7.
Ghosh, Get Ready to Die/LYAOF: A few years back I did about a dozen shows flillig in on drums for a Philly band called Lantern. When they split, Emily formed Louie Louie who put out one absolutely perfect record called Friend of a Stranger, and Zach co-founded this duo who have released four two song digital EPs this year. I hope someone puts them all together on a single LP like Get Better did for the three Sheer Mag 7″s sooner than later. They describe themselves as Nu Jungle and US Grime which are two genres they claim to have totally made up. The B side is about working in the service industry, and especially in the time of COVID it should be a protest song for all of those who have been putting their lives on the line to make sure some ungrateful under tipping bastards have a great experience dining outdoors on hot asphalt while cars whiz by.
Carnivorous Bells, The Upturned Stone: Speaking of new genres, this is the first time I’ve heard of Cave Prog, and it’s a genre I’d like to hear more from. If this record had come out a couple decades ago, or if they were still releasing music by current groups today, this band would find a cozy home in the Touch and Go/Quarterstick stable of artists. Like some crazy combination of Nomeanso, Dazzling Killmen, Hella, and Pissed Jeans (while at the same time sounding like none of those bands), and featuring the most inventive drummers I’ve heard in quite some time. Rumor has it, he has a double kick pedal, but one of the two pedals hits a cowbell instead of a kick drum. Hope to see them live when we’re able to do that thing again.
“Sit down. Be yourself. Be prepared. Be attentive. Defy the voices. Be the thing you want to be. Write. Be playful. Be reckless. Remember that you are uniquely designed for the idea that is moving toward you. You are good enough. The idea is about to arrive.”
— Nick Cave again
“A lively understandable spirit
Once entertained you.
It will come again.
— Theodore Roethke, “It Was Beginning Winter.”
Rebecca Norris Webb is among my favorite contemporary photographers and here picks her favorite photo books from 2017. Photo-eye has several such lists from compelling photographers that are worth a look.