Over the past 15 years, Phil Todd's Leeds UK-based Ashtray Navigations has pretty clearly led the world in the production of psychedelic noise freakout rock transcendental electrification drone music. Quoting myself here, describing the Ashtray sound: "free improvisation, lo-fi psychedelia, noise and found sounds, the raw power (though rarely the form) of rock, and the tonalities of various drone and ethnic musics. Pure underground sound, basically." Todd's ability to chart infinite variations within this ever-expanding musical universe, plus the seemingly endless flow of releases on his own and other labels, don't really have a lot of parallels in "rock" (Sun Ra might be a kindred spirit), and perhaps for that reason remain heard by far too few.
One-man folk/psych/drone ensemble The Goner AKA Daniel Westerlund is unquestionably one of my favorite sonic discoveries of 2008. He delivers spiritual music that accompanies dreams, as it organically flows across the sky when you're walking to work and creeps up on you when you least expect it to. It's tempting to place his work along the lines of Hush Arbors and Six Organs of Admittance and although that's true you can also hear his background in the lo-fi scene. We got in touch with Westerlund to learn more about where he's coming from and what's next.
2008? Still haven't caught up; in fact I probably fell even further behind. 2007 was definitely a good year, with vets like San Francisco's Holy Mountain and North Carolinas's Three Lobed Recordings unleashing some of their most varied and unique slabs to date. And there were dozens of fine records on Not Not Fun, Important, Kranky, Digitalis, Soft Abuse, Locust, Drag City, Sublime Frequencies and on down the line that helped make '07 a little brighter. Speaking of Sublime Frequencies, must acknowledge the untimely passing of Charles Gocher due to complications from cancer in late February. Gocher played drums and sung some pretty messed up lounge songs for Sun City Girls, whose bassist Al Bishop co-owns and operates Sublime Frequencies. Needless to say, Sun City
I make no secret of my analog nostalgia. I'm a Mexican kid from East of LA, and my childhood was not as awash in digital enhancement as it is today. I remember days watching hand-drawn cartoons on a mirror-projector big screen, renting fuzzy video tapes from the local hole in the wall every weekend, and listening to tape-saturated dirty raps after my parents went to sleep every night. Much of my "musical upbringing" happened on a record player. My dad is a recovering vinyl addict; every week he would walk down to Poobah Records to buy a couple of LPs. Well, over the weeks and the years, his collection began to fill out: prog-rock (lots of Yes!), sixties hippie-shite, ZAPPA!, a few bits of jazz, disco, heavy metal, power pop, punk, movie soundtracks, drippy singer-songwriters, and tons of R&B. It seems to tail off with a handful of terrible ‘80s pop records and virtually comes to a dead halt mid-80s, just about when the second kid was born (me) and vinyl reached the end of its reign as the industry standard.
Zelienople is a Chicago trio that takes their favorite bits of atmospheric sound from the last four decades and places them in one big pot of simmering ambience. Their music glides elegantly through cinematic dreamscapes, urban fog, stretched-out tone clusters, free-flowing improvisations, corrosive string ceremonies and detailed mantras of fragmentized noise. Given their sonic focus, most of their output is surprisingly moody and melancholic; never letting things to slip away too far from the organic base they refer to as home.
What they do is to construct stunningly delicate and convincingly toned down sound sculptures, slow building, trance inducing improv and texturally challenging drone music that is packed with so much emotion and darkly seducing beauty that it sucks the listener in time after time. We got in touch with Mike Weis and Matt Christensen to learn how they're capable of turning blurry shots of empty city streets or natural landscapes into immortal music.
It seems like just last week we were putting the finishing touches on our "Best of 06" columns, yet here we are again trying to make sense of another four seasons of musical output. In retrospect, it seems like I didn't really come across a lot of new music that was breathtakingly new this year, but I did hear plenty of stuff that pleased my ears just fine. Like my friend Tony Dale (below), I'll call it a year of consolidation and expansion rather than revolutionary advance, but I don't think that's a bad thing at all; refining and extending are worthwhile steps that easily can be forgotten in the midst of today's constant mania for novelty.
I have to admit that it's pretty much impossible to keep up with everything great that is popping out of the CD-R underground these days. Given the amount of discs that come this way I am sure there's a whole bunch of great stuff passing by without me paying attention. Luckily, I didn't miss Elektronavn's Songs of Impermanence on the consistently great Ikuisuus label out of the land of lakes (Finland), as it's easily one of last year's most impressive discoveries. Elektronavn, AKA Magnus Olsen Majmon, is a Danish sound sculptor that shapes a claustrophobic, almost physical experience with haunting drones constructed from an arsenal of instruments such as clarinet, voice, guitar, organ, flute, gong, harp, field recordings and percussion. The music is pretty much impossible to lump into any particular genre but there is a strong folk vibe that runs through a lot of the music,
There are probably only a handful of bands and artists that I've been truly obsessed with, and one of them is unquestionably Lyttleton, New Zealand folk/noise/drone guitarist Roy Montgomery. I've ranked him as cult guitar hero number one ever since I first got acquainted with his music through the masterpiece Scenes From the South Island (Drunken Fish, 1995). As a matter of fact, I think bored everyone silly with rambling descriptions of how great that album is for a very long time. I occasionally forget why I like it so much, maybe because its textures are so deeply ingrained into my mind. Montgomery runs his meditative guitar explorations through a squadron of effect boxes, and on the other side we find a ghostly precise sonic equivalent to the striking landscape of this musically fertile country. Scenes From the South Island is the pastoral elegance of a hidden valley, the abandoned settlements of the harsh