Wednesday, February 14, 2007


The Ruins of Adventure
Corwood Industries

Examining one Jandek album is like looking at a piece of a jigsaw puzzle that reveals nothing about the larger picture. The five songs that stretch out over The Ruins of Adventure, Jandek’s 48th release, ramble over warped plucking and sliding on a fretless bass. Dark atmospheres teeter between an arrhythmic plod and nagging spaciousness. Songs like “The Park” and “Bluff Brink” are the polar opposites of the tin-can haze found on early Jandek albums, like Six & Six and Chair Beside a Window.

“Completely Yours” and “Mysteries of Existence” drift like clouds that smother the moon out of the night sky, while his lyrics settle on an exhausted and despondent drawl. The words of each song unfold like one-sided dialogue demanding to be spoken aloud, but fester in the mind hours after an argument has ended. Jandek’s spite could be pointed at God, a lover or himself, but the truth is never revealed.

The soft edges of each lumbering bass swell demand that the volume be turned up high, lest real world sounds, traffic, the upstairs neighbor stomping around and the buzz of the CD player spinning drown out the peripheral subtleties. But each lumbering surge bounds back with distant, percussive pressure. The Ruins of Adventure isn’t the ideal entry point for the Jandek novice, but a higher level installment for the devoted listener. It’s a beautiful, but challenging record that words like “brooding,” “murky” and “dreary” are meant to describe.

Chad Radford

(Originally published by Flagpole Magazine, 2/14/07).

Animal Collective

Paw Tracks

This CD reissue of Animal Collective’s long out-of-print Hollinndagain LP offers a glimpse into a time when the group was still learning its voice. These seven cuts were recorded at various tour stops throughout 2002 when Avey Tare, Panda Bear and Geologist were consciously crafting new, happenchance material every night. The results are a hypnotic journey where the space between sounds is as important as the sounds themselves. An underlying order isn’t always discernable, but structural minimalism stretches from mumbled words in “Pride and Fight” to the percussive crash that opens “Forest Gospel.”

“There’s An Arrow” is a pastiche of clicks and drones reminiscent of early Zoviet*France. Likewise, the foggy fidelity takes on a timelessness that feels just as natural in 2002 as it would be coming from 1982. This disjointed coherence vibrates to the tune of impenetrable savage beauty, but is nonetheless a genuinely captivating psychedelic experience.

Chad Radford

(Originally published by Resonance Magazine, issue no. 52).


Still Point of Turning
Bubble Core

The phased opening riffs of “New Domestic Landscape” open Relay’s Still Point of Turning with an urgent but autumnal sense of melancholy, bliss and power pop. Eminent sensory overload is only two steps away as the guitar/keyboard rhythms audibly shift, slowing down and speeding up with lysergic fortitude, blending iridescent melody and fuzz under carefully controlled pop song parameters. Indeed numbers like “Context” and “Draw a Crooked Line” fall into the shoe gazer rock category, but there’s much more than simple Spiritualized or My Bloody Valentine worship at work throughout the recording.

The group’s principle songwriter, Paul Zeigler orchestrates thick guitar rumbles, shivering percussions and long, drawn-out rhythms that pull on the strings dangling from the fringes of subconscious thought. But before disappearing into space, a gut-punch sense of immediacy keeps the pace focused and locked in the here and now.

Chad Radford

(Originally published by Resonance Magazine, issue no. 52).

Tommy Guerrero

From the Soil to the Soul

Tommy Guerrero is a street-savvy guitarist whose songwriting falls somewhere between Tortoise and Santana. Each number flows with the same stylish enthusiasm with which he bombed Bay Area hills as a pro skater, but his recordings are often backgrounds searching for foregrounds. From the Soil to the Soul rises above by fusing head-nod rhythms with strong vocal elements.

The symphonic stabs in “Badder than Bullets” give angularity to Guerrero’s swaying, Latino reinventions of Kraut rock’s monster grooves.

Lyrics Born’s frenetic mantra in “Let Me in Let Me Out,” and Bing Ji Ling’s soulful croon in “Don’t Fake It” give direction to Guerrero’s arrangements.

Flowing rhythms are Guerrero’s strongest assets, but like dominating the SF hills in days of yore, eventually he bottoms-out. Guerrero gets by with a little help from his friends who give him a lift back to the top.

Chad Radford

(Oringially published by Resonance Magazine, issue no. 52).


Table of the Elements

Transmission is a heart-pounding artifact in the secret history of no wave and the rise of its bastard offspring, Swans. The duo of drummer Jonathan Kane and saxophone player Daniel Galliduani’s sole EP, recorded circa 1981 and previously available only as a cassette tape, roars to life with primal abandon, blending noise and African rhythms into a frenzy of apocalyptic world music.

Kane’s staccato hammering and Galliduani’s manic sax mantras in “Battlecry” and “Surrender” snake around each other in palpitating cement mixer rhythms. “South Wind” is the dirge of a freight train on fire, barreling down the tracks without a soul at the helm.

This unearthed EP is a missing link that languished in the cracks between jazz, improv. minimalism and outsider music for nearly 25 years before finding its way onto CD. In hindsight, that quarter century gap is a God damned shame.

Chad Radford

(Originally published by Resonance Magazine, issue no. 52).

Rob Crow

Living Well

Temporary Residence

As Ferris Bueller once put it, "Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it." Pinback vocalist / guitarist Rob Crow understands this bit of universal truth and with Living Well he takes things down a notch. From the Loudon Wainwright-esque cover to the self-effacing single, “I Hate You, Rob Crow” an air of lightheartedness is imbued with sentimental pop hooks that are undeniably infectious. Crow’s simple guitar parts in “Chucked” and “Ring” ooze with nostalgia that’s cut from the same cloth as Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” and Sonic Youth’s “Disappearer,” filtered through the cannon of an indie rock slacker-turned family man. In the process, Crow doesn’t play the role of the songwriter with a capital “s” spitting snarky commentary at domestic life, but a man who’s adjusting well to his new role without forgetting his past.

--Chad Radford

(Originally published by Creative Loafing).

Dark Meat

Universal Indians

Cloud Recordings

Dark Meat is a psychedelic rock combo from Athens, GA, so naturally it’s hard not to envision the group following in the footsteps Olivia Tremor Control. But Dark Meat is less concerned with crafting dreamy, druggy soundscapes than it is in filtering the history of 20th century music through a twisted rock lens.

Universal Indians is dedicated to free jazz sax man Albert Ayler, whose ghost resonates in the wailing horns of “Freedom Ritual.” The same song gives equal props to the Butthole Surfers, Neil Young and Captain Beefheart. As does “One More Trip.” Likewise, “Angel of Meth” is a straightforward nod to the swaggering melancholy of the Shangri-Las. Dark Meat places its influences not on a pedestal, but in a blender to erupt in over-the-top Southern freakouts that give people who like pretentious music something to dance to while they’re picking it apart.

Chad Radford

(Originally published by Resonance Magazine, issue no. 52.)


Catch As Catch Can
Fat Beats

Glue’s rapid-fire emcee, Adeem spits rhymes with a world-weary and stylistically anti-bling mind-set. "Vessel" is an existential nightmare in which the protagonist discovers he’s a robot. The song unfolds with the same kind of “I’m sorry mamma…” sentiments buried in Eminem’s closet. But replacing the schmaltz with a solid dose of sci-fi gives the song experimental depth.

DJDQ and Maker weave slick and angular beats that bound in “A Lot To Say.” “Someone Who Dares” builds an unforgettably emotive atmosphere, layering beats over a weeping violin.

Production is underscored by a bonus instrumental disc. But without Adeem’s strident voice the boom tends to fall flat.

Catch also features a live video in which Adeem’s prowess comes into full-view. Never has a skinny white guy with a shaved head and skate shoes rocked so hard since the days of Minor Threat, bestowing the group with a sense of universal defiance.

Chad Radford

(Originally published by Resonance Magazine, issue no. 52.)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Deerhunter’s Bradford Cox speaks about his appearance, the avant-garde, and what made Berlin-era Bowie so fascinating…

The five fresh-faced lads stand in low budget duds, huddled in a quasi-gang stance, and staring at the world through every photograph with a mix of meek and confrontational ambiguity. Live, the same dynamic unfolds in a haze of shimmering shoegazer bliss and art rock abandon. This is Deerhunter; Atlanta, Georgia’s saving grace for the pop avant-garde. Guitarists Colin Mee and Lockett Pundt, drummer Moses Archuleta, and bassist Josh Fauver balance dense waves of overdriven guitar resonance with propulsive staccato beats around frontman Bradford Cox’s calamitous take on a Berlin-era Bowie mystique. Deerhunter’s sound is both brash and brittle. On-stage the group’s shows are wide-eyed, cerebral affairs that are fueled by a contemptuous punch in the gut, drawing from a palette of majestic forerunners that includes everyone from My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain to Sonic Youth and Stereolab.

With the release of Cryptograms, Deerhunter’s second proper full-length, and first for Chicago’s Kranky Records, the group has been swept from local band obscurity. Touring stints throughout Europe and the US with the Liars and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, kicked up a media stir that has polarized audiences.

Cox’s striking presence—he suffers from Marfan syndrome, a condition affecting the body’s connective tissue, which also afflicted Abraham Lincoln and Joey Ramone—is the target of many a poisoned pen. This, coupled with a flippant, sometime pretentious-leaning temperament has spurned ridicule for both Cox and the group. A conversation with Cox is passionate and often times wanders off of the topic in a stream-of-consciousness manner that’s reflected in the group’s songs. Engaging in such banter offers telling insights into Cox and Deerhunter’s true personalities.

Chad Radford: There's a distinct evolutionary step that occurs between your two CDs, but it's more than just changing things up from album-to-album. With each new show the group portrays a different phase, placing Deerhunter’s sound in a specific time and place. Can you tell me a little bit about this?

Bradford Cox: We have A.D.D. It's not a scheme. We are not that calculated in our decisions. I sometimes like to play guitar, which means a louder, less physical performance. Sometimes I don't feel like messing around with a guitar so I just sing, and I guess people are easily freaked out by skinny people because when I do that I just walk around and do my thing. People gawk like they're watching a car wreck. In terms of albums, I just want to make a discography that listens like a schizo mixtape that has the Shirelles followed up by Fennesz followed up by Spin Doctors. I have bigger aspirations for us sonically than being just another indie rock band.

CR: You do have a striking presence, but it's essential to the Deerhunter experience. There's an undeniable sense of honesty in how you “do your thing.” But this kind of presence also factors into the shows of artists as wide-ranging as Meatloaf, David Bowie and the Gossip. It's never directly addressed, but it's right there on stage for an entire audience to behold. Do you spend much time thinking about this?

BC: I try to not think about it too much because if I did, I would probably freak out and quit. I don't think of myself as abnormal in my head. It is very frustrating. Who is more attractive, anyway? Patti Smith or Avril Lavigne? I look how I look. I don't see any problem with it.

CR: There is a separation between the live Deerhunter experience vs. the records. What really separates the two?

BC: We can layer more acoustic instruments and room sounds more on the record, and have greater control over mixing issues. Live, it’s just loud rock instruments; bang blam. I try to make the shows engaging but sometimes I get bored and would rather be at home watching Sister Act 2 in flannel pajamas. With a record I can stop and start at various points. If I get bored with a song I can stop it in the middle and move on. But when we're into it there is nothing more fun than a good show.

CR: Do you think the songs on Cryptograms accurately capture the spirit and drive of the group?

BC: We haven't established enough of our own identity to say so just yet. The next album will be a lot less emotionally convicted. It will be more detached. That's how we are in general; we are a lot less emotional and tired.

CR: What differentiates the first record from Cryptograms?

BC: I view the first record as a total failure. I had the intention of making this off-kilter, collage, guitar, drum, bass record. I wanted it to sound like the Fall or something. But it comes out sounding like the era in which it was recorded, which is something that I really despise. It sounds like 2002—angry, post-hardcore dance punk. We were really young and angry. I'm embarrassed about anger now. Cryptograms is a subdued and introverted album. It's not the punk attitude.

CR: Is Cryptograms a reaction to the first album?

BC: Not really. It developed out of different circumstances, altogether. There were a lot more intense personal things going on. It was less about anger and frustration and more just being stunned or spaced-out by everything. And also, things like physical illness, fevers, and weakness played into it. I had walking pneumonia when we did the failed first attempt. I had the flu when we recorded the second half. The vocals on all the pop songs are really weird because I was so congested. I always thought I would go back and redo them, but we never did. At the beginning of "Spring Hall Convert" you can hear me hacking up some major junk.

CR: When I first crossed paths with Deerhunter circa 2001, you were interested in this idea you called "kitchen avant-garde."

BC: The reference comes from the idea that I used to see a lot of great shows in Athens and they all took place in kitchens. Everything was duct taped together and it had this aesthetic that I was fascinated with. Everyone had sloppily thrown together drum sets that looked like they just came out of the garbage. Everything was lo-fi but not in a self-conscious, thrift store chic, fanzine way. It was cute and childish in a way that said we have ideas but we can't scrape our asses off the ground enough to get them together, so we're going to do it as is, which is adorable and endearing. It's also a reference specifically to the Raincoats album, The Kitchen Tapes.

The avant-garde fascinated me when I was in high school. I was young enough that the word "avant-garde" wasn't a cliché. It was something that rang with a "this could freak out your parents vibe." The Velvet Underground is avant-garde to me. David Bowie is the most avant-garde thing I can think of. It's literary and it's challenging.

CR: There's a very Berlin-era Bowie aesthetic to your live performance.

BC: The Berlin image is something that I'm very attracted to. Is he sick? Is he coming off of something? The cover art for Low has this very hung over, strung out kind of ambient beauty to it. What is that orange light? Is this a post-apocalyptic sky? It's ambient in that it creates a moment. It's very evocative and it's very unclear. If there's one thing that we succeed in very well with Cryptograms, It’s evoking a feeling of someone who's woken up after being strung out one too many nights... It's the feeling of being lovesick and very spaced-out.

(Originally published by Stylus Magazine 2/12/07).