(Un)easy Listening - July: Featuring Omit / K-Group, Bruce McClure and Blowhole

I set out on a mission this weekend to hunt down some great records at the local music shops whose summer sales going on right now are all worth-while. By Saturday's close I had found and purchased a handful of long sought after vinyl – not to mention a few surprises – at bargain prices. A successful outing to say the least. Here are three of those records that won't leave my turntable for at least a week.

Omit / K-Group
Storage LP
(Fusetron, 2001)

Scratch Records in downtown Vancouver is an interesting place. Because of the fact it is both a distro and label with a tiny store front that could never contain their whole musical inventory, so many great records are simply forgotten about in storage. Eventually, certain gems do surface, where they are labeled as warehouse finds, then placed into a bargain-bin-type section at the front of the store.

Of the four warehouse finds that day I pulled out this record from 2001, a collaboration between New Zealand artists Clinton Williams (Omit) and Paul Toohey (K-Group, Surface of the Earth) ironically enough, titled Storage. I've been an Omit fan for quite some time now, discovering and slowly unravelling all of Williams' intense backlog after an initial introduction was made thanks to the 2005 reissue of Tracer by Helen Scarsdale. His music, and his choice to remain in constant obscurity, has been a catalyst in the growth of his enigmatic persona. Williams worked for over a decade releasing his deeply hypnotic, psychologically jarring lo-fi drone music on labels like Corpus Hermeticum and his own Deepskin Conceptual Mind Music – the releases often in small quantities, meticulously packaged, and graced with Willaims' bizarrely beautiful line illustrations. It's been said that before finishing high school, Williams' holed himself up and worked in complete isolation for many years, opening the door for collaborations on only a few rare occasions. Storage was one of those rare occasions.

Storage is a deeply meditative record with a minimalist ethos. Toohey's amplifier buzz thickens the signature Omit sound, turning the record into a consistent churn of darkened isolationist ambience. The scrapped tape fidelity cloaks the movements with another layer of fuzz as the music oozes from the speakers. Williams opted not to include any sparse beats from his damaged homemade drum machines but instead, him and Toohey left us with raw synth tones fed through any of the endless amalgamations of fx pedals at either of these artist's disposal. The resulting sound isn't too far off from Eleh's Floating Frequencies, or SUNN O)))'s quieter moments. A nearly impeccable album that might just have been the best 8 bucks I ever spent.

Bruce McClure
Vouchsafe Me More Soundpicture (Fain Make Glories) LP
(Olde English Spelling Bee, 2009)

I have much respect for Olde English Spelling Bee, one of the few labels releasing gorgeous limited vinyl editions in the way of both under the radar DIY (ie Skaters side projects) and the esoteric minimalism / "sound art" that exists even further beneath the radar. 2009's Dallas Acid release was a big favourite of mine and I'm anxious to get my hands on Kodama's Turning Leaf Migrations, a collaboration between Michael Northam and Hitoshi Kojo, also released last year.

Every once in a while I'll come across a record that's a total unexpected slap in the face what the fuck? out-of-left-field-but-completely-incredible record. Vouchsafe Me More Soundpicture (Fain Make Glories) by Bruce McClure is one of those records for me. Perhaps better known in experimental film circles, McClure has recently been embraced by the sound/noise community after this impressive release, professionally recorded at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. According to the release insert, during his film presentations, which typically incorporate dozens of film loops and several modified 16mm projectors, McClure feeds the optical sound signals from each projector through a bank of pedals which are then mixed live. It's pretty incredible to think that the four excerpts on this LP are all sourced from film projectors.

I can't describe this music better than what Keith Fullerton Whitman and the label's press release have described it as, in basically being a polyrythmic power electronics take on the early Reichian tape-phase music. The A side especially harkens to the origins of phasing. The two excerpts unfold seamlessly in complex interwoven pulses, often ill-timed and out of synch, but in the most sonically pleasurable ways. The final moments take on a wall of sound that perfectly sets up the denser sawtooth drones and quicker rhythms of side B. This album is such a pleasure to listen to, and aside from the references – which are a stretch, really – is some of the most unique and original experimental composition I've heard in a long time. I really hope I get a chance to hear this live one day. Well done.

A Love Extreme 2xLP
(Zabriske Point, 1993)

Yup, that's Jeph Jerman on the drums. I had seen a couple of Blowhole records around town before, even thought about buying one once. That was before I knew Jeph Jerman was in the band. taking into account where he is today in terms of sound work, Jerman's provenance has struck me as totally fascinating. I'm only aware of a small fraction of Jerman's work, including snippets of his solo releases under his own name – including a track on the Framework 250 release – and his previous Hands To moniker. And since the internet doesn't lie, he's also been a member of like 20 other bands. He's a prolific and interesting musical figure who I hope to learn more about in the next couple of months, along with the other members of the band Blowhole.

There's quite a bit of music on this release, a double LP that immediately starts things off with a battering ram of old school New-Blockaders-esque noise. Inked on the inner gatefold is an explanation from Jerman that there are three kinds of Blowhole tunes on this record: group improvs, short solo pieces, and constructs. It can be a bit tricky deciphering for the type of tune you may be listening too at any given moment, and I doubt that any member of the band would feel obliged to tell you. Because it's the sort of fuck-it, just play attitude that is precisely what makes this album work. The strongest parts of the record are the tape music pieces that jump cut between amplifier feedback and short instrumental interludes. A cool record that was well worth 6 bucks at Audiopile. And now, I leave you with quotes from two of the band members.

"...[t]hen Jeph looked up from the drumset and said, "That was okay, but usually we don't play in time," and began reeling out sheets of percussive sound. The three of us responded with our own outbursts, and Blowhole, for me, was born." –Patrick Barber

"Thanks are due to the following people: ... Ben Gilbert, who shares the belief that this thing ought to exist in a world already filled with worthless objects." –Jeph Jerman


The Tragic Trajectory of Emo

Feels like ages since I've posted here. School kept me busy through June and immediately after that I was filling my days with much needed time away from the city. Fall registration for school is creeping right around the corner but until September I'll have some free time to blog more about the music I enjoy so dearly. August, especially, should be a busy month for Scrapyard related activity.

I try to take note of, or at least occasionally observe, the world of the more accessible popular culture. You know, top 40, radio friendly, the stuff that producers will actually spend money on making a music video for. Most of the time, however, I try my best in simply turning off that world, as any small attempts of trying to filter in some of what I think might be the 'better of the crap' in the past, has always resulted in utter, utter, frustration and disappointment.

I recently tried out this experiment again. And the one word that kept getting thrown in my face: EMO.

I turn my back for a minute and the word emo gets used to represent every depressed, whiny, annoying little upper-middle class kid sporting sleeve tatoos, tight pants and eye shadow, writing songs about butterflies whilst burning old love letters of x-girlfriends and boyfriends. When did this happen. When did this happen? when did the internet become littered with ads for (emo)ticons, and when did all the porn sites start fetishizing 'emo' girls? How did this spiral so far out of control?

Those kids with their plush little minds will never know of the travesty in that word. That word used to mean something for me. It was about being in the moment and being emotionally charged when listening to the music, as if the music fueled one's existence. It set me apart from people, especially in high school. I felt as though I was part of an actual sub-culture. Emo meant taking long walks with head phones on, listening to The Get-Up Kids, Sunny Day Real Estate, The Appleseed Cast and Dismemberment Plan. These were bands that were fundamental in providing a solid musical foundation. A foundation that, if skipped over, or missed out on, would have severely derailed the trajectory of my musical discovery. Without this crucial musical sculpting of the mind, I'd surely be working a 9-5 cubical job and have had never listened to SUNNO))).

And even when I was in high school and the music was really starting to catch on, I would –although I never really listened to much of the older stuff – at least pay homage to the pioneers. My old roommate used to talk about the music scene in Kelowna, BC, back in the early 90's, where if you were emo it meant you wore a plain white t-shirt, a backpack, the occasional band pin and listened to bands like Rites of Spring, who paved the way for this new form of emotional rock, emerging out of the hardcore scene in Washington, DC in the mid 80's. Now the term gets slapped onto anything depressive, wussy, or goth-like. It's sad really, how skewed a term can become after it spreads through the media. Emo will never sound right to me when uttered on television by some MTV host. And I almost regret writing this because of all the spam I'm likely to receive as one usually receives after repeatedly using a tagged word. Emo word count: 7.

But hey, forgiddabouddit. Here's to summer and more blogging... for the less malleable minds.