While in college, I took a course on the history of jazz. The teacher was a musician named Hofbauer — if you’re him, what up, thanks for the A — whose final included an essay question that went something like, “Why isn’t jazz as popular as it used to be, and how can it regain its popularity?” I distinctly remember my response talking about how jazz musicians used to cover more pop songs and how one option might be for modern jazz artists to do the same, while also re-incorporating elements of the newer musical genres that’ve borrowed so heavily from jazz, namely hip-hop and electronica. Of course, collaborations between jazz artists and hip-hoppers are nothing new — see Miles Davis’ Doo-Bop and Guru’s Jazzmatazz for a few prime examples. But jazz musicians covering rap songs or looping riffs and dropping tempos to the point where their tunes sound like beats? These phenomena I hadn’t witnessed until recently, with groups like BADBADNOTGOOD. In the words of Mr. Pink, “I’m not saying they weren’t there, I’m saying there were there, but they didn’t move in till…”
Whereas BBNG has their fun soloing electrically along with the chord progressions of hit songs like “Brooklyn Zoo,” “Lemonade,” and “Earl,” Black Chamber goes another route, their muted trumpet, stand-up bass, and drawn-out drum rhythms holding a moody streetwise conversation that sounds like the kind of defeat and despair you find only in damp, dark alleyways or abandoned buildings. It’s not bright and fun, but scorched and spectral like a Western ghost town. Their cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” manages to somehow simultaneously add some soul and suck out any semblance of hope the original had to offer. It’s like old Portishead with no vocals and more attitude. All attempts at objectivity aside, this album fucking rules, and I really hope you not only check it out, but tell all of your friends about it too.
• Black Chamber: http://www.blackchambermusic.com
While the vast majority of England’s folk-pop exports cajole around in sunny wheat fields, wearing the latest Victorian peasant attire and melting down their Grammy awards into soles for their leather brogues, British songstress Marika Hackman is carefully, quietly spinning stories of love, death, and mutilation.
Although her cloppy, quirky instrumental arrangements and honeyed, Nico-esque coo stir up a sense of intimacy and comfort, Hackman is essentially the musical equivalent of a Grimm fairy tale villain: enticing us with understated hooks and softly-stirred rhythms, painting images of pupils “as deep as wells” and “black as crows,” and lulling us into a bemused calm, one so soothing that it can be easy to overlook the heavy dread hanging over a song as beautiful as “Retina Eyes.”
I wish I had that attention to dynamics at the microscopic level when I was 19. Hackman’s highly-anticipated “mini-album,” That Iron Taste, comes out February 25 on Dirty Hit Records. Joanna Newsom, you’ve got yourself some competition.
“Painting on a Corpse”
Tier 1: OMFG guys, did you hear about this new SuperGroup called The Pearl Ensemble or something??? It’s the dude from Sun Oh and some japanese dudes and I think also some dude related to Werner Herzog?? I’m not really that into this sort of thing but I know you love this droney baloney bullshit — you def need to check this out.
Tier 2: Ensemble Pearl is truly stacked, man. Stephen O’Malley (sunn o))), Khanate, KTL, innumerable projects) on the Travis Bean reverb worship; Michio Kurihara (Ghost, Boris) tape delaying treble-blasted leads into oblivion; Atsuo (Boris) in full-on doom dub crawl percussion, delay on the snare, plus some gong atmospherics; Bill Herzog (Jesse Sykes & The Sweet Hereafter) keeping it all grounded with steady, mountainous bass work. You know you’re going to love this, man — like, it’s basically the Dead Man soundtrack on crack.
Tier 3: Four musicians who have proven themselves masters of contemporary extreme music apart and in previous collaborations get together in Japan to hash out a soundtrack commission received by O’Malley. The project, however, evolves into another beast entirely: a quartet experimenting together in the studio, their idiosyncratic tones combining into compositions of the most elemental variety. On “Painting On A Corpse,” our first taste of Ensemble Pearl’s self-titled album on Drag City, we hear isolated guitar leads swell and collide across spacious mixes, inhuman drones coaxed from sound sources we thought we knew so well, a rhythm section rattling out a perfectly ill-at-ease backdrop, maximum atmosphere yielding maximum results.
Pre-order Ensemble Pearl from Drag City. It will ship to your home on or around March 19th, and you will fall deep into it.
• Stephen O’Malley: http://www.ideologic.org
• Atsuo: http://fangsanalsatan.com
• Michio Kurihara: http://www.discogs.com/artist/Michio+Kurihara
• Bill Herzog: http://www.discogs.com/artist/Bill+Herzog?noanv=1
• Drag City: http://www.dragcity.com
James Rushford & Joe Talia
Do you wake up to join faceless commuters on the subway travelling to dead end jobs in the city and finish off your day in a damp house with a takeaway and a brown paper bag of alcohol? Then your life is a tragic cliche. And you could comfortably soundtrack it with Manhunter, a project by Australia’s James Rushford and Joe Talia. Album is out now on Graham Lambkin’s wonderful Kye imprint.
Various Artists: Lo-Fi by Default
Label Sampler Vol. 2
Collecting many of the great, glanced-over electronic musicians from around the world, this sampler by the L0-Fi by Default imprint really spans some serious distance. Coming from the middle of the US, Kansas, it’s the kind of release that keeps the coasts’ egos in check.
The $PL▲$H ¢LUB 7 track from the compilation, “MEGA_MALL_64” comes from that post-vaporwave (was it ever even there to begin with?) haze, dropping those 90’s drum sounds over a wall of muzak synth swirls. You can check it out below. It’s a perfect center point for the entire sampler, as each track either heads further out toward the airy, shoegaze side of things or drops heavier drums over the more trance-driven end of the spectrum.
Check out the entire Lo-Fi by Default sampler at the label’s Bandcamp page, and buy the entire thing for a terribly affordable price.
• Lo-Fi by Default: http://lofibydefault.bandcamp.com
Merzbow / Pandi / Gustafsson
“like me, like you” [excerpt]
In the green room: Balasz Pandi can’t see the label of the candle on the coffee table, but he thinks he recognizes the scent. He guesses it’s sage, maybe with something else, but he’s not about to lift his body out of the chair and move over there just to figure out what kind of candle it is. Mats Gustafsson wipes down his sax with a rag that a booking guy gave him. He imagines a world where musical instruments could get sick from bacteria and get diseases and develop little pustules like the baby in Eraserhead or something, and next thing you know you’re operating on your clarinet and it’s spraying foam and blood everywhere and totally wrecking your apartment. Merzbow scans the craft services table and finds nothing he can really trust. He opens Twitter on his phone and scans the Kafka Bot’s feed: 大きな城のありかをしめすかすかな灯りさえなかった. He tweets nothing.
On stage: You know what happens.
On March 6, RareNoise Records ships Cuts, a document of what audiences witnessed on the Merzbow/Gustafsson/Pandi ensemble’s tour in 2012 (on 2xLP & CD — MP3s available now). I imagine that listening at home with the volume cranked yields a similarly incredible experience: Merzbow & Gustafsson’s live electronics swirl beneath the din of their dueling sax and feedback leads, as Pandi shifts from cymbal abuse to jazzy snare work to blastbeats and back. Three maximized presences breaking eardrums and dropping jaws, not unlike another trio of multinational experimental all-stars.
Backstage after the show: Balasz picks up the candle before they head to the diner. It’s “Sage and Citrus.”