Put on Mark McGuire if you’re tryna go on a journey — call it a t r i p, even — without leaving the comfort of your living room listening zone. If the former Emeralds guitarist and prolific solo shredder’s music doesn’t evoke mental images of cruising across a halogen-flecked skyline and/or a secret waterfall grotto on its own, peep the titles of some of his early gems: Off In The Distance, High Above The City, Amethyst Waves. Though McGuire builds his sessions on the recursions of live-performed guitar loops, his solo work possesses an acute sense of structure and upward development that fits his topographical nomenclature — far removed from the static “base-loop-and-leads” template employed by an infinite roster of post-Göttsching ambient/drone acolytes. If his last full-length album saw him Get[ting] Lost in technicolor guitar textures, integrating guitar-synth and vocals into his work to a greater degree, his upcoming album finds him Along The Way to a new style of multi-instrumental composition.
We heard a beautiful smidgen of Along The Way back in May, before the album was picked up for release by Dead Oceans (!) — and we’ve heard first single “The Instinct” in various forms before (remember this 12-inch version, or this original snippet from 2010?). In its final form below, the track stretches out into almost twelve minutes of slow-burning guitar loopery, accumulating layers of upper-register melody and distortion-fried lead phrases into an urgent chord progression. The onset of drum programming, synth bass, and keyboards breaks the session away from the guitar-only jams of McGuire’s previous output, but the instrumental additions heighten and complicate the track’s dramatic trajectory. Alongside these new frills, McGuire’s guitar still serves as the primary means of taking you there — even if this journey encompasses zones a tad more terrestrial than previous forays.
Along The Way lands on February 4, 2014. You can find more intel on the release here.
Ska is underrepresented here in Chocolate Grinder, and that’s a shame. Something about ska’s combination of brass, bass, and punk-rock sass always sets my heart a’ flutter — perhaps it’s the aural evocation of summertime bacchanals, or more likely, all them middle school flashbacks (Less than Jake, anyone?). Mustard Plug are veritable ska vets, getting crowds skanking since ‘91, and they’re getting ready to release Can’t Contain It their seventh full-length. “White Noise” is the lead single off their new LP (out January 14 on No Idea Records), and if your reaction is anything like mine, you’ll probably find yourself unable to keep from doing the pogo. A slice of hooky, no-nonsense ska-pop, “White Noise” maintains the Michigan band’s M.O. of simple, sleazy fun. The trumpets! The sawtoothed riffs! All it needs is a guy in a checkerboard patterned suit, wielding a trumpet like it’s a Smith & Wesson. Fire away, fellas!
Ever since her 1999 debut album Pure Gaze, Olivia Block has been exploring the surprisingly ephemeral sonic differences between field recordings, chamber music, and electroacoustic improvisation. With each successive release, Block’s disparate sound sources have grown more and more synthesized into a coherent unified whole. Like Michael Pisaro’s fields have ears series, Block’s compositions seek to highlight the inherent musical qualities of the natural world. But where Pisaro’s work often does this through the use of space and the juxtaposition of pure tones with field recordings, Block’s music instead plays with idiomatic instrumental technique and an extreme integration of sound worlds to create totally new acoustic spaces.
In this way, the sources of Block’s sounds often become indistinguishable/inconsequential as they imperceptibly bleed together. On Karren, Block has created two long pieces that blur her sound sources in elegant ways that show the natural evolution of her work. On “Foramen Magnum,” Block weaves the tuning of an orchestra into a mysterious collage where the natural world collides with heavily processed versions of itself.
On the other hand, “Opening Night” begins with a near Ligeti-esque cloud of voluminous harmonies that eventually gives way to clicks and clacks that seem to come from within the ensemble itself, but gradually transform into something that sounds natural yet completely alien and warped. Both pieces serve to illustrate that Block is still creating some of the best amalgams of space/sound out there.
Karren is out now via Sedimental Records. You can stream (fyi) excerpts from the record above via Block’s soundcloud.
Hakobune / M. Sage
Put Hakobune (Japan’s Takahiro Yorifuji) and M. Sage (Fort Collins, CO’s Matthew Sage), two prolific heroes of the ambient underground, on the same cassette tape, and watch the ripples spread out from its point of entry into our lives: true heads in different time zones scramble to snag one of the 50 physical copies; laptops plug into AUX 1/8 inch cables and fill rooms on both sides of the Pacific with the Bandcamp stream; music writers grope through mental rolodexes of nature metaphors to appropriately encapsulate the tones pouring out of these guitars (“glistening flecks of morning dew,” “underwater cherry blossoms”). Yes, Yorifuji and Sage produce aural meditations so hushed and minimal, often so barely perceptible at low volumes, that figurative language may seem like the only means by which to discuss their output — but defaulting to an evocation of “the shards of light still left behind the clouds at sunset” cheapens the stunning level of detail each artist achieves in his ambient opuses.
Turn up your speakers and live inside these sounds for a while. As always, Hakobune turns in extended sessions of guitar drenched in enough delay and reverb to transform six strings into a heavenly would-be synth, cycling through slow harmonic passages that appear as afterthoughts to the ghost trails of notes plucked minutes before. Scope out the undulating spectrogram in the YouTube stream below and follow along as his tones blanket the stereophonic spread, filling the highs, lows, and mids with that signature Hakobune quaver of which I, for one, will never grow tired. M. Sage’s half of the split journeys into slightly more legible territory, led by hi-fidelity swells and yearning leads from his guitar, set above pulsing bass tones and a patina of lingering static. His three-part “Lashing Canyon” suite finds room for piano, lush synth work, even a tender banjo interlude, each voice laying its grain into the delicate atmosphere before splintering into the washed-out ecstasy of the climax in “Pt. 3.”
As I write this now, copies of the Hakobune / M. Sage split are still available from Sage’s own label, Patient Sounds — though there’s no telling what’ll happen by the time this piece runs (copies will also probably show up at Meditations soon). If you miss the tangible object, you can always find solace in the disembodied eternity of the digital.
BBC Radio 1Xtra Hip Hop Takeover Mix
The tracklist speaks for itself:
The Troubleneck Brothers - “Back to the Hip Hop” (Instrumental)
Stetsasonic - “Go Stetsa I”
Myra Barnes & James Brown - “Message from the Soul Sisters (pt. 1)”
Above the Law - “Freedom of Speech”
The Notorious B.I.G. - “Party & Bulls***” (Ratatat Remix)
Tropkillaz - “Listen to the Bass” (Z-Trip’s Mantronix Remix)
Brillz & Z-Trip - “808 in the Trunk”
Clipse - “Grindin’” (Rumiez Twerk Remix - Z-Trip Re-Twerk)
Roni Size - “Who Told You”
Too $hort - “Blow the Whistle (Instrumental)”
Spoonie Gee - “Spoonie is Back”
Ice Cube - “Jackin’ 4 Beats”
Tim Smooth - “Jackin’ fa Beats”
Talib Kweli & Z-Trip - “So Fresh”
Herbie Hancock - “Rockit” (Chali 2na Freestyle)
Jimi Hendrix & Method Man & Busta Rhymes - “What’s Happenin’ / Crosstown Traffic”
Memphis Black - “Hey Joe”
King Fantastic - “Lost Art of Killing (ACA)”
dead prez - “Bigger Than Hip Hop”
Stevie Stone - “The Reason (Acapella) (feat. Spaide Ripper)”
Run the Jewels - “Get It” (Z-Trip Remix)
LL Cool J - “The Do Wop”
LL Cool J - “I’m Bad” (Z-Trip Remix)
Danny Drive Thru - “Virtua Rap”
Que Billah - “Colors” (feat. The Cool Kids)
Ice-T - “Colors”
Cristo - “Ice T Please”
Hardnoise - “Untitled (ACA)”
De La Soul - “Tryin’ People”
All I’ll add: anyone who appreciates the usually unacknowledged De La Soul classic “Tryin’ People” as much as I do is alright in my book. Stream Z-Trip’s 45-minute BBC Radio 1Xtra Hip Hop Takeover Mix below.
• Z-Trip: http://djztrip.com