2005: The Magik Markers - Feel The Crayon

Numerous burgeoning post-punks have thrown around the "No Wave" tag to describe their despondent experimentation, but often the implications seem to point to some of the more accessible acts that made waves around the mini-movement's waning days (for example, UT and many great, yet much more restrained post-Pop Group projects like Maximum Joy and Rip Rig & Panic; even the unclassifiable individualism of post-funk/disco geniuses like Liquid Liquid and ESG sometimes gets lumped in with the No Wave explosion). While No Wave is, to this day, open to interpretation, the promise of a band able to own up to the polarizing nihilism of the sub-genre's most unruly spawns (i.e., Lydia Lunch, Mars, DNA) feels like wishful thinking when any troop with a Sonic Youth-influence purports to deliver some non-existent sequel to No New York.

Well, The Magik Markers are it, folks. If any modern No Wave band has slithered, spewed, and thrashed its bile on the faces of a totally blindsided rock 'n' roll nation with such gorgeous gusto, it's this trio of noise-mongers. It's hard to know where to begin when describing what the Markers do. Maybe it's that Elisa Ambrogio forgoes the "no chords" rule a young Jad Fair set forth with and doesn't even bother playing notes, or that (former) member Leah Quimby's battalion of atonal bass thumps sound more like the apocalypse personified than anything resembling music, or that Pete Nolan's drumming recalls a potential murder victim scurrying away from their axe-wielding killers in an infinite loop. They're one of those bands that has to be heard or seen to be believed, and love them or hate them, they're guaranteed to get a reaction.

On that note, it took a few times seeing the band live before I could even conceive an opinion: were they the greatest living, breathing musicians in the universe, or was it all simply wretched nonsense laughing at all the fools who have just been had? Live, the band is potentially both at once, and across a CD-R/vinyl catalog to last a good box set or two, releases like Feel The Crayon proved the studio was the only thing that could reign in these three for a bit and establish some type of context for critical conclusions to be drawn.

While not as powerful as this year's factory-pressed CD or the sadly out-of-print vinyl opus I Trust My Guitar, Etc., Feel The Crayon is pretty factual proof (to noise-rock and No Wave fiends, anyway) that the Markers are not to be taken for granted. In a poorly-recorded environment, a terrifying claustrophobic tension is added to the Markers' dissonance. Ambrogio's tirades, recalling perhaps Mark E. Smith as a schizophrenic street preacher, feel all the more like she's purging herself of bona fide demons (nowhere better than on "Just A Child") while the Quimby/Nolan forcefield has the swagger of an oubliette's house band. And what's most successful about Crayon is that it aptly argues for the Markers as more than a trio of pranksters having a go at stuffy music folks, if the dynamics of a track like "Creaking Jesus" are anything to go by.

But what one realizes somewhere down the line while listening to Crayon is that the Markers are so special because they honestly seem to not give a shit. If they don't have much "talent" by the length virtuosos measure, then so fucking what? Didn't punk rock set out to obliterate all these notions of "talent" corresponding to great music? Such visceral noise, regardless of musical abilities, has its own special power. And dicking around is certainly not something to accuse the Markers of; their caterwauling has the urgency of their life depending on every shard of feedback reverberating as powerfully as allowable. And honestly, if No Wave was a reaction against punk becoming too conservative, what better time for a band like the Markers than during the commodification of every possible underground musical movement? Rock 'n' roll is becoming more and more lifeless with every passing month, which is why we need bands like the Magik Markers more than ever.

1. White Bikini
2. My Sweet
3. Hero For Our Times Pt. 1
4. Hero For Our Times Pt. 2
5. Creaking Jesus
6. Just A Child
7. Fuck You

1998: Edgard Varèse - Edgard Varèse: The Complete Works

Edgard Varèse once said, "I refuse to submit to sounds that have already been heard." Asserted early in his musical career, this bold statement anticipates the narrative of Varèse's musical life, eleven words that would come to haunt and drive his musical ambitions. The musical world, however, was not ready for such iconoclastic ambition. In 1923, Varèse wrote "Hyperprism," a daring composition making use of new musical instruments with an emphasis on percussion -- it caused a riot. Years later, Varèse wrote "Ionisation," another percussion-heavy composition declaring to the world the siren is just as viable a musical instrument as the piano.

Varèse eventually began yearning for more and announced this desire in written-form with his manifesto, "The Liberation of Sound." In the manifesto, Varèse dreamt of "liberation from the arbitrary paralyzing tempered system." Demanding an unlimited palette of sounds, infinite numbers of scales, high and low registers virtually impossible to attain, he believed composers were still "obsessed" by traditions only serving to limit the composer. In short, Varèse wanted something technology at the time could not provide him.

Throughout the rest of his life, Varèse would pursue sounds he felt were indicative of liberation. It was not until the age of 71 (after a period of stagnation in composing and failed attempts at setting up an electronic music research lab with Bell Telephone) that Varèse really began to get the ball rolling, mainly due to technological advancements occurring in France and Germany around WWII, specifically, the magnetic tape. After composing a collage of taped sounds called "Déserts" (which, like past work, produced an angry reaction at its premiere), Varèse finally had technology that could generate the sounds he sought and allowed him to write his masterpiece: "Poème électronique."

Unlike earlier compositions mentioned, "Poème électronique" is entirely electronic. Starting with a sonic explosion, the track continues arrhythmically and atonally, using various sound textures and sound sources. Varèse masterfully blends electronically-generated sounds and pre-recorded noise from real life (singing, trains, snare drum, etc), superimposing disparate elements that confound rather than comfort, creating a dizzying, ambiguous array of noises exploring stark dynamic shifts and defying expectations. The listener is unable to predict any element of the music and fails to reach an emotional connection with its emphasis on atonality and unpredictability.

The music alone isn't enough to fully appreciate its significance in the history of music. Written for a 1958 exhibition at the Brussels World Fair, "Poème électronique" not only eschews tonality, harmony, and melody (a battle fought by early modernists, such as Schoenberg and Webern), but also deconstructs rhythm and sonority, elements that the second phase of modernists fought against. The result is a complete annihilation of the traditional forms he attacked early on with his precocious manifesto. Like the Abstract Expressionists in visual art, Varèse abstracted music in a manner resulting in a whole new level of communication, mounting a battle against all previous musical forms and musical archetypes with the nearly limitless possibilities of electronically-generated music.

Sadly, Varèse's "Poème électronique" turned out to be his swan song. Although he intended to "make up for lost time" with the recent technological advancements, Varèse died on November 6th, 1965. Luckily Varèse's work was given much needed reappraisal in 1998, when London released Edgard Varèse: The Complete Works. Performed by the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, the Asko Ensemble, and director Riccardo Chailly, and assembled with the assistance of Chou Wen-Chung (who worked with Varèse), Varèse's complete discography fits wonderfully on two quality discs. Anyone interested in modern electronic music would be hard pressed not to seek out this release. Edgard Varèse is the undisputed father of electronic music, and it's about time everyone found out why.

2003: Ricky Skaggs - The Three Pickers (with Earl Scruggs and Doc Watson)

Ricky Skaggs once told the joke:

"How many Bluegrass musicians does it take to change a light bulb? Four. One to change the light bulb and three to complain that light bulbs are electric."

In many ways, such a joke defines bluegrass music. It's a genre that mingles spectacular banjo rushes with voices and rhythms that seem as old as Appalachia. Though Bluegrass extracts elements of Irish and Scottish folk music, the finger picking styles and lyrical tales of America's mountains and rivers reflect a craft that's uniquely American.

On The Three Pickers, three of American music's greats appear together for one legendary performance in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, and Ricky Skaggs sound both stoic and gentle, playing a combination of original works and traditional American folk songs. While introducing the poignant "Who Will Sing for Me?", Ricky Skaggs, the youngest member of the trio (by several decades), recounts the boyhood years he spent listening to his stage-mates on the radio. This notion of mutual admiration and friendship is a recurrent theme throughout the recording; and while the "Divas" concerts of recent years showcased the vocal duels of pop stars, the Three Pickers seamlessly meld their melodies, with the picking talents of each man equally well dispersed and showcased with Skaggs' flexibly switching from mandolin to guitar and banjoon, Earl's trademark banjo, and Doc's flat-pick guitar.

In addition to performing as a trio, a number of distinguished guests are invited to the stage. Doc Watson and grandson Richard flat pick two traditional folk numbers, "Walk On Boy" and "Daybreak Blues." Later, Earl Scruggs is joined by his son Gary to perform the exhilarating banjo technique he invented as a member of Bill Monroe's band in the 1940s. The contrast between Doc and Earl's approaches to Bluegrass is clear, yet they serve to illustrate the profound and diverse contributions each has made to American music. In spectacular fashion, Kentucky Thunder emerges to the stage to accompany Ricky Skaggs in a roaring rendition of "Ridin' That Midnight Train." Alison Krauss also joins the pickers for three numbers, including the noir standard "The Banks of the Ohio."

Despite their distinguished accompanists, the Three Pickers are at their best when they alone occupy the stage. Their shared presence evokes an air of genuine American heritage. While their voices are flatter now than in the past, their fingers are still able to lead the way. The album's strongest effort, "Who Will Sing For Me?", is a confluence of an old man's lamenting wonders and merry picking rhythms. It's difficult not to shake the feeling that these men are challenging us to maintain the tradition they all but created.

Although it's clear that a healthy and supportive crowd is on hand, the trio evokes the feel of a small mountain promenade. Skaggs, who handles the majority of the on-stage banter, creates an intimate setting that lures both the crowd and remote listener to his side. Contrary to the wild banjo picking that awes even the most passive bluegrass listener, this collection contains mostly slower, soulful tunes. The Three Pickers should not be regarded as a capstone event for Bluegrass Music because these three men do nothing to demand a spotlight. This is a recording of three masters, or better yet, three friends who love to share the subtlety of their craft with an audience and each other.

2003: Doc Watson - The Three Pickers (with Ricky Skaggs and Earl Scruggs)

Ricky Skaggs once told the joke:

"How many Bluegrass musicians does it take to change a light bulb? Four. One to change the light bulb and three to complain that light bulbs are electric."

In many ways, such a joke defines bluegrass music. It's a genre that mingles spectacular banjo rushes with voices and rhythms that seem as old as Appalachia. Though Bluegrass extracts elements of Irish and Scottish folk music, the finger picking styles and lyrical tales of America's mountains and rivers reflect a craft that's uniquely American.

On The Three Pickers, three of American music's greats appear together for one legendary performance in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Doc Watson, Earl Scruggs, and Ricky Skaggs sound both stoic and gentle, playing a combination of original works and traditional American folk songs. While introducing the poignant "Who Will Sing for Me?", Ricky Skaggs, the youngest member of the trio (by several decades), recounts the boyhood years he spent listening to his stage-mates on the radio. This notion of mutual admiration and friendship is a recurrent theme throughout the recording; and while the "Divas" concerts of recent years showcased the vocal duels of pop stars, the Three Pickers seamlessly meld their melodies, with the picking talents of each man equally well dispersed and showcased with Skaggs' flexibly switching from mandolin to guitar and banjoon, Earl's trademark banjo, and Doc's flat-pick guitar.

In addition to performing as a trio, a number of distinguished guests are invited to the stage. Doc Watson and grandson Richard flat pick two traditional folk numbers, "Walk On Boy" and "Daybreak Blues." Later, Earl Scruggs is joined by his son Gary to perform the exhilarating banjo technique he invented as a member of Bill Monroe's band in the 1940s. The contrast between Doc and Earl's approaches to Bluegrass is clear, yet they serve to illustrate the profound and diverse contributions each has made to American music. In spectacular fashion, Kentucky Thunder emerges to the stage to accompany Ricky Skaggs in a roaring rendition of "Ridin' That Midnight Train." Alison Krauss also joins the pickers for three numbers, including the noir standard "The Banks of the Ohio."

Despite their distinguished accompanists, the Three Pickers are at their best when they alone occupy the stage. Their shared presence evokes an air of genuine American heritage. While their voices are flatter now than in the past, their fingers are still able to lead the way. The album's strongest effort, "Who Will Sing For Me?", is a confluence of an old man's lamenting wonders and merry picking rhythms. It's difficult not to shake the feeling that these men are challenging us to maintain the tradition they all but created.

Although it's clear that a healthy and supportive crowd is on hand, the trio evokes the feel of a small mountain promenade. Skaggs, who handles the majority of the on-stage banter, creates an intimate setting that lures both the crowd and remote listener to his side. Contrary to the wild banjo picking that awes even the most passive bluegrass listener, this collection contains mostly slower, soulful tunes. The Three Pickers should not be regarded as a capstone event for Bluegrass Music because these three men do nothing to demand a spotlight. This is a recording of three masters, or better yet, three friends who love to share the subtlety of their craft with an audience and each other.

There's a lot of good music out there, and it's not all being released this year. With DeLorean, we aim to rediscover overlooked artists and genres, to listen to music historically and contextually, to underscore the fluidity of music. While we will cover reissues here, our focus will be on music that's not being pushed by a PR firm.