2008: Red Leaf Black Bird: “Flatland” and Infinity for Posterity

“Flatland” was a simple piece of lo-fi Americana by a defunct band called Red Leaf Black Bird, but for me, there was a strange abstract quality to its catch-all melancholy. It made me think about a concept that boggled my mathematically un-formed mind: the concept that one infinity can be greater than another. If my fellow simpletons want to be amazed, scandalized, and thrilled, I recommend reading the NY Times piece that inspired these misguided musings.

In“Flatland,” a girl, Kelly Nyland, sings about a landscape she’s left behind. In her sweetly grating drawl, we’re told of “four fucking seasons” that cannot compare to the majesty of the “sweet heat” she’s left behind. Or at least that’s how it seems. The song is not specific enough to be sentimental about that one place, and irrelevant to alternative experience. The line, “yeah, I’ve been thinking, thinking ‘bout drinking” and “when I go back home, remember being so stoned, a memory for every corner I passed” describes the way memory works for most people: it’s played like a record whenever certain triggers, like the needle, move across the deeply scored grooves of association. It accesses great depths, even as it moves between surface locations that seem arbitrarily related.

The concept of that much loved but bleak flatland illustrates the arbitrary nature of memory. Though places in memory may be flat and bleak, they’re treasured because the view from the present gives them perspective and depth. Which brings us back to those two infinities. To me, it seemed as if the bigger infinities that the article defines as the set of real numbers were those of fathomless depth and the smaller ones were integers representing the only reference points that we have along the surface of these depths. Metaphorically speaking, it’s as if we have an infinite index for the set of infinities… a phonebook for missed connections. I’m sure this math analogy is faulty, but its value to me was to make me think of memory as a paradox of flatness and depth. Memory is something we re-encounter in deep gulps, as we take a restless circuit of old, familiar places. Re-familiarization – not just de-familiarization – can be strange and haunting, as “Flatland” describes.

It seems that Red Leaf Black Bird never released their album except as a brief digital download, which I couldn’t afford then. I later bought a Trevor Montgomery album instead. Montgomery, with Angel Deradoorian of the Dirty Projectors and Kelly Nyland, was one of a collective of musicians who was making this music as a side project. Even though the tunes were new, they had the lost-penny feel of everyday objects being worked into a temporary shape by restless hands.

A blogger at the time made the spot-on association with the most structurally basic, most relentlessly simple blues – songs like “House of the Rising Sun,” songs of an element – like fire or a storm, constructed out of simple arpeggios. If you listen to some of Trevor Montgomery’s subsequent efforts you’ll hear more of that sound – but Red Leaf Black Bird, and Flatland in particular, is where the lyrics and music come together as if they were two vital co-ordinates pinpointing a dreary place, but a place where infinite depths are strangely accessible. Home, perhaps – or one of them.

1994: Bedhead - “Bedside Table”

About a year before I started University, I had a sort of musical obsession — I wanted to hear as many bands on the Touch & Go/Quarterstick roster as I could. Lucky for me, this wasn’t too difficult; one of the record stores I went to each week had a distribution deal with Touch & Go, which kept the store packed with cheap, interesting records to choose from. This was probably how I found a pair of Bedhead LPs in the store, several years after even the reissues had gone out of print. One day I bought both records with no expectations beyond some vague notion of this thing called “slowcore.” Listening to What Fun Life Was later that evening, I was floored. This unassuming and totally plain-looking record contained some of the most beautiful guitar music I’d ever heard.

However, the sequential pairing of “Bedside Table” and “The Unpredictable Landlord” made me suspicious of the whole “slowcore” thing. I remember thinking that, between “slowcore” and the band’s name, Bedhead might sound dreary, but these two tracks proved the opposite — the latter is a relatively upbeat, possibly even lively (albeit in a restrained sort of manner) track, and the former is a mixtape staple. Common to both is the guitar interplay of the brothers Matt and Bubba Kadane: whether hypnotically intertwined or melodically distinct, their shared guitar progressions always move forward instinctively. On “Bedside Table,” the song gradually progresses from a comfortable meander into a raucous outburst that crests with a cathartic moment of sustained feedback between both guitars; the progression is straightforward (quiet to loud), but the variation around it is refined and vaguely triumphant — in short, it’s easy to feel good about.

Bedhead could hardly be considered extroverted, but songs like “Bedside Table” displayed a refined and sharply focused style that was ever so slightly livelier than their name would suggest. Furthermore, the band’s understated nature makes much of their discography difficult to absorb quickly, which is why I find them worth listening to every year. But “Bedside Table” — that song instantly became a favorite, and it did so in such an unassuming manner. It’s easy to sometimes miss this kind of comforting subtlety.

1983: Angst - Angst 12”

For a while now, I’ve wanted to write about Angst — the oft forgotten SST post-punk band from Boulder, Colorado. 1986’s Mending Wall is my favorite album from them. It contains “(Some Things) I Can’t Get Used To” which was covered by Frank Black, who cited Angst as a major influence. It’s got some other great songs — “I’d Rather Sleep,” “127 Years,” “One by One.”

That seems to be the cliched music-crit culmination where a band becomes comfortable in their own skin for the first time. They find their sound. But isn’t it okay to really enjoy the records before a band finds its comfort zone? Hence, the debut 12 inch.

Angst’s core (brothers Joseph Pope and Jon E. Risk) had no punk scene in 1979 Colorado so they moved to England. With no success there, they moved to California, formed Angst, and started to get noticed. Urinals/100 Flowers bassist John Talley Jones offered to record them and put out their record on his DIY Happy Squid label. The debut would be re-released 3 years later in 1986 by SST.

“Neil Armstrong” is the bonafide classic from the debut. “Nancy,” about Nancy Reagan and oral copulation, is close behind. “Die Fighting,” “Pig,” and “We Only Rot” tackled typical punk tropes — anti-war, cops, death.

The record was released alongside Black Flag and the rest of the earliest traditional-hardcore SST catalog. While Angst’s lyrics and song lengths might have been similar, the sonic approach of the band really couldn’t be further away from the type of music found on those more-traditional early SST hardcore records. Instead, garage and psych influences are fairly transparent. These influences would be further drawn out in their later work, like Mending Wall, but I think it’s worth appreciating how they sounded before they fully realized what they wanted to be. The results are an improbably near-perfect drugged out country hardcore record with catchy hooks, hazy choruses, and clean chunky guitar tones.

1974: Creme Soda - “Keep It Heavy”

And so it was that in 1972, four affable dudes from Milwaukee started playing together as Creme Soda. They were inspired by “the sky, the clouds, the mountains, and the depth of beauty,” and also a love of West Coast psych-pop of the late 1960s. Two years later, they relocated to the sleepy town of Sturgeon Bay and recorded enough material for two 45s, which were released in quick succession on Trinity Records, a vanity enterprise devoted solely to releasing records by Creme Soda. Trinity had a cool eye-inside-a-triangle logo, and the next year, the label put out its third and final disc, a long player entitled Tricky Zingers. After that, Creme Soda disappeared off the face of this earth, never to be heard from again.

All of the tunes are good, especially “(I’m) Chewin’ Gum,” a wigged-out wad of bratty, rockabilly-copping proto-punk. But best of all is “Keep It Heavy,” with its spooky harmonies, colloquial mantra, and passively mindblowing lead break. Its got a time-warp quality to it, opening up some kind of eternal dudescape frequency that exists everywhere at once, and can be tuned in at will with the right mix of Old Milwaukee and Sturgeon Bay skunk. Creme Soda may be gone, but their imperative reaches through the ages, urging us to keep it heavy no matter the cost, and it’s nice to imagine that the world is a slightly heavier place for it.

2006: Warmer Milks - Radish on Light

Illness in music. Can music be sick? I don’t know of a better way to describe Warmer Milk’s debut LP Radish on Light than to say it caught something; something wrong, something awesomely wrong. The sickly feelings are present from the moment “In The Fields” stumbles on until the hum of the title track’s drone fades out. Instruments grasp in vain for moments of togetherness and they happen spontaneously but only for short periods of time before they collapse and permutate into another thing altogether. This is by all means a “jam” record, but not one to drop out to. The out of tune guitars coalescing, seemingly “off” in terms of tonality, play off one another like an evil Grateful Dead intent on giving their audience a terrible trip.

The “wrong” sound of Radish on Light is it’s most alluring quality. “The Shark” is downright nightmarish despite being the closest thing to a “normal” song on the album – it sounds like the musical equivalent of being chased by a madman. Micheal Turner’s deranged vocals aren’t going to dispel any discomfort you may feel while listening. Warmer Milks maintain their sickly sound throughout the album, with a very brief foray into 60s psychedelic rock meanderings in “Pentagram of Sores” before the droning monolithic title track finishes out the album.

For a group that released a wealth of spectacular material in a very short time span, Radish on Light was the nasty little album that should have been a breakthrough.

1994: Brutal Truth - “Collapse”

Known for being one of the quintessential grindcore bands, it’s easy to think that all Brutal Truth’s best songs are driven by blast-beats. Listening to their discography with more than mere curiosity, you’ll find that they were also masters of the slow path.

“Collapse” opens what many consider their most celebrated albums, Need to Control, and it’s a five-minute doom song that lurches with one riff for most of its duration, taking the approach of Godflesh and making an evil, destructive, and heavy song just as intense as their faster and shorter songs.

The term grindcore, according to Mick Harris (the former drummer of Napalm Death) comes from listening to Swans and describing their sound as “grinding;” marrying it with the speed of envelope-pushing hardcore bands like D.R.I., Deep Wound, and Siege. Swans are an undeniable influence on “Collapse,” as well as on many other dirges that raise a depraved head in those noted albums from Napalm to Discordance Axis to Nasum to Robocop. It’s a slow and scrapping sound that contrasts and complements the fast and furious stuff to make it more poignant.

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.