Thursday, November 11, 2021

Lake Geode

Today I released my first album as a solo artist, a set of instrumental guitar compositions that I wrote and recorded at home during the past year or so. Check out the music and read more about the project over at Bandcamp. If you like what you hear, please tell a friend!

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Death-metal dad rock

Carcass are a couple weeks away from putting out another excellent post-reunion album (hail Surgical Steel), and it was an honor and a pleasure to be able to talk to them about it for Rolling Stone.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Summer of Sonny

I almost couldn't believe it when I saw Sonny Sharrock featured so prominently in Questlove's new Summer of Soul doc. It's a phenomenal movie in general, but this was something I never expected. If only we could see the rest of the Herbie Mann set that this brief clip was drawn from!

It's a general guiding principle of mine that I take any/every opportunity to talk or write about Sonny. When I get right down to it, I think he is my single favorite musician of all time, the one whose soundworld resonates with me more than anyone else's. It's a bit heartbreaking to dwell on the fact that I'll never see him in the flesh, but new glimpses like this provide fresh inspiration. 

Here is my latest attempt to pay homage to his towering achievement, and to hopefully invite a few new listeners in. (And here's an older piece, specifically focused on Guitar, that touches on some of the same ideas.) As hard as his music hits me, year after year, his words, from the many archival interviews out there, carry nearly the same weight. 

Friday, May 07, 2021

Recently

Here is a new feature on the Descendents' upcoming album, which was recorded in 2002 and 2020, and features songs written between 1977 and 1980. It's kind of a convoluted saga, but I loved untangling it — and getting to speak with 3/4 of the Milo Goes to College lineup. 

Here is a review of the excellent new Bonnie "Prince" Billy / Matt Sweeney album, Superwolves, which I'm starting to think might be better than their first.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Recently

I spoke to all four members of Slint about Spiderland, which turns 30 this week. This album entered my bloodstream at the exact right time (I was maybe 16), and it's never lost its mystique or appeal. Every time I put it on, it's like stepping into another world. What a pleasure to talk to these guys, who still seem so utterly apart from any trend or movement. Forget "post-rock" or "math-rock" or what have you — Slint just went their own way.

I also wrote about the new albums by Pharoah Sanders and Archie Shepp, which are so different from each other but which I love equally.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Milford and Chick

Last week, just days apart, we lost a pair of masters, who, as many pointed out, worked together early in their career, before they became leaders in their respective areas of the jazz world.

Here is a new piece I wrote for Rolling Stone in tribute to Milford Graves. And here are a few writings on him from over the years: a live review of Graves with John Zorn and Steve Coleman at the Vanguard; a dual account of seeing him play the night before catching J. Read, one of my favorite metal drummers; and a reflection on an online Graves master class. And here is an interview I conducted with Milford at his home in 2015. I'm so grateful to have shared time and space with him on multiple occasions.

I haven't gone quite as deep with Chick Corea but I'm nevertheless a huge fan, from the Miles records, to Now He Sings (and the later ECM albums by that trio) to Return to Forever, the Herbie duo and beyond. Here is an obituary for Rolling Stone, as well as a new interview with Herbie Hancock on Chick's genius and benevolent spirit.

Friday, February 05, 2021

'Stay in Shape! Vol. 1'

My friend and fellow writer/musician Brad Farberman has put together this lovely and eclectic multi-artist comp for Bandcamp Friday, with proceeds going to the beloved Greenpoint bar/venue Troost. He was kind enough to invite me to be a part of it. I've been playing guitar (mostly at home) for around three years now, but my track here, "Magna Eye Sketch," represents the first example of that work that I've released into the world. Enjoy!

Monday, December 28, 2020

2020 in review

Here's a list of my top 10 favorite albums of 2020, all genres in play. An annotated version appears on Rolling Stone's aggregated round-up of staffer top 10s, a fun yearly tradition that I'm happy to be a part of.

1. Dezron Douglas and Brandee Younger, Force Majeure
2. AC/DC, Power Up
3. Kirk Windstein, Dream in Motion
4. Undeath, Lesions of a Different Kind
5. Alan Braufman, The Fire Still Burns
6. Bob Dylan, Rough and Rowdy Ways
7. Josh Johnson, Freedom Exercise
8. Gulch, Impenetrable Cerebral Fortress
9. Erica Freas, Young
10. Mr. Bungle, The Raging Wrath of the Easter Bunny Demo

My yearly all-genres-in-play top 10 lists dating back to 2005 can be found here.

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And here's a jazz-only new-releases list, as submitted to Francis Davis's annual critics poll — currently hosted by NPR Music — followed by my historical/reissue choices for the same poll. (Many of these records, plus quite a few more, are discussed in a year-end jazz survey I published recently via RS.) Note: I settled on this order after submitting the list above, and after I'd had a chance to do some further listening, which is why you'll find some inconsistencies re: the order (the Braufman trading places with the Douglas/Younger, for instance). There's no more inexact science than list-making — suffice to say, I enthusiastically recommend all above and below.

New Releases

1. Alan Braufman, The Fire Still Burns
2. Dezron Douglas and Brandee Younger, Force Majeure
3. Immanuel Wilkins, Omega
4. Josh Johnson, Freedom Exercise
5. Pat Metheny, From This Place
6. Chicago Underground Quartet, Good Days
7. Eric Revis, Slipknots Through a Looking Glass
8. Tony Allen and Hugh Masekela, Rejoice
9. Aquiles Navarro and Tcheser Holmes, Heritage of the Invisible II
10. Peter Evans, Being & Becoming

Reissues/historical

1. Sonny Rollins, Rollins in Holland
2. Rashied Ali and Frank Lowe, Duo Exchange: Complete Sessions
3. Charles Mingus, @ Bremen 1964 & 1975 

My yearly jazz-only top 10 lists dating back to 2008 can be found here.

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Of the albums I enjoyed this year that didn't make either list above, and weren't cited in the afore-linked RS jazz round-up, here's a few that made a particularly strong impression:

Coriky, Coriky
A quasi-continuation of Ian MacKaye and Amy Farina's Evens project, with the superb addition of Joe Lally on bass. Homespun folk-punk that feels both idiosyncratic and timeless.

Napalm Death, Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism
These guys impress me more with each release. Genuinely experimental, surprising and unclassifiable — not to mention ferocious — music from a band that could've long ago settled into coasting mode. For anyone who thinks they know what Napalm Death are about but hasn't checked in with them lately, this one just might be a revelation.

Bob Mould, Blue Hearts
Another artist who's somehow managed to retain the fire and the urgency that's propelled his best work for around 40 years. You hear a song like this and you know instantly that you're listening to Bob Mould; you also have no impulse whatsoever to swap it out for one of his earlier classics. This is the fifth Bob album in a row I've loved since I started following his solo career closely around the time of 2012's Silver Age.

Deftones, Ohms
I really fell hard for this band in 2020 after skirting around deep Deftones fandom for a few years. I now love pretty much every Deftones album, including the past few, and this one is absolutely earns its place in the core catalog.

Ulcerate, Stare Into Death and Be Still
Following an initial obsession, this one didn't stick with me throughout the year quite like I expected it to, but if you're in the right mood, it's a vast and imposing aural marvel. (Check out this endorsement from BangerTV vlogger Riley for a far more eloquent description than I could provide.)

Imperial Triumphant, Alphaville
A spectacularly bizarre statement from a band committed to obliterating genre divisions. Hit play and revel in the madness. 

Wayne Horvitz and Sara Schoenbeck, Cell Walk
Duo poetry for piano and bassoon. Wrote this one up for RS' "Albums You Might Have Missed in 2020" list.

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Some pop songs and other singles I liked a lot this year:

Phoebe Bridgers, "Kyoto"
Morgan Wallen, "More Than My Hometown"
Miley Cyrus, "Midnight Sky"
The Weeknd, "Blinding Lights"
Cardi B feat. Megan Thee Stallion, "WAP"
Ozzy Osbourne, "Ordinary Man"
The Kid Laroi feat. Lil Mosey, "Wrong"

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And for helping to keep me sane during this most unusual of years, special thanks to: the back catalogs of Crowbar, AC/DC, Marvin Gaye, Alice Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Charles Tolliver, Khruangbin, ALL and the Dead; the individuals or teams behind the Heavy Hole, Washed Up Emo, Turned Out a Punk, WTF, Crash Bang Boom, Let There Be Talk, You Don't Know Mojack and Kreative Kontrol podcasts; Wayne Tucker & Co., who performed regularly in Grand Army Plaza this summer/fall; the Village Vanguard and Clutch livestreams; this version of Fleetwood Mac playing "I'm So Afraid" live in 1976; anyone/everyone involved in Curb Your Enthusiasm; the La Croix "NiCola" varietal; my friends/collaborators Julian Bennett Holmes and John Atkinson, who masterminded a life-saving outdoor music series in Red Hook during the warm months of 2020; and the Good Steely Dan Takes Twitter account.

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So long, Neil, McCoy, Gary, Leslie, Henry, Lee, Stanley, Riley, Jimmy, Eddie, Tony, Hal and so many others.

Monday, November 09, 2020

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Irreducible: Colossamite live (finally)

I've been on an Alice Coltrane kick lately (working my way through the Impulses right now) and also going back through some of the late Coltrane material from when Alice was in the band (Stellar Regions, Expression, etc.). It occurred to me — esp. given how much great footage there is out there of the classic quartet — what a huge loss it is that there's no high-quality extended footage of that final group with Alice, Pharoah, Jimmy Garrison and Rashied Ali. (This brief and fragmentary footage from Newport '66 is all we've got, as far as I know.)

The truth is that, in the YouTube era, we as fans are incredibly spoiled, in that we can dial up pretty much whatever we want at any moment, whether it's the Cecil Taylor Unit live in Paris in 1969, or Zeppelin live at a tiny teen club in Denmark that same year. It's incalculable how much this circumstance has enriched my musical understanding in the past 10 years or so, giving me the chance to lay eyes on countless bands — from Last Exit to '84 Black Flag, the Stanier-Bogdan-era Helmet lineup and Sabbath in their absolute prime — that whether due to age, geography or circumstance, I never got to see in person.

That collective archive extends about as far into the underground as you want to go — all the way to, say, a 1996 Karate show in my hometown of KC, where I was one of maybe 30 people in the audience. But somehow some bands seem to have slipped through the cracks, and for the longest time, it seemed like Colossamite was one of those. If you've heard of them at all, chances are you're about as obsessed as I am; if not, you're in the great majority. Though they put out two mind-searing releases on the great and relatively visible Skin Graft label in the late '90s — All Lingo's Clamor and Economy of Motion — they're barely remembered these days, even among those who might be die-hard fans of prior or later bands involving some of the same musicians (Dazzling Killmen, Deerhoof, etc.). 

Among a few friends and me, these records quickly became legendary for their combination of the calculated fury of bands like the Killmen and craw with the chaotic blurt of free improvisation and hints of esoteric and offbeat humor. In short, in my eyes, this was some of the most challenging, original and inspired music of its time. But the band sort of came and went and I never found myself near any of their performances during their too-brief lifespan.

All throughout the YouTube era, as the fossil record, so to speak, grew more and more comprehensive, I kept waiting for the day when some Colossamite footage might surface. When I had the pleasure of interviewing Colossamite guitar masterminds John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez — who first came on my radar via their participation in this band and then went on to well-deserved renown as members of Deerhoof — for my Heavy Metal Bebop series in 2012, we talked at length about Colossamite (see here and here), and Ed mentioned to me that he knew of a single show that had been recorded, and that he thought he might have a VHS copy stashed away somewhere. Well, apparently the person who filmed that gig recently dug it up and deemed it worthy of posting because — as Ed has just informed me in an email — it's now sitting there on YouTube for all to see. 

 

As I type this, I'm only about halfway through it but I wanted to take a second to document that feeling of joy and enrichment that comes with laying eyes on something you truly never thought you'd see, of witnessing a band in performance that you assumed you'd only ever hear. I tell you, friends, it's as awesome as I could have ever hoped for. Considering the vintage, the quality is excellent and, though John is sadly out of frame for a lot of it, the video really clues you in to what a fearsome organism this band truly was. 

Being a drummer myself, and having had the good fortune to see Colossamite vocalist-guitarist Nick Sakes play many times in later years in the outstanding bands Sicbay and Xaddax and guitarists Dieterich and Rodriguez play together in the mighty Deerhoof and separately in a handful of projects, a major focus for me watching this is the drummer, Chad Popple. Chad has been (at least to me) a bit of a shadowy figure in the years since Colossamite ended. From what I understand, he's been living in Europe since that time, and though he's been active this whole time in various experimental/uncategorizable contexts (including the great and underrated Gorge Trio with Dieterich and Rodrigez), he's been a bit harder to keep tabs on than his ex-Colossamite bandmates. Anyway, my first exposure to the Colossamite records came before I really had a grasp of the free-jazz/free-improv continuum but over the years, especially as I heard drummers like Han Bennink, Tony Oxley and Paul Lovens, it started to become clearer to me how ingenious Popple's style really was: the way he combined the startling aggression of the best post-hardcore and metal drummers of the '90s with a turbulent flow that seemed to have more in common with the Euro improv greats mentioned above or, say, Drumbo circa Lick My Decals Off, Baby. (Regarding the latter quality, it's interesting to note that my old friend Kevin Shea seems to have been thinking along similar lines around the same time, as heard in Storm and Stress and, later, Coptic Light.)

Anyway, all of these qualities discussed above, namely both Popple's terrifying force and precision and his warped, destabilizing eccentricity, are on full display in this video. And all of it is also evident in the entire band. From what I can tell, the material comes mostly from Economy of Motion, so we get the diseased lurch of "Mr. Somebody Does Something" along with the surrealist spoken word of "The Eagle and the Seal" and the tense build of "Arkansas Halo." (Listening further, I'm thrilled to hear "No Entran Moscas" from All Lingo's, with its endlessly unspooling chorus riff.) It's such a pleasure to watch the band tear into every aspect of this material, absolutely raging through the loud moments and relishing the wobble and fragility of the freer passages, and then smiling and joking nonchalantly between songs. 

I love how willing Colossamite were to send their audience mixed signals, never aligning themselves with any subset of metal or post-hardcore or the conventions of free improv or of more well-established avant-rock practices. They were just a thrillingly weird band that honed a beautifully organic writing style that implored the listener at every second to buckle up for what might be coming next. In my own mind, they certainly helped to redefine what a "band" could be, and helped to further drive home the idea that some of the music that would hit me the hardest and stick with me the longest would be the most personal, the least relatable to known styles or pursuits, but at the same time, the most carefully and meticulously engineered. I'm reminded a bit here of something that Dazzling Killmen bassist Darin Gray said to me when looking back on first encountering craw in the early '90s:

[From a 2015 Noisey interview; emphasis mine]

"…I think probably at the time, live, [craw] was the most unique band I had ever heard. There really isn't another band like craw. They're a completely unique entity. And I remember just thinking, like, 'Wow, someone has worked as hard as we have on a completely different thing.' It wasn't that craw sounded anything like Dazzling Killmen, and quite the contrary, really nothing like it. I could tell, I could hear that they had honed it and worked on it to the highest level. And at the time, there weren't a whole lot of bands out there touring that were like that, that had honed something to that high of a level. … The only reason I felt that they did hone their craft the way they did was because they felt they had to; they felt compelled to be great. And to be the best they could be. And for no other reason. There was no gain. There was absolutely nothing to gain, and I could tell they knew that." 

I feel the same things watching this, and am reminded why I was so drawn to this area of music — whatever you want to call it — in my youth and still am now. There was a compulsion to be great coupled with, not a desire to alienate any potential audience exactly, but a distinct refusal to pander to one either, to put up familiar signposts of genre that might orient a casual listener. If you were dealing with this music, either on record as I was, or in a tiny venue, as was the case for these lucky attendees at this Knoxville, TN, Colossamite gig more than 20 years ago, you were dealing with it full-on. That, to me, is one of the great pleasures of underground music — that you might be standing in a room with, say, 15 other people and — as the idle drift of a pre-gig lull snaps suddenly into the crush and overstimulation of the show itself — suddenly have your consciousness forever altered by some shockingly powerful and carefully honed statement. 

I love bigger shows; I love more universal and relatable aesthetics (in addition to the Coltranes, I've been listening to a ton of late '70s and early '80s AC/DC lately); but I will always hold a special place in my heart for a band like Colossamite, who developed and refined such a personal language among themselves that it's essentially irreducible and incomparable to anything other than itself. As it is on the records, that achievement is frozen in time on this live video, and I'm thrilled that even after all this time, it still feels utterly alien, invigorating, and alive.