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Deep Voices #67
a bulwark against collapse
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The first two and last two songs on this edition of Deep Voices are new music and so, so good—ALL HANDS_MAKE LIGHT, J. Albert and Will August Park, Strategy, and Anthony Naples. In between is almost all ’90s songs (and the Roxy Music cover by Scribble feels like it could be). I didn’t do that on purpose! But that era feels very timeless right now. The track by Color Filter, “Children of Summer,” feels like the kind of song Timothée Chalamet would have loved as a three year old and could easily be in a montage scene in one of his movies. Timeless! Just like Two Lone Swordsmen, who I love. I think I found the best Sentridoh song. The John Lurie track from his show “Fishing With John” is brief and shockingly moving. Sun Electric is IDM meets downtempo. Slinky, sexy music for slinky, sexy people. My readers!
Forgive my dourness below about ALL HANDS_MAKE LIGHT, I swear I love the song. Sometimes a little hopelessness allows you to enjoy reality!
If you’ve not heard Godspeed! You Black Emperor, they are a Canadian collective, a rock orchestra of sorts, playing long, swaying pieces of string-accented indie rock with big swells of emotion. Their music, long instrumental pieces, is occasionally accompanied by audio samples of anti-government rants. They often perform live in front of scratchy film projections, one in particular of just the word “hope.” The aesthetic was very Diane Arbus meets Allen Ginsberg, grim and totally done with the world—if finding beauty in the darkness almost against their will. As a teenager, I fell for them hard. I read about them in the New York Times of all places, in 1999, when I was newly 17. Jon Pareles reviewed their show with Labradford. “Each band constructed patterns as a bulwark against collapse,” he wrote, “sounding as if it knew all along that the effort was in vain.” I clipped the review out of the paper. I still have it.
Listening to them now, they feel very pre-social media. That level of earnestness feels impossible for me to imagine as successful now. Perhaps that’s because my own level of earnestness has, if not eroded, complicated. Hope doesn’t seem like the best thing to hold on to at this point. But I have remained a fan. Trent Reznor brought them on tour as openers ten years ago and giving them an arena as a backdrop was the right size scale. Obama-era hope suited them. But it is definitely no longer that era.
So I was interested to listen to the new album from Godspeed’s principle member Efrim Manuel Menuck’s duo project with singer Ariel Engle, ALL HANDS_MAKE LIGHT. Menuck is in his early 50s, having lived half a lifetime with Godspeed as his main vehicle. Would he go small scale?
Well, yes and no. I mean, it’s called ALL HANDS_MAKE LIGHT. All caps, plus an underscore. The album is called “Darling The Dawn,” including the quotation marks. That’s a lot of punctuation. The fussiness doesn’t extend to the music, which is ambitious in scope but comprehensible in scale. It’s a psych rock album, really, with fuzzed out guitar and vocals. There’s repetition and hooks. It could be the kind of thing you’ve heard before. But it’s not. Menuck has an irrepressible grandiosity of spirit. When there are less moving parts, there’s more space for each to breathe. I particularly love the song “The Sons of Daughters of Poor Eternal,” which clocks in at nine and a half minutes, but breezes by. Dialed back, each element of the song glows. Much the track’s relative swiftness is credit to Engle, whose tone is gentle, wondering. She makes a great guide to the churning synths, the angry organ. Honestly, you barely notice it’s been five minutes before the drums even kick in. And when they do, it’s awesome. It’s an ambitious song, big, yes, but not indulgent. It’s nine minutes of reading a book, not nine minutes of careening down the highway. It is not nine minutes of hope, that’s for sure. It’s reality music. As you age, hope becomes unsustainable. I don’t mean that it can’t be part of your emotional bag of tricks, but as a mantra it’s too unreliable.
What’s on the other side of hope? Need? In terms of Menuck’s music, cutting to the bone makes efficient music. I like the lack of trimmings. Hope is nice if you can get it, exhausting if you can’t. Who’s got time for hope these days? Having once felt hopeful is like having once been in a relationship that soured. Pick up the pieces and move on. “Pieces began as something fragile and eerie, then skirted the pompous kitsch of art-rock, then came through the other side to seem bleak and weathered, as if every triumphal climax had turned to ashes,” Pareles wrote in his 1999 review. “The music was galvanizing and then disillusioning in a perpetual cycle.” That cycle is over. What we’ve got here is just ashes.
I have to say thank you to the wonderful Philip Sherburne and his fantasticSubstack for the recommendation of Flat Earth, an EP by J. Albert and Will August Park. To continue with the EP’s geographic theme, it’s an album which sounds very much out of the “fourth world,” the groovy post-ambient subgenre pioneered by Jon Hassell. I’m pretty obsessed with the song I included here, the EP’s closer, “Residuals.” It sounds simultaneously like a ’70s soul jazz guitar song and a ’90s hip-hop beat. It sounds stoned and beautiful. The whole EP is a stunner, a real puttanesca of a record with saxophone, acoustic bass, piano, and (maybe?) a rainstick. Who knows what else. Maybe a rattle. A bunch of synthesizers, I am sure. Check it out if you’re interested in something refreshing and playful. It’s sometimes meandering, if happy to be lost. A favorite release of the year.
I’ve spent a fairly inordinate amount of time listening to Rollins Band lately. And while the focus of that band is of course its namesake Henry, I started to wonder a bit more about their guitar player, Chris Haskett. Even juxtaposed against Rollins’ explosive performance at this Reading Festival set in 1994, he’s a captivating enough figure, shirtless with a shaved head save a knotty patch of hair at the back of his scalp. He plays a mean solo three minutes in; his guitar screams and he opens his mouth to wail alongside it.
As far as I can tell, Rollins Band is really the main thing Haskett ever did. He played with David Bowie, Foetus, Pigface, but his time in the ’90s alongside Rollins was his most stable and notable gig, the one where he really put down his signature. So, when I stumbled upon them, I was curious to hear who he would be on the solo albums he made about a decade ago. I was pleasantly surprised to find that Language has a number of contemplative acoustic songs. The best ones have a Western ramble to them. Acoustic guitar wizard John Fahey is an obvious touchstone, but Haskett plays more slack. “Lost Dog,” is Fahey-esque, though sweet where Fahey could be forlorn. The brief “Spider Mother,” which I’ve included here, is my favorite of the bunch. I don’t play guitar, so I can’t say for sure, but it doesn’t seem like a particularly difficult composition. The guitar lopes with some light twang. Haskett’s performance, oddly but interestingly, feels like a beginner’s. You can feel a little pause after each note, like he’s looking up at his teacher for approval. Not what you’d expect from an architect of ’90s alt-rock. Maybe he’s deprogramming himself. If so, it’s working.