Alas, dear reader, its been nearly a month since I’ve sent one of these electronic cries into the wilderness and I am now working for a wage and benefits full-time again, recalibrating my body to the physical demands of a solid workweek! I will be working evenings and weekends for the foreseeable future and the rest of the days I’ll be prioritizing quality-time with my son and wife. However, inertia must be reckoned with, even as it pertains to creativity. My brain never shuts off, and my heart will not give out until the day I die; I’ve now created momentum where to write is to open a great valve and release the energetic pressure built up from feeling and thinking so intensely about, well, practically everything.
Aether Ore was intended to provide a wide berth for my writing, and I look back upon the posts of the last month and realize there are things of immense cultural and political import in this American moment that I have not approached when writing, though I think the reason why is simple: We are living in a time where we are informed of events almost instantly and with greater detail than ever before. Tragedies, catastrophes, and individual controversies are dissected ad infinitum, not with the cold scalpel of objectivity, but with a subjective angle that politicizes every little aspect because, of course, the personal is political. (It clearly damages all American perspective, like a rotten-cherry-on-top-of-a-shit-sundae, that the highest office of the land is held by an utter scoundrel, an immature, uninformed, narcissistic, misogynist, stupid wastrel, who wields divisive rhetoric like a hatchet. I am loathe to ever reference him or give any sort of space to him, even negatively, for he is a charlatan, a snake-oil-salesman of the worst order, who has always relied on the credo that any publicity is good publicity…) People go on-line to websites, blogs and social media that they agree with, they find their people, and reinforce their position, and nuance and careful consideration are thrown aside for vicious hyperbole. Those who may not agree wholeheartedly feel rejected, and then forge their own path, more amenable to their own particularities and prejudice, a new spidery-thin rivulet that may connect and invite others, and so on, so forth, etc. This, I fear, is the exponential way of things for the foreseeable future, continuing until all the little populated rivulets, streams, and crevasses become so dense, so utterly minute, yet crowded like the granular shards of a cracked windshield, until we are absolutely shattered as people. Empathy, and thus love itself, is totally obliterated, lost. The mass shootings that have populated our national consciousness and become far too ubiquitous in recent years have ceased to feel like a symptom of this cancerous culture and appear to be the disease itself, manifest virtual lovelessness. I can’t keep up anymore.
I want it to be clear that I am always, resolutely, FOR THE PEOPLE. I think it’s great, though shamefully way too late, that the sexual predators making headlines are facing the consequences of wanton hubris finally, and there is a wonderful change happening, a rising tide of empowerment for the heretofore victims of sexual assault and harassment. Men are having to look in the mirror and check themselves as never before: ‘if not a perpetrator, have I been complicit and allowed this to happen?’, we ask ourselves. Yet how can the President of The United States of America, accused of the same behavior as these Hollywood producers, directors, and actors, still hold office? How can the GOP of Alabama dig their heels in and retrench themselves around an accused Senate candidate, going so far as to threaten the political careers of any rational GOP politician in that state that might withdraw support? What weird sense does this double-standard make, when these roles in our lives are undoubtedly more important than actors and Hollywood?!
Why do we care about the flag more than black people’s bodies in this country?!! Why do those who are so offended by NFL players kneeling during the national anthem, (Kneeling! Kaepernick changed the gesture from sitting to kneeling after the advisement of many sympathetic veterans,) those who decry this action as abasement of our national symbol, desecrate the flag wearing it gaudily on their asses and tits, using it only as another brand, like Nike or Levi’s, even though the Flag Code discreetly forbids this? How hypocritical is the dogmatic reverence for symbolism in one instance and its abandonment in another? Why do we tout this nation’s place in the global “arc of history” and yet deny, attempt to forget, or denigrate outright any student of that shared history?
WHY? WHY? WHY?!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
There are writers, greater minds far more eloquent and astute than myself, who write on all these issues, who can offer more insight and far more extensive analysis than I’m able to with the limits of my time. The above rhetorical rant exhibits a raw nerve exposed and prodded. Usually I’m just listening and observing, hesitant to speak out when I understand a prismatic multitude of emotions and rationales on a subject, until I can see or feel space where my opinion or perspective might contribute some unique luminescence. This, insofar as Aether Ore is concerned, remains to be seen. Right now, this blog, for better or for worse, is my respite from such long division.
So on to music, my release, my catharsis…
NEW RECORD NOTES, or What I’ve Been Listening To: (The following records have all come out within the last month or so, and I hope to be able to keep up a monthly pace.)
*Colleen– A flame my love, a frequency – The enigmatic French solo artist, Cecile Schott, who creates music under the moniker Colleen, returns with a minimalist album composed entirely on mini synthesizers, the Critter and Guitari Pocket Piano and Septavox. Spare and hypnotically repetitious, her compositions undulate lovely glissandi like ocean waves lapping a shore and slowly shaping the mineral-rich layers. Schott started writing these pieces immediately following the Paris terrorist attacks of 2015, and as with most of her music, there is a deceptively ingenue-like sense of wonder, but one in which the subtle anxiety of a song like, “Separating,” seems to connote a gravity of the new sense of self being surrendered to the magnitude of surrounding events. That anxious feeling repeats likewise in “Summer night (Bat song)” when she sings, “You’re hunting (haunting?) so close/ I can hear your wings beat.” Like any fine work of minimalism, patience is required with this album but it is duly rewarded with a stark reminder of the equanimous grace when beauty reveals itself slowly. Absolutely wonderful and truly moving. If, or when, robots have hearts, this is how they’ll sing.
*The Clientele– Music For The Age Of Miracles – The Clientele return after a seven year hiatus to deliver this, a sprawling example of their lush, chiming, pastoral-psyche sound with the gorgeous signature finger-picked melodies and hushed whispery vocals of bandleader Alasdair MacLean at the forefront. The Clientele remains as evocative as ever, maintaining the autumnal mystery at the heart of their unique sound, with flourishes of strings and horns in just the right places, and lyrical content and song titles that exude a mythical sense of time and space, such as “The Museum of Fog” and “Constellations Echo Lanes.” Hooks of ‘Ooohs’ and ‘Ahhhs’ and ‘Sha-la-las’ are dispatched judiciously for maximum sweet-pop-shiver within compositions, such as “Everyone You Meet.” Here and there are some novel electronic elements, that almost seem out of place, then subside or remain appropriately innocuous within the greater situation of the song, never harming the overall effect. The Clientele has still got it, it seems; this is romantic music for lovers’ strolling leisurely on wooded pathways or alone-time on a beachside cliff watching the clouds roll in over the sea and remembering friendships and loves lost to time. I like this album more each time I listen to it. Fans should find a lot to love here, and newcomers, especially those that love a particularly ’60s-inspired hazy mellow-pop vibe will find several entrances to the lovely idiosyncratic work of this band.
*John Maus– Screen Memories – Dark, brooding synthscapes, with shadowy crooned nocturnal poetry, like some bastard test-tube baby from the loins of John Carpenter and Jim Morrison’s ghost, and just as acidically funny as that image sounds. Songs like “Teenage Witch,” “Touchdown,” and “Pets” wring wry humor from such quotidian and prosaic imagery, with lines like “Forward drive across the line!” in “Touchdown” or the lazily titled “Pets,” where Maus proclaims “Your pets are going to die,” with a dry matter-of-fact cool that milks irony from its subject matter. There is nothing quite as catchy, that jumps out at the listener as instantly, as the songs, “Hey Moon,” or “Believer,” off of his breakout 2011 album, We Must Become The Pitiless Censors of Ourselves, (maybe “Walls Of Silence”or “Decide Decide” get close?), but I’m kind of a sucker for this mad alchemy that Maus has created and I find myself returning to listen to get in this strange mood. It evokes something like suburban decay or technological trepidation, things I’ve felt and observed but have never expressed quite as amusingly. Or maybe I’m just such a Joy Division fan that I’ll stomach something that is like the lonely imitative fantasy transmissions of a Joy Division fan with a Casio keyboard in a suburban basement somewhere in the mid-80s…
*Fever Ray– Plunge – It has been almost a decade since the last Fever Ray album and the world in which this newest release has emerged seems totally different than the world that gave us listeners the self-titled debut, a lifetime apart. I think any fan of the work of Karin Dreijer will be stoked on this. As idiosyncratic as ever, she gives us another vision to immerse ourselves in, another pan-aural atmosphere, but I feel this is decidedly less dark, less obfuscated than the debut, and brighter, more revealed. Lyrically, thematically, there is a bold, matter-of-fact bravura about culture, identity, love, lust and sexuality, in the face of would-be oppressors and reactionaries. The tempos are quicker than the previous record which possessed almost a doom, dirge-like tone in some of the tracks, with slow and low pitch-bent vocals. Here there is a chiming attack punctuated by straightforward declarations like, “This house makes it hard to fuck / this country makes it hard to fuck, ” or “I want to stick my fingers up your pussy…” The overall musical effect to me is more reminiscent of her work with her brother in The Knife. Very very cool. The Knife was one of the gateways to my admittedly still-limited foray into the world of electronic music.
*Quicksand– Interiors – I’m not sure if there’s any way I can be objective about this record. I fell in love with Quicksand more than twenty years ago based on the strength of the “Omission” 7″single and their debut record, “Slip,” still to my ears among the short list of records that stand as the apotheosis of the genre vaguely generalized and dubiously called Post-Hardcore. Their second album, “Manic Compression” is beloved and revered as well, as leader, singer and guitarist Walter Schriefels began to actually sing rather than shout/scream impassioned lyrics about love, loss, and alienation, themes of self versus the social politic of hardcore. Here’s my personal thing though: I always preferred “Slip” a thousand times over “Manic Compression,” though I came to love the latter, especially as I got older and nostalgic for that particular Post-Hardcore sound. All this being said, I truly enjoy this record, though by no means would I call it a great achievement. Its got that rolling, f(l)at, unmistakable Sergio Vega bass-sound laying down the thunder and the hybrid post-punk, post-metal guitar work that was Quicksand’s specialty. Walter definitely sings in a softer timbre, and it has a meditative searching quality, an edge that borders on psychedelic metal that always set Quicksand apart. As I said to an old great friend of mine when we went and saw them live a couple months ago, this is what happened when hardcore kids started smoking weed or dropping acid. (Walter even wore a tie-dye shirt at that show…) There are still riffs here but they’re entangled with a kind of late ’80s/ early ’90s “alternative rock” sound (Jane’s Addiction anyone?) and they don’t pummel you furiously like they once did, but it seems appropriate and intentional, perhaps an attempt to move away from a very macho-male-dominated aesthetic. The more one listens though, it becomes clear how unmistakably Quicksand it is. If you’re a fan it is definitely worth checking out. If you just dig ’90s-style guitar rock, (which I think is kinda coming back?…) check it. The quality of the craftsmanship displayed here is undeniable.
*Peter Matthew Bauer– Mount Qaf (Divine Love) – Bauer was the keyboard/organist of The (now in ‘extreme hiatus’) Walkmen, one of my fave groups of the ’00s and survivors of the New York pop rock n’ roll renaissance of the early part of that decade that included bands like The Strokes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. The off-kilter piano and organ of The Walkmen was always one of its greatest charms, layering on a midnight-louche veneer that sparkled like a glass of cheap wine on a moonlit city night. This is his second solo record and something about it just compels me; a journeyman rocker soulfulness that seems totally authentic and generous of heart. One can’t help but hear a Tom Petty thing goin’ on: the songs are all based on unpretentious anthemic acoustic guitar strumming, like you could play these at any camping trip or just hanging with friends at a party, and his voice has an unmistakably similar nasal quality. There are well placed hand-claps and choir-like backing vocals, catchy, familiar ’70s pop melodies with lyrics about love with a kind of G. Harrison Eastern Philosophy bent, which Bauer has reportedly studied extensively. This is Heartland Rock with the wisdom of the Buddha. It just feels good.
*Howard Hello– Election Year – A beautiful, and dare I say, important record. A soothing balm that I wish I’d had earlier to help heal the wounds of the soul that have seeped persistently this last year. Its been a while since Marty Andersen and Kenseth Thibideau (full disclosure: a very good friend of mine) graced us with a Howard Hello LP but the timing couldn’t be better. “Election Year” has wise humanist lyrics concerned with the state of the social psyche and the state of nature in our weird divisive time, sung in Marty’s trademark world-weary croak, established by meditative piano figures or Jim O’Rourke-esque melodically intriguing acoustic guitar, embellished by intricate string arrangements and gorgeous backing vocals, wondrously looped and sequenced compositions embroidering an aural tapestry like constellations on a clear starry night. This is a record of aural transportation, complex yet simple, dreamy machinations anchored by the lyrically prosaic, driving home the severity of today’s body politic: “Big money has replaced your vote / that is fucking all she fucking wrote / a slow motion corporate coup..”(“Vote”) These are notes from the underground, recitations of hope on the edge of an impending apocalypse, lights strung together in wondrous geometry to send signals of empathy for fear’s captives. Live with this record and feel glad to be alive.