Denmark’s Iceage took over the Marquis theater last Thursday night for a blistering 40 minutes. (Photo: DenverThread)
Coming from Denmark means that, invariably, at some point you’re going to get a Hamlet comparison – probably from a smart-assed music journalist. So here goes – Iceage’s Elias Bender Rønnenfelt definitely rocks a Hamlet-esque demeanor, both on record and onstage. At their Denver show at the Marquis theater last Thursday night, he sulked in the crowd before the show, catching and opening set by Tampa Bay’s “Merchandise,” decked entirely in black – jeans, jacket and midwest country preacher leather wide-brimmed hat – sipping a tall boy. He looked angry – maybe a little tipsy – but really, really angry.
When the band took the stage, they started loud, fast ans sloppy, and didn’t stop or chat or anything for a good 40 minutes. A great 40 minutes – to be exact. Rønnenfelt lunged at the audience, screaming in his low guttural howl as if to blame anyone, everyone in the pit for his dis-ease. Iceage’s sloppy punk rock no-wave noise is a perfect antidote for what’s passing as punk rock pretty much everywhere nowadays – and it’s a good thing they’re getting heard. They’re not nice guys, but they don’t need to be. Rønnenfelt’s sulk is heavy, carrying the weight of a lot of shit that’s wrong with the world it seems – at least from a post-adolescent Danish punk rocker’s point of view. His demeanor is somewhere between Ian Curtis and Sid Vicious – but his anger is pretty shakespearian. The four-piece showed it that night on the Marquis’ low stage. Check out this slide show to catch a glimpse of the heat.
Night of Joy, Achille Lauro, Black Postcards (Local); Lee Ranaldo, Willis Earl Beal, Jeffrey Lewis (not local)
Well – This post we’ve got a bucket of sounds, and none too soon (having missed a while – our apologies)…. This one features a slew of locals – two from the same label (Hot Congress) and another totally DIY group that’s almost too new … but has promise. It also features a pile of national acts – a few coming to town soon, but all should be traversing your grey matter between you headphones – if not already, then soon….
Almost forcefully thrust through the 12 songs by a sledgehammered rhythm section laid out by bassist Bree Davies and drummer Fez Garcia, guitarist/vocalist Valerie Franz pulls sounds out of her guitar that make it seem like it’s been yanked into to life – and it’s none too happy. The squealing strings, impossible, hammered chords and purposely sloppy licks compliment her passionate, screeching, perfectly rough vocals.
At first Franz’s ambitious gravel growl could be mistaken for a posturing, Sleater-Kinney-esque anger. Wrong. She’s simply, forcefully passionate about these 12 songs – and it feels like she’s pretty passionate about the life behind them as well – and the vocals match the stringwork perfectly. Hardcore Girls is an ambitious, strong debut – also recalling a just a little Misfits and Minutemen as well as a little Sonic Youth in song construction – and, more than anything, it bleeds with the fun the trio obviously had making it.
Tip: Get a load of Davies’ Kim-Deal-eat-your-heart-out vocals in the twelfth song – a brilliant cover of one of The Breeders’ best. It started a whole week (and running) vinyl & CD revival of the Deal sisters’ work around here…
Check out Night of Joy’s video for the single John Candy below:
Achille Lauro are another band that’s been pretty active in Denver for a while – albiet a little longer than Night of Joy. They’ve built a pretty strong local fan base, too – a result of relentless gig-booking and local activism, no doubt. Well, that, and the fact that their music is imminently danceable, and actually makes you feel good – in an almost this-John-Hughes-tale-is-for-real way. The quartet’s latest record, Flight or Flight, also available from Hot Congress now, is a strong example of sweet, atmospheric rock, and replicates a sound that’s as much based in Sting’s jazz as Bjork and Yeasayer psyche-pop.
Live, the Mossman brothers – Luke on guitar/vocals and Ben on drums/vocals, along with Matt Close (guitar) and Jon Evans (vocals/bass) – make probably Denver’s best party band. That sound – hopeful, fun, careless – is caught pretty well on Flight, as as the songs’ clean, well-formed constructions. “Low Cha Cha” serves as a cautionary tail, the story of a clueless entourage-crasher, that stretches just a little too long – a brilliant echo of the annoying, time-wasting character. “Lightning” is destined to make more than a few party mixes – it evokes the perfect early Spring/Summer feeling of getting out into the quad and soak up the sun and throw around a frisbee. “Goddess an Island” is also a standout, begging for a top-down ride through middle of the city as the lights begin to go out in earnest. The whole record elicits unbidden feelings of relief, a “fuck it all, let’s just enjoy what we have now” feeling – without the impending fear of hangover.
Get your copy on Hot Congress’s website, and take a breather, then catch Achille Lauro at the Larimer Lounge on April 3. Meanwhile, enjoy this clip of “Lightning.”
Black Postcards - Inside the Shadow Box EP
Black Postcards – Inside the Shadow Box EP
The first EP from a local group just getting off the ground, “Inside the Shadow Box” shows a great deal of promise for Black Postcards. It’s definitely a good, somewhat psychedelic, heavily guitar-based work that showcases Candace Horgan’s skill. Horgan seems to wield the guitar like a fountain pen, writing strong, emotional prose in calligraphy, and then pure technical jargon with the same panache.
The single downside to the band’s overall sound is an unfortunately inescapable vocal comparison to Cat Stevens or Steve Winwood – which stand apart from the really strong songwriting and composition. In and of itself, vocalist Justin Newport’s performance is great – solid, strong, confident. But it just doesn’t go with the style of music Horgan and bassist/drummer/guitarist Adam Brinkman have worked together into such an appealing mix.
That said, the three songs ( and a remix) on this CD are inescapably infectious – and can hook you from the first listen. Maybe there’s a method to Newport’s unique pairing with the catchy guitar licks?
But that’s what first EPs are for, right? Listen to the EP opener, “Let Go…” and see what you think.
[wpaudio url=”http://www.denverthread.com/wp-content/themes/mimbo/sounds/Let Go ….mp3″ text=”Black Postcards – Let Go …”]
And now, on to more National releases that stand out about now:
Jeffrey Lewis - A Turn in the Dream - Songs
Jeffrey Lewis – A Turn in the Dream – Songs
(This one’s not so new – having been released last October – but is new to us, and worth a discussion. Sometimes even we have to circle back.)
If you remember Steven Tunney – also known as Dogbowl – with any sort of affection, you’re likely to warm up to Jeffrey Lewis. And, of course, if you’re a fan of Moldy Peaches (they “discovered” Lewis for Rough Trade around 2002), you’re probably already in his living room. Lewis, like Tunney, weaves childlike stories behind folky, singalong instrumentation led by his acoustic guitar that reflect heartbreak, rumination, rights-of-passage and commentary in the vernacular of strict adolescent logic. At least on the surface.
By his own admission, this collection of tunes is Lewis’s first time really wrangling pop songs – and he does the hook musically, it turns out, just about as well as he has lyrically and comically in the past.
Each of these 13 songs are small, poignant and incredibly catchy experiences in themselves, begging to be compared to Daniel Johnston’s brilliant lovesongs – and the comparison is valid. But Lewis comes across just a tad more conceived, rather than just spit out the way Johnston’s come across (perhaps the result of less medication, and an ultra-hip Brooklyn upbringing). Take the brilliant “Time Trades,” “Cult Boyfriend” and “When You’re By Yourself,” for example. These three are typical of the record, and fundamentally easier to swallow (even) than his earlier work – simultaneously more and less Mountain Goats, if you know what I mean. And the destined-for-classic “Krongu Green Slime.” To say too much about this one would be automatic spoiler material.
And – if you’re not familiar with Steven Tunney (Dogbowl, remember?) – but like Lewis, here’s a tip: Trey and find “Tit: An Opera,” or – even more grandiose and ridiculous – the novel Flan, and its accompanying CD of songs about the destruction of one person’s world, from a 6-year-old-in a 30-year-old-body’s perspective.
Here’s Lewis’s “Cult Boyfriend” from the record:
Lee Ranaldo - Between The Times And The Tides
Lee Ranaldo – Between the Time and the Tides
The fact that Lee Ranaldo’s latest solo work opens with the line “Coming in from Colorado” should be enough for the uninitiated – at least here in Denver – to listen to it, and then stay for the characteristic guitar work and solid song writing. After a simple, unassuming noodle, the opener “Waiting On A Dream” almost immediately explodes into something you’d almost expect on the next Sonic Youth record. It’s a perfect way to start this one, though, and it gives way to a truly varied, confident effort for the longtime noise innovator.
And that, actually, brings up a thought I couldn’t stop entertaining as I listened – over and over – to this record: With the uncertain status of Sonic Youth, as a result of Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore’s breakup, and the fact that both Moore and Ranaldo have released strong solo efforts in the past year, how many of these songs would have been on the next SY record? In that light, it could have been difficult to listen to “Between the Times and the Tides” objectively… but the songs stand so well on their own.
The album’s first apex, “Xtina As I Knew Her” is a seven-minute anthem that recounts a story of heady post-adolescent house-partying, reminiscent of the film “The Virgin Suicides,” but more sinister. It also brings back a feel of “Daydream Nation” in its balladry, with a backdrop of wicked, looping guitar licks on what sounds like hundreds of channels. “Angles” carries a slight nod to Dinosaur Jr., with some extra noisy jamming that evokes ‘70s rock, and “Fire Island (phases)” and “Lost (planet Nice)” both add a solid accessibility to the record with their strong, guitar-based pop hooks.
To balance any sign of levity, though, Ranaldo has included two psychedelic, biographic ballads in “Hammer Blows” and “Stranded,” acoustic numbers that – while they won’t likely define this record – show his introspective side, and a shade of Neil Young while he’s at it.
This is a solid, addictive record – whether you’re a Sonic Youth fan or not – and hopefully stands as a hint to what we can see from Ranaldo in the future, regardless of that other band’s status.
Check out the album’s opener, “Waiting On A Dream,” here.
[wpaudio url=”http://www.denverthread.com/wp-content/themes/mimbo/sounds/Waiting On A Dream.mp3″ text=”Lee Ranaldo – Waiting On A Dream”]
Willis Earl Beal - Acousmatic Sorcery
Willis Earl Beal – Acousmatic Sorcery
The spectacle of Willis Earl Beal is on the rise, and deservedly so. Beal recently told Pitchfork that he wants to be “the black Tom Waits,” and if the position’s open, he’s a shoe-in. Add a dash of Jay-Z (if he recorded in a bathroom stall in the back of a dive), and more Jandek than Daniel Johnston, and you have an idea of where Beal is coming from.
He lives with his grandmother in the South side of Chicago, and is locally famous for posting hand-drawn flyers (now replicated on his website) that invite you to call him for a song, or write him to receive a drawing (and the drawings aren’t bad at all, either – look at the video below). His debut record, Acousmatic Sorcery, will drop on April 3, from Hot Charity – an imprint of the Adele-infused XL Records indie label – and it’s one to definitely watch for.
Painfully D.I.Y. (and by “painfully,” I mean something more akin to “brilliantly”), the 11 songs will lead you through a mind and spirit that knows no real reason not to do what he’s doing, and that’s what may give it it’s most endearing power. Acousmatic Sorcery is replete with a tantalizing lack of pretense, and feels real, rough and honest in a way not too many records feel nowadays. “Cosmic Queries” is a meditation that brings to mind both the late Gil-Scott Heron (vocally) and John Coltrane (evangelically). “Evening’s Kiss” is innocent, summer longing, and pairs well with the spiritual backyard soliloquy of “Monotony,” while “Sambo Joe From the Rainbow” evokes a young Nat King Cole, crooning in an afternoon hotel room over a ukelele.
Beal’s music is so easily visceral it’s almost hard not to have very specific visions in response.
Beal will be opening for SBTRKT on April 10, at Boulder’s Fox Theater, on his first tour. Check him out – and take a look at the video below for a teaser.
Kevin Greenspon plays with light at the same time. (Photo: Kevin Greenspon)
So I guess it’s customary to pull a quote from the interview in question for an appropriate headline – but I didn’t. I pulled this headline out of the feeling I got from reading Kevin Greenspon‘s answers to my questions this evening, while being washed with his compositions.
I came across Greenspon’s work as a result of a Facebook post about his tour from my friend Crawford Philleo (of local upstarts Vitamins), which has a stop here tonight at Rhinoceropolis. After sampling a few moments, I was intrigued, to say the least. Greenspon’s ambient constructions, accented often and effectively with miniature bouts of cacophonous noise, immediately led my mind back into the experimental music of Glenn Branca and the NYC No Wave scene of the ’70s, and simultaneously recalled the new feeling of Brian Eno‘s earliest ambient work. But it also sounded improvisational, unintentional, and yet anything but.
I was also reminded of pianist Keith Jarret‘s unforgettable works, spiritual and cathartic as any music I’d ever heard, that I explored in my late teens – and that undoubtedly led later to my deep appreciation for the beauty of incongruous, atonal, arrhythmic and insolent noise – something over which I’ve never gotten, and that I hope I never will.
As I said, there’s nothing improvisational about these pieces. Like a great director or painter, Greenspon is always 100% in control, ahead, and can account for every crest and trough of each sound wave he’s passing along.
I immediately fired off a few questions to Greenspon after hearing some of his work, and he answered quickly. Read on to get a glimpse into the workings of the musician and artist behind this intense music.
And the GO SEE HIS SHOW AT RHINOCEROPOLIS – TONIGHT.
Here’s a sample of what you’re in for – to enjoy while you read…
DenverThread (DT) – I wonder if many critics are quick to put you in the Brian Eno camp of ambient, or Thurston Moore/Beck noise. But I hear a more Philip Glass/John Cage compositional influence (and what I heard today has had me listening to Glenn Branca again). Who do you count as your major influences?
Kevin Greenspon KG – On tours and in emails, I’ve actually received several comparisons to each of the artists you’ve mentioned among many others in the more present canon. Most people find it strange when I explain that while I’m familiar with their work, they’re not actually in my typical listening regimen. For the most part, I try not to repeatedly listen to too much music in those veins with any regularity. Naturally, I am influenced by contemporaries and pioneers in the field of experimental subgenres but focusing on them too much can be limiting to one’s own work.
Truth be told, I derive a lot of ideas from more conventional pop music and the radio. One of the elements of mainstream or accessible music that greatly interests me is pacing: the rhythm of how songs ebb and flow between sections, such as verses, choruses and bridges. A large proportion of ambient and experimental composition music invests heavily in long-form pieces that develop slower than most popular music. For the most part, I’ve found this to be somewhat inhibiting for me. This has led me to develop an interest in assembling songs that capture the glacial feel of music that falls under the ambient umbrella but also to condense them into a succinct pacing that is more akin to something you’d hear on top 40 radio: albums rife with 3 minute pieces in which sections change in patterns and timings quickly, with a familiar rhythm.
DT – I know you’ve said that you put a ton of work into your compositions/performances and that they’re not “just improvisational.” That said, how much weight do you put on the spirit behind them? Do you identify with Keith Jarrett, in that the feeling drives the sound, and if you find one you love you dig into it and explore it?
KG – I put a high value on the spirit or character behind the music. For me, feeling and sound are symbiotic; one cannot simply drive the other. It’s more of a tug-of-war or balance in which the two constantly play off each other. In this sense, writing, recording and performing can not be solely rooted in either feeling or sound. Different blends of the two are what stimulates the process of developing or reworking compositions.
For example, near the start of “Threshold” from my Common Objects LP, there is an arpeggiated guitar part that I fade in while tapping the frets on my guitar. The tones, note sequences and timing on the recorded version are different from when I perform it live. I feel the difference in the situation of listening to the record in a comfortable setting at home beckons a slower and more relaxed delivery. Live, this song is most commonly performed as a crossfade out of and into different songs than on the sequence of the album. Because of this change of feeling that is based in the order of songs (and what moods they convey) when performed live, I opt for a more urgent delivery of those notes as a prelude to the quick progression that follows shortly after in the live suite. There’s even a section where I have a sequence that taps along the lower strings, which is not even on the record, and all this happens in about 45 seconds as the first section of the song comes into it’s own. There are numerous situations like this that help me shape the performance of pieces that are already defined as songs on record, but take on a different character simply out of the feeling that comes from being in a live performance space, so the feeling and music are definitely dependent on each other.
Furthermore, I may arrive at a show and feel that certain songs won’t work in the feeling of a particular venue or situation, and omit them from a set in lieu of something more appropriate to the circumstance, such as when weighing the differences of performing in an art gallery or living room house show. The feeling of the spaces themselves is different and this can also factor into the music.
DT – It’s easy to attach a soundtrack feel to instrumental music, and that’s mostly (I find) unfair. Do you have any literate, cinematic or theatrical themes that you attach to your music, or that you build from?
KG – There is a storytelling nature that I find important in this sort of music. It’s a quality that gives certain albums a relatable feel as opposed to general experimentation or sounds without reason. However, I don’t want to subject audiences to specific ideas like they are hard-and-fast boundaries that define my songs. For example, I’ve seen a lot of albums that are intended as a “soundtrack to a non-existent film” which strikes me as odd. To me, that sort of thing implies there is something you may be missing when listening to it. My idea is to have listeners and live audiences develop their own stories, and for the music to be a vehicle for self-narration and not a defined road I put people on. This is why I opt to not use titles such as “And Then The Rain Fell On Our Weary Backs Like Diamonds From Trees” which is sadly too common in instrumental music. I prefer vaguer titles that fit together on an album as pieces of a conceptual puzzle, pieces whose shape and imagery is developed by listeners. The word associations are general guides along a path that is specific for myself, but offer different routes for audiences.
Gangcharger's new record proves that rebuilding depends on the right parts coming together.
There aren’t too many bands that can withstand an entire personnel change and keep going. There are even less that come back stronger for it – but Gangcharger is one that has. Ethan Ward’s love child – with huge emphasis on the love – has not only rebounded after being abandoned by virtually every member of the band over the course of late 2009, he’s driven the rebuilt band beyond anyone’s expectations, maybe beyond his own – and definitely miles beyond the previous lineup’s promise – with their latest release, “Free Exhaust.”
In the past, Gangcharger has been labeled “a poor man’s Sonic Youth,” mostly in relation to Ethan’s noisy, borderline atonal and effects-laden guitar work – and in the past that description hasn’t been entirely wrong. But with the band’s new album “Free Exhaust,” that pigeon-holing has proven far too limiting. Ethan still tends to walk the same musical and noise paths as Lee Ranaldo with his guitar – and even sounds a lot like Ranaldo when he takes over vocals for half the record, but these songs contain a rough brightness not readily apparent in Sonic Youth’s work. Much of this record does sound like a departure from the “Death Valley ’69” era, but it maintains a consistency – and a distinct simplicity – that was soon lost in the Youth repertoire. Add the vocals, and static from her “noise blaster,” that Paige Peterson brings to the mix, and Gangcharger’s sound then takes a completely different interstate out of that valley.
Rounding out the lineup, Adam Rojo (also guitarist for Denver’s post-punk heroes Ideal Fathers) and Dan Barnett form an often swooping, often driving – but always essential – rhythm section, where Barnett’s drumming approaches a pipeline-surfing intensity. But the addition of Rojo’s considerable – and heavily guitar-imprinted – talent on the bass adds a slight but significant melodic quotient to the mix. That melody mirrors Ethan’s feral and calculated sound, and brings it to a depth that Gangcharger’s earlier lineup was never quite able to reach.
From the opening stick cracks of “All My Shirts Are Black,” this record takes you on a journey through alternately frantic and foggy landscapes, sometimes slipping through high speed, pitch black, steep chases (“Vapor,” “Secret Destroyer,” “The New Split”), sometimes swirling in smoke-filled bars amidst scantily and loosely dressed lounge lizards (“Filters,” “Soaking Quiet,” “Narrower”). On the latter tunes, Peterson’s lead vocals – sultry and strong, panting and forceful – bring a minuscule tint of Portishead to the band, while the guitar wails and dirges scrape out a huge cavern to house their noise. Her “noise blaster” (basically a collection of musical pre-school toys run through some damaged sound pedals) adds the perfect amount of frantic static to keep a mosquito-at-night type of buzz prevalent. It’s just right to draw you in and keep you just frustrated enough to maintain the songs’ eros.
“Free Exhaust” is a great listen, and a triumphant evolutionary step in Ward’s music – and it’s great to see Gangcharger back alive after losing everyone. Both Ethan and Denver deserve this type of reward.
Catch Gangcharger at the Gathering of the Clouds event as they headline the opening night at the Overcasters’ Weather Center – 1401 Zuni – on Thursday, October 21. The locally-focused festival will feature ten Denver bands between Thursday and Saturday, and focuses on CD releases from both Gangcharger and Overcasters.
Smoothbore – Red Lines
Smoothbore brings a heavy, measured sound to Denver with their double-bass attack.
Denver’s got plenty of experimental bands, and plenty that are great and getting better, as they feel their way through new musical terrain and depend on the curiosity of the more intrepid and deeper-digging listener for their survival. With Smoothbore, they – and we – have found a band that more than pays for the dedication with an austere, minimal – yet bulldozing, completely destructive – hard rock sound.
And all that without a single six-string guitar (much to the chagrin, I’m sure, of all the hair metal guitar hero gods).
Smoothbore is a three piece that carries some hipster weight, and promises to use that presence to add momentum to an already growing post rock/post post punk scene. Drummer Scott Lewis – formerly of the hilarious and fantastic Black Smiths (a tribute band that focused on a mixture of Black Sabbath and The Smiths tunes) – lays the groundwork from behind his massive-sounding trap set for the trio, upon which dueling bassists Sonja Decman (formerly from The Symptoms) and Matt Flanagan (of Boss 302) lay a thick weave of bass and vocals that’s unmet by any other Denver band of the moment – maybe just about anywhere.
It’s the distinct lack of guitar that starts to draw in the listener – even before putting the needle into the first groove – maybe from a place of disbelief. But soon after the first song, “I See You” begins, that guitar is not only far from missed, it turns out to be a relief. The music becomes uncluttered, and less demanding, without the (what you soon realize has become) the constant, pre-adolescent whining for attention that most guitarists seem to be crowing in virtually all other rock. Instead of feeling sold short – or even confused – by the omission of what has become such a bedrock staple of Rock, I felt clear. While Decman’s bass tends to focus on some slightly more traditional bass constructions (but only slightly), Flanagan’s bass takes on something approaching a lead guitar, but stops masterfully short, leaving the difference to speak even more ridiculously loud about the often overbearing guitar – and it’s uselessness.
Lewis’ drumming is always spot on, and even more evident without the guitar hero distraction. Playing rhythm section with dueling basses seems to suit him well, and gives Smoothbore’s sound a simultaneously stripped down and layered feel. Kind of reminiscent of secret shows played in abandoned warehouses and on closed factory or meat-packing floors – spacious, but still crowded with lack of use, feeling both old and scary, new and treacherous. Their overall sound recalls a feeling of late ’80s New York City No Wave – without the anti-structure ideal. It brings to mind Live Skull, or some of Lydia Lunch & Rowland S. Howard’s work from back then.
The one possible drawback to the bass-only constructions may be a tendency to follow a quiet-loud-quiet-loud pattern, but it feels more like a stage in the band’s growth. Melody and lead from Flanagan, along with Decman’s caustic vocals and lower end bass hold promise for some exciting and vital material.
Sonic Youth provided a beautiful, otherworldly set heavy with tunes from last year's "The Eternal," as well as some older, immutable bits of genius last Monday night. (Photo: DenverThread.com)
After last Monday night’s show at the Ogden Theater, I’m convinced that Sonic Youth are immortals – beings that refuse to age. What else explains their uncanny ability to remain constantly relevant, prescient – and continuously young – in the face of a culture hell bent on replication of the popular, and often the most vapid? Of course, we could agree that the members of this group of musicians – more a family than a band, really, after nearly 30 years – are intuitive charlatans, well-versed in manipulation of guitar strings, effects, anti-rhythms and atonality, but also steeped in the pop ethos that breeds automatic acceptance – or intrinsic danceability.
But then, you’d also have to explain short lives of other bands that sprung from that same NYC, post-post-punk, “no-wave” noise scene that attempted to espouse that same musical ethos. The truth is, Sonic Youth has proven they’re not only the only surviving band from that movement – but that they’re the most deserving.
Kim Gordon, Thurston Moore, Steve Shelley, Lee Ranaldo and Mark Ibold add to the surreal feeling of Monday night's show with a more than appropriate soundtrack. (Photo: DenverThread.com)
They’re the only band that mastered the ability to turn pop sensibility on its ear, wrestle it through dissonant filters, and still know how to present the outcome in an irresistibly accessible way, without giving up any of their D.I.Y., no-wave roots.
Michael Gira, from Angels of Light, is planning to revivify his earliest project, the seminal noise band Swans, this fall. (Photo: Anne Helmond)
Michael Gira, founder of Young God Records and vocalist/visionary frontman for Angels of Light, used to live a somewhat louder existence. An existence replete with just as much musical and lyrical beauty as the Angels’ output of over the past decade, but one that was also terrifyingly violent, brutal, hostile and swathed in a noise that had not been heard before, and has (so far) not been heard again since it was silenced with the death of his first band, Swans.
And Gira has announced what was constantly up to now only seen as an impossibility: he’s decided to reactivate the legendary band, and will release a new collection of songs (tentatively) in the fall of 2010. Plans for touring are also reportedly in the works.
If you remember hearing the music of Swans in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, they’ve likely influenced, in some way, every other band you heard after them. If you were lucky enough to see the band live, chances are that the sonic barrage, and the often disturbing images it provoked in both the players and the audiences are still scorched into you, and likely will be for a long time to come. Gira and Swans toured the U.S. and Europe extensively in the ‘80s and ‘90s, after their genesis in the same New York “No Wave” scene that spawned bands like DNA, Teenage Jesus and the Jerks (which included a young Lydia Lunch), Suicide and Sonic Youth. Their shows presented a constantly evolving noise, sometimes overloud, sometimes perfectly quiet, but always both beautiful and destructive, to audiences that seemed polarized (to say the least) in their opinions of it.
My first experience came when the band toured around the 1986 album “Greed.” Most of what I remember is the physical, palpable quality of the repetitive and explosive beat coming from two furious drummers behind a howling, shirtless and sweating Gira, screaming about the worthlessness of all of us and our condition, throat wrapped tightly with his microphone chord. The lineup then included Norman Westberg on guitar, Algis Kizys on bass, Jarboe on vocals and two drummers, and the show was the most abrasive expression of minimalist rock I’d ever seen – and also the loudest. People left the show either hating what they’d seen, or misunderstanding, or completely transfixed (as I did). From then on, the rock game, for me anyway, was irreparably changed.
An early photo of Gira onstage with Swans, amidst the beautiful cacophony. (Photo: Wim Van De Hulst
By the time Swans disbanded in 1997, their sound had evolved to include some of the most beautiful and haunting music in rock. They would swing from long, droning acoustic numbers with Jarboe’s signature low and guttural vocals juxtaposed perfectly against Gira’s, to near-apocalyptic bombardments, overwhelmingly coarse – even caustic – and yet never failing to maintain an seemingly uncontrollable beauty. 1996’s “Soundtracks for the Blind,” combining beautiful arrangements of found spoken-word recordings, soft acoustic symphonies and some extraordinarily loud and heavy constructions, became a resplendent example of the band’s climax, and was also their final studio output.
“I’m talking about my own experience of the music (though I’d hope people in the audiences along the way might have experienced a similar episode). When I ask myself if I believe in God, I start to say NO, but then I remember that sensation, and I’m not so sure.”
Until now, that is. In an email sent to Young God Newsletter subscribers, as well as on the label’s website, Gira announced this week his intentions to re-focus on Swans as a new project, and to put Angels of Light on hold as he met this latest challenge. As he explains on Young God Records’ site:
“ . . . there was a point a few years ago . . . on tour with Angels Of Light, with Akron/Family serving as the backing band. It was during the song The Provider. Seth’s guitar was sustaining one open chord (very loudly), rising to a peak, then crashing down again in a rhythm that could have been the equivalent of a deep and soulful act of copulation. The whole band swayed with this arc. Really was like riding waves of sound. I thought right then, “You know, Michael, Swans wasn’t so bad after all…” . Ha ha! It brought back – in a flood – memories, or maybe not memories, more a tangible re-emersion in the sensation of Swans music rushing through my body in waves, lifting me up towards what, I can only assume, will be my only experience of heaven. It’s difficult – and probably pointless – to try to describe this experience. It’s ecstatic, I suppose – a force of simultaneous self negation and rebirth.
Gira, circa 1995. (Photo: Michael Moynihan)
Really, I probably only experienced this a handful of times to such an extreme extent during the entire 15 year history of Swans. All the elements have to align perfectly, and you can’t force it, though you might constantly strive for it. I don’t mean to be too lofty here, but it’s a fact. I’m talking about my own experience of the music (though I’d hope people in the audiences along the way might have experienced a similar episode). When I ask myself if I believe in God, I start to say NO, but then I remember that sensation, and I’m not so sure. So I want more of that, before my body breaks down to such an extent that it won’t be possible any more. So I’m doing it.”
In order to raise funds to offset the cost of touring, production, distribution, etc., he has made a limited edition CD/DVD (1,000 copies) of possible songs/demos/outtakes from the future Swans record, available for order online. The new Swans disc is also available for presale, as well as some signed originals from Gira himself.
For a taste of what may be in store, have a look at this video, also available on Young God Records, and on the DVD.