Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

Every year there are endless discussions on the perfect autumn record or the quintessential summer jam, rarely does the conversation center on winter. Usually the amniotic waves of a shoegaze epic (Ride’s Nowhere, the Verve’s A Storm in Heaven) or a bleak collection of outsider folk (Smog’s Wild Love, Comus First Utterance) succeed in thawing or fortifying icicles in the soul (depends on the preference).

Recorded during a harsh Wisconsin winter, wide-released in the midst of a disheartening Ohio winter, and taking his name from the (misspelled) French for “good winter,” Justin Vernon or Bon Iver began his debut For Emma, Forever Ago as an isolated acoustic exorcism and emerged three months later with an album of near celestial enlightenment. At first glance Vernon could easily be lumped in with the bearded, given the limitations he set for himself it feels like a low-key session but quickly becomes sonically gorgeous. The falsetto that lifts “Flume” is surgeon pure(for example) as if engineered by the omniscient ghost in the room – capturing Vernon’s breaths turned to frost, his ribs contracting for heavy pauses. These are the primal nuances the listener never sees in a song; on something like the haunting gold of “Skinny Love” even the negative space is transformative punctuation.

At the album’s middle “Blindsided” is met with micro-electronics that never crowd the minimal grace, allowing Vernon to record a chorus of himself without overwhelming the intimate confession. That clarity builds into “Creature Fear,” the compounded beauty of both his rustic earnest and the peaceful ambiance he was hoping to achieve.

Winter albums, I conclude, require both comfortable submission and deep concentration, lucid transparency and hidden charm. For Emma, Forever Ago is a diary of cold hands, connecting with a clear moon, and bursting with quiet sparks in the snow.

Comments must include favorite winter album.


Givng into the (Television) Ghost

One must first realize Television Ghost are nearly Beach adoptees, playing the Boo Boo regularly and sniffing down the same pipeline with "the kids" (this new 12" boasts Matt Horseshit on boards at the Self-Esteem Studios and Kevin Failure as lone thanks), so they've got the chops to respectably vamp on the Pink Psychedelic Viking playbook. This is corrosive through and through, without any sunshine -- doused in gristle and division. Could be shitpop, but better known as loner punk with a scatterbrained, playful mindset.

When my brain bloods peak "Nodoz" and "Babel" cavort around Wire riffs with two left feet and three gnarly strings. "The Amputee" is time you'll never get back -- a modern reference might be the Chromatics Chrome Rats phase -- clunky, craggy notes strewn into a dank practice space. It all concludes with the giant "Long Talk," a locked sin-wave raped and pillaged with static beats and sexual frustration. WTF was Doug Mosurak thinking? (The same thing I was?) This kind of psyche-fuc and dis ordinance is exactly the reason I'll be spending plenty of sunshine in the cavern of Beerland.


Ode to Bobby Trimble

If time allowed there would be adequate reviews of both Iron Curtain Innocence and Harvest of Dreams, but this is a plea to the public, to the organizers of the Secretly Canadian/Jagjaguwar/Dead Oceans showcase at SXSW. Please talk Mr. Bobb Trimble out of retirement (again if you count the one-off in November 2007). Discovering these two gems is another touchstone in my continuing journey obsessing over music. Imagine T. Rex or Roky Erickson being influenced by the Wizard of Oz and General Mills more than booze and horror. At the Freak Scene (covered in red carpet and wood paneling), where I've spent most of my time with these records is the perfect environment for his dreamy, woozy, desperate weeps. Heady and Airy equivalent.

I've seen Roky avoid total breakdown and comeback sounding like 1969, forget hermitage Mr. Trimble and show the crowds you made timeless music. So...I'm reserving myself to get mushy and completely under the skin of his work, and giving a heads up to those writers with better vocabularies to expound about Secretly Canadian's smart move in re-releasing him unto the world. A mob will eventually rule. We need more info on his backing band the Kidds (composed of actual kids) and the Crippled Dog Band (who recorded at least an album?) and whatever might be lurking in Trimble's archives. The mob will eventually rule.


Ain't A Damn Thang Changed

WC's oft-overlooked career in hip-hop began as half of Low Profile, who in 1990 were a upstart duo on Priority Records laying the foundation for the West Coast G-Funk era. Dr. Dre may be credited with inventing the genre, but Low Pro, and in particular WC's follow-up supergroup, the Maad Circle (Minority Alliance of Anti-Discrimination), were responsible for planting the seed. But where The Chronic and Snoop's solo debut typically glorified the gansta' lifestyle, the Maad Circle wrote from the perspective of former bangers telling their tales and the roadblocks involved in escaping that cycle. Certainly Ain't a Damn Thing Changed is rife with South Central L.A. - Blood vs. Crips imagery, but on the whole, songs like "Fuck My Daddy" and "Out on a Furlough" are socially conscious, as there's an underlying message in each. Stories of police brutality (keep in mind this was pre-Rodney King), absence of patriarchal figures in the ghetto, selling out, the ease of getting sucked back into the hustle when trying to follow the "straight and narrow," all get intertwined into what is a deep and sonically fluid narrative. While not exactly a concept record, the singular concepts easily conjure the harsh reality the 90's had to offer aspiring West Coast rappers.

Perhaps the true godfather of G-Funk is producer Sir Jinx (best known as the man behind Ice Cube's stellar trio of solo records post-N.W.A.) who here did his best to present a Left Coast version of the Bomb Squad, instead of cathartic edits and militant black samples he presented a smooth blend of late 70's funk, humorous skits that do little to detour the and most evident, the album's hypnotic, low-rider beats. In addition the Maad Circle boasted a young, hungry, and most of all talented Coolio along with DJ Crazy Toons (Cube's cousin) a turntable master to be reckoned with (check "Get Up on that Funk" for proof).

At the center though was WC, and while this group debut is an underrated (and mostly unheard and out of print) classic, his terse yet fatherly cadence has been mis-used in his career post-Maad Circle. On this record you feel his life story unfold before you, given with a voice that barely has time to regret but does, barely has time to attack but does, and barely realizes how vital his foreboding might become in the future but there's a slight confidence here that suggests he does. And I suppose that's where this column comes in. Find this tape by any means necessary -- WC was no soothsayer, nor the black CNN of the time (that title went to Chuck D, KRS-One, and Ice Cube), more a regular cog stuck in the ills of his community and calmly warning of the apocalypse that may result from continuing such behavior.

On a lighter note, he went on to create typical, streamlined, G-Funk with Westside Connection, but returned artistically with the amusing Ghetto Heisman.


The Kids are (Still) High (and Doing Alright)

Dear Blog,

You've been suffering from neglect. For that I apologize. Maybe the new job and the 70 hour work week is to blame, coupled with late nights scouring debate clips and finally diggin into the Japrocksampler (full report when I'm finished)....but dispatches from the road report the kids are alright on their magical mystery tour with the Super Furry Animals. Though Ron House's claim that they are my favorite band of all time is false, they are one of the most underrated and shape-shifting pop groups of the last 20 years. A live band that goes for spectacle and quadrophonic experience, with a catalog of gems to accent such grandiosity. Always steps ahead visually and sonically (check the Rings Around the World DVD) the trip-happy psych-lads from Wales have few peers.

Case in point, the low-key, doom/hope parallel on the mostly acoustic MNWG, their virtually long-lost Welsh-language album. I've often ranked RATW as their greatest triumph -- but MNWG has soaked in proper over the years, a profound enigma in black and white that perfectly contrasts a career of over-the-top technicolor. Only now have I started researching the lyrics' translations in English, btw they can be found here. Good luck in hunting this one down (as Flydadddy Records is no longer a label).

Here hoping this travelling imagination factory rubs off on the TNV camp.

"Hometown Unicorn" from the album Fuzzy Logic.


The Necropolis Stopgap

On "Song for a Working Man" the follow-up to last year's excellent Stupf 7", the Necropolis quintet solidify their presence as the nerviest band on the beach -- it's altogether hyper-kinetic, hyper-atmospheric, stabbing through speakers, plenty of gray nail on bleach white bone. Not proverbial nails on chalkboard, but iron screeching while digging into skin. Before the song comes to a blackout ending Bo and Emily Davis' yelps morse-code out a tinny, addictive din resembling tuneful pop mangled and frayed.

The b-side "Cocksuckerbastardmotherfucker" however, turns the dials backwards, mutating through innovative regression. There are circuits bursting and imploding, guitars strangled, casio-blurts stretched to amorphous lifeforms of their own, all dragged to bear witness to this sludgy punk (beautiful) mess.

Basically, anything stamped with the CDR imprint is vital stuff these days.


There's a Little Oberst in Icarus Himself

I must have a caucus of readership in Madison, WI, as a bulk of the discs I get sent to me are coming from the region. The National Beekeepers Society and Pale Young Gentlemen are sure to garner some national attention in the coming year. As for Icarus Himself, the solo project of NBS's Nick Whetro, persistence is key -- keep wallowing into the piano sir, and you'll soon find your voice. This first contact shows that Conor Oberst has direct control over youth like Nick. Mr. Whetro is quite adventurous in his own right, but seems to have taken buckshot from Bright Eyes' 360 degree skeet-shot over anywhere within 500 miles of his Great Plains center in Omaha.

"I lost my smile/In a 3rd World War" -- something resembling Pink Reason timid and frail before the prom. Whatever "Youth in Asia" is trying to exact, he's questioning the administration, the status quo, the stagnancy, as best he can. It's minimal goodness emotive enough with piano and space to keep me wanting more. Ain't no Xiu Xiu at least.


The Smoke and Mirrors of Birds of Maya

I'll happily sign on to anything described as "a G.G. Allin demo played through a megaphone" or "the heaviest album to ever come out of Philadelphia," two claims made by Birds of Maya, the latest band to be added to an increasingly eclectic Holy Mountain roster.

My bro took one listen and declared that he hates the blooze -- honestly though, who doesn't if you don't got 'em? This is deconstruction blues, a kind of revisionist celebration, scraping any regard to fidelity and recording the whole shebang in one blurry take. I'd hate to see the room after the smoke had cleared from this session. Vol. 1 is an album for weekend binges, caked in the resin of choogling guitars , screech and static. I went on to remind my brother that he had a few Groundhogs records in his collection and that Tony McPhee lived by the gospel of blues, he just distorted it in lengthy jams, ratcheted up the psych, and set the world free (please investigate).

Vol. 1 possesses many of the same qualities as the groundbreaking (no pun intended) Split LP, I wouldn't be at all surprised to find a cover of "Cherry Red" somewhere in their repertoire. These are guys that ape blues riffs as a necessity, the same way label-mates Wooden Shjips ape kraut riffs. These are guys that appreciate Danzig and Thin Lizzy, doods that have shared stages with Blue Cheer, Bardo Pond, LSD March as a gesture of thanks and devotion. Put down your guard and let it all settle in, five minutes into "Ancient Withes Rise" and you'll see what I'm oggling -- plenty of abstract pathways marched upon, plenty of buzzy creaks and cracks, a toxic miasma of black and white.

For those looking for the polar opposite to the cleaner, yawn inducing, misstep of Dead Meadow's latest Old Growth or the indulgent sputtering of Black Mountain's In the Future, this may just be your salvation. Nothing fancy, nothing unique, simply proto-metal blooze psych done exactly right.


"The Whole World Should Stop When I Bleed"

I was feeling nostalgic in my old age, thinking fondly of the teenage years on Brown St. -- Hence, new section. It's easy to pluck out the Amps LP or Alien Lanes, Brainiac or vintage Swearing at Motorists for a fix, but I really wanted to dig deeper. I'm looking for the quirky buzz of Cage, dirt-weed grunge mantras from Scorched Earth Policy, Candyass, Haunting Souls, Omatic, Real Lulu - the list is relatively endless. I'm so far removed from my collection of Dayton vinyl (where is it?) that I can't even find my Mercury Pusher (the band I really wanted to hear at the moment). They played spastic garage rock long before it was fashionable (now a commodity) -- four maniacs capsizing any ship that would have them. I did find some splinters of the MP in my copy of the Fakey Vampires EP Administer the Loving Touch (Olive 2001).

The band was stripped to Dan Corcoran and Xtian Spencer on guitar and drums respectively. I remember this coming in the peak of underground love for the White Stripes and the somewhat humble beginnings of the Strokes (there was a time when they just had that brilliant 7"). There's that spirit lurking at the heart of the recordings, barreling along a gravel road that runs through the factory carcass and trash dumps of Dayton, OH (a miniature Detroit and on the pipeline of I-75). Not so much blue-collar hollerin', the duo are from my knowledge are quite educated/intelligent, aware of the history involved, but also inclined to just let fat, numbing, riffs do most of the talking. It certainly sounds of the time, piquing my interest for those elusive Mercury Pusher archives even more.

In my quest for Brown St. I've already come across some extremely informative blogs of Daytonian nostalgia. Try The Buddha Den or I Remember Dayton.


Obama or Bust

Not sure if an endorsement from the World of Wumme will help him, but he's obviously the only candidate that gives any hope of ripping things up to start again. Barack Obama is certain to have the support of the "romantic nihilists" throughout the country. I'm just saying -- have you seen this guy give a speech yet? -- I'm just saying.


Guinea Worms Appreciation Week

The apex of Guinea Worms January re-birth was certainly the packed, Bobo boogie night with Detroit's Tyvek. Wil Foster was a fierce, determined frontman, especially when casting out his new defining mantra, "Box of Records", making it truth (w. Rep in tow) as the band pushed the club's sonics into the maroon.

I was provoked this weekend for the Nth time to bust open my vault of GW relics (cleverly titled CD-RS and on the cheap paper singles). It's very tempting to petition Columbus Discount into giving the green light and allowing Foster free reign over a whirlwind retrospective or better yet allowing the current incarnate have their way over a full slab of vinyl.

Here's a track from what I've dubbed the Goblet EP. "Drunk on the Plane" is from the whiskey influenced Wagner-Dancey days, all loose n' wiggly -- urgent n' wicked.