Today I’m taking shelter in my apartment while a certain Christian music festival rears its ugly head across the street. Fanny-packed crowds flood the streets below while devotional rock blasts through the windows. I shut the shades and find my Rifts box set, selecting the third and possibly gentlest Oneohtrix Point Never album, Russian Mind. Once the turntable is spinning, I nudge the volume a few times until I hear nothing but the gorgeous introductory drone and feel myself wash away. I’m reading VALIS, the final work by science fiction visionary and personal favorite, Philip K. Dick. It’s dense, wild, bursting with ideas in every direction at once. It’s also painfully close to my inner workings at times – a strange proposition when the book is about insanity, living information, and puzzling out the coded machinations of the universe.
Hit play now, so you can follow along:
I slide back into the book I’ve nearly completed. The wandering cadence of this story feels like the most familiar dream. When a sudden gap allows the fist pumping dogma to pierce my room from outdoors, I jump to get side B rolling as quickly as possible. The title track begins, and my eyes fall on this passage:
To my surprise I realized that I had stopped shaking.
It was as if I had been shaking all my life, from a chronic undercurrent of fear. Shaking, running, getting into trouble, losing the people I loved. Like a cartoon character instead of a person, I realized. A corny animation from the early Thirties. In back of all I had ever done the fear had forced me on. Now the fear had died, soothed away by the news I had heard. The news, I realized suddenly, that I had waited from the beginning to hear; created, in a sense, to be present when the news came, and for no other reason.
I could forget the dead girl. The universe itself, on its macro-cosmic level, could now cease to grieve. The wound had healed.
Not many people know me that well, but those who do will know why this hits me so hard. Especially when paired with what I was hearing.
Coming in after a song called “Grief and Repetition,” Russian Mind works a swift attack. Rejecting the overlapping, clipped dull tones of its predecessor, the song bursts forth in a warm arpeggio, taking flight above grey clouds on a stormy day, pulling right on into space. It’s simple, direct, working on a primal level; there’s nothing subliminal about the way it sets progressive thought blooming. It is, in a sense, a kernel of understanding my love for sci-fi evoking synth music. I grew up when science fiction was, if not optimistic, always framed with boundless possibility. There was fear, but not of the unknown. The fear was about our past, our old, dumb ideas still haunting us. The unknown was the future, and whatever it held was not going to hold us back. This music opens a back door, plugging me into that childhood feeling of endless curiosity and hope for what was yet to come.
I feel confident hazarding a guess that Dan Lopatin (the artist’s real name; coincidentally the son of immigrants from the former Soviet Union) was raised on similar fiction with a similar affection for the galaxy of sounds made possible via synthesizer. The more I read on, while the album neared its conclusion, the more apparent it became to me: this notion that VALIS, and the philosophy of Philip K. Dick in general, might be the author’s ultimate work. Not only that, but it may be one of the few books I’ve read that stabs toward the fundamental abyss I find myself gawking at so often. Not only that, but, given the book’s themes and plot (I won’t spoil anything), Lopatin’s work likely acknowledges both Dick and this novel in particular.
I’ll end with this tidbit, gleaned from the Wikipedia article on the name of the final track on this album:
Immanence refers to philosophical and metaphysical theories of divine presence in which the divine is seen to be manifested in or encompassing the material world.
Please, read some of Dick’s work. It’s worth all of our time.
Special thanks to my friend, collected unkept, for lending me VALIS.
When I purchased the 2lp edition of Destroyer‘s 2011 pop masterpiece Kaputt, I had no idea that the bonus track promised on side C would slowly become the languid circulatory system of the entire album. It swims in an embryonic well from which the other tracks drink, all held breath and deep plunge. It’s patient and fragile, and just may comprise twenty of my favorite minutes.
If you have only heard the standard tracklisting, press play now. It’s rare when something labelled “bonus” actually elevates the experience of listening to a great album. The Laziest River feels absolutely essential at this point, and while I sympathize with the probable intention of encouraging vinyl purchases, it seems unfair to leave everyone else with an unfinished story. So buy it if you can, but this song can be downloaded and amended to your playlist for a quick fix.
This video. This massive tune.
I don’t really have anything to say about this today. Just…
Edit: Ok, I will at least mention that this is one of my favorite moments from one of the best albums of 2012. I will also note that this video is fucking brilliant. You’re welcome.
In preparation for last week’s Flying Lotus show, a friend and I were having a youtube-off. Exhausting the major albums and creeping toward the dusty corners of his recorded output, we were constantly surprised at b-sides, remixes and otherwise lost tracks which only one of us (a pair of somewhat huge fans) was aware of. There’s a sublime comfort in peeling up the tiles of artists we know and love, only to find worthy treasure below. I’m trying to replicate that experience with those who will be completely on the same page when I share a given artist.
This is an older piece from a split tape with Caboladies, one which I’d heard years ago when first discovering Oneohtrix Point Never yet never fully appreciated until this autumn. The gelid synth oscillations build toward softly hissing dunes; the song itself imagines low level flight over this alien landscape. It’s a dream of a half remembered childhood science fiction story. Although that description could be shoehorned onto nearly anything OPN has created, it’s especially pointed in this case. I could drift off with this on repeat for hours.
If there’s one piece of advice I can offer those on the perpetual quest to peel back the edges of their musical horizons, it is to subscibe to the mailing lists of shops and labels you trust. I can’t finish a list of the albums and artists I’ve grown to love because someone at aQuarius, Other Music, Forced Exposure, Vertigo or Amoeba simply loved a new or obscure piece and carved out a space for enthusiasm in the weekly newsletter. It’s why I share what I do on this blog. Last week, my email from Boomkat announced what has quickly become my favorite surprise in months: a new 12″ from Bee Mask (Chris Madak), a half hour of bliss spread over two songs titled Vaporware and Scanops.
The simplest of repeating glitch synth motifs tumbles into a spiritual rollercoaster with the crisp lines of Steve Reich’s Music For 18 Musicians and the spacey wash of Klaus Schulze, yet it’s the beating heart of Terry Riley sinking in when thoughts of influence sprout during another listen. There’s something bright and pure and novel about his approach here: by stripping his sound to a base element, Madak opens the door to something more pure and evocative than he’s shown before. This is not just a case of his forebears shining through; it is thoughtful composition approaching the level of the aforementioned masters themselves.
I started this post one night while playing this on repeat and simply reached a point where words failed to capture my mouth agape, my lost thoughts, my tingling sense of elevation when either of these pieces hit that moment where time stands still and all earthly concerns lift. I don’t mean to imply that this is more transcendent than anything; most of my favorite music is. There are artists whom I can reliably go to for that spiritual high, that metaphysical flight, and I believe Bee Mask has just been added to the list.
Here’s a sample but nothing short of the entire piece will suffice.
I forgot to share this immediately after my first listen. I really should have.
Tim Hecker is widely acknowledged as a master of his own blend of melodic drone (whom I’ve shamefully never written in depth about) while Daniel Lopatin is better known as Oneohtrix Point Never, hands down one of my favorite artists working today. The fact that he’s collaborating with Hecker has, to put it mildly, assuaged my fears about Lopatin’s distinct lack of a new LP this year.
It’s late and I’m tired and I don’t know what to say. If you like either of these artists, you will certainly enjoy this song. Let’s hope the full album is just as good.
Having already introduced Diamond Terrifier here, I’ll strike the heart of the matter: Sam Hillmer’s debut solo album is one of the most transcendent pieces I’ve heard all year. Simultaneously an abstract yet tactile experience, Kill The Self That Wants To Kill Yourself is dark and beautiful and weirdly refreshing.
The first sound heard on the titular opener is a warming synth pad straight from Brian Eno‘s playbook. Dream sequence, loving eulogy or triumphant reunion; it’s a lifting wind over which Hillmer solos to melodic catharsis. Arresting in its direct simplicity, this track eases us into the unshackled gravity of romantic disorientation. Slipping on a shattered cloudy fabric Oneohtrix Point Never might wear, he never lets the human presence or real instruments drift out of mind. As the album deepens it never loses grip on the tangible reality of its construction: guitar, handclaps, cymbals and the commanding saxophone are practically visible, yet even the drone swells and programmed drum bits crackle and hum right before me. There is so much life stabbing outward from the perceptual dervish at the center of this album. Kill The Self That Wants To Kill Yourself, beyond being one of the greatest titles ever, feels like the beginning of a new fruitful path for Hillmer. I just hope this doesn’t preclude growth (and future albums) in his main band. Zs are, after all, one of the most interesting bands I perpetually neglect to share.
I will rectify this.
Here’s a track from the album. Like I said yesterday, it works best as a single piece.. this is still great.
Buy this at Northern Spy. As I said before, they are quick with help and priced beyond fairly.
For fans of: Zs, Don Cherry, Fennesz, John Fahey, John Coltrane, Sun City Girls, Coil
Diamond Terrifier is the solo project created by saxophone destroyer Sam Hillmer, as a vehicle for the exploration of more nuanced territory than the blast furnace his day job in avant-jazz-noise group Zs embodies. He’s got a new album out which I’ll get to in a moment.
For now, check this:
Twenty seven minutes of otherworldly bliss. I’ve now listened three times in a row. Each set bringing something new to the fore, shifting around the sweet spots. Each time a novel element flashes brighter: the swarming Pharoah Sanders and Don Cherry echoes in the horn play, the primitively menacing percussion, the psychotic guitar threatening to derail everything at one point, even the familiar ghosts hissing between the cracks (hello, He Loved Him Madly). It begins in earnest with Hillmer laying out a lyrical solo somewhere between siren and whale song and progresses to a full band tsunami where we have a synthy bass pulse emerging at times like a ship refusing to sink, only to rise in full sail near the end in a sax-and-laser maelstrom.
This incredible piece is just a taste of what this man creates, something taken to a much more personal and direct place on the new album, Kill The Self That Wants To Kill Yourself. There’s a stream of one of the tracks on the Diamond Terrifier soundcloud, though I believe it works much better as part of the whole.
There it is. Get it at Northern Spy. They have great prices and (seriously) fast and helpful customer relations.
For fans of: John Coltrane, Terry Riley, Boredoms, Colin Stetson, Anthony Braxton, Ultralyd, adventures
I often play host to a great hunger, longing for a new piece of music to burrow into for weeks. I’m grateful that in this age I have a reasonable chance of striking that vein several times a year, or having a trio new addictions at once (or two or five albums of the year). Growing up, I remember falling in love with an album and listening to it with abusive regularity for months on end, because I had no clue that another perfect sound was out there beyond my grasp and lack of internet. So I swell with gratitude every time it happens. This time it’s Marielle V Jakobsons with her debut Glass Canyon.
I don’t recall where, but I would like to thank whomever shared this three song sampler (half the album!) because I hit play and was swept away so completely that I evaporated from the tail end of Dusty Trails at the order form for the LP edition.
Employing mainly synthesizer and violin, Jakobsons carves a puzzle dream landscape (possibly) named in the song titles. Each sequence heaves and grows and disintegrates in delicate fashion like a sentient desert. There is a meticulous nature about her craft, signalling her strength as a composer in the way that Christian Fennesz‘s best pieces work: as both feedback sculptures and orchestras in miniature at once. With synths lush and jagged alike anchoring the music, her yearning violin is set free to trigger cascades of the emotional beats often summoned by much larger scales of work from the likes of Godspeed You! Black Emperor or Stravinsky while never even looking in the direction of the kind of bombast they’re capable (or guilty?) of. This is exemplified in slow building opener Purple Sands when the track blossoms, invoking the ghosts of Gavin Bryars’ masterpiece The Sinking of the Titanic, a piece which has always given me chills. These forces amplify each other into an aching dark journey, an album transporting beyond most anything I’ve heard all year.
For fans of: Ash Ra Tempel, Terry Riley, Spacemen 3, Leyland Kirby, Black To Comm, insane memory