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.
This album is GOD.
I haven’t been back to Optimistic Underground in a while. There has been a lot going on in life but as always I’m continuously immersed in music. Lately, with a few notable exceptions, I’ve been listening to a lot of my personal favorite albums in an effort to tap into the exhilaration of something I know I love. I think I’m also looking for inspiration, and answers. What elevated these particular pieces of music to a realm of formative life experiences? These are the albums I used to burrow into for months, knowing every nook and cranny, knowing the texture and contours like my own skin.. and yet they’re a revelation once again with the right mixture of time, decay, perspective, distance, environment and attitude. It’s probably more than that. My ears have changed, not to mention my tastes. Yet the true greats will always have a place; it takes at least time to sort them from the intense but short love affairs with slightly lesser albums.
One of the most striking moments in my listening life happened the night I heard The Flaming Lips‘ 1999 masterpiece The Soft Bulletin, driving though rural back roads with a friend who had just purchased the CD blindly. He’d picked up Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots and asked if the band was any good; I replied with some half thought that I’d heard “their older stuff was better” without any clue if I was even thinking of the right band. In response, my friend bought the only other CD available and inadvertently changed my (musical) life forever. The warbling tape orchestra, the out-of-nowhere bass thunder on the second track, and that melody on The Spark That Bled had me instantly. I was distracted to the point that I remember images of my stereo, the booklet in my hands, the music and exclaiming about it, and not the drive itself. The friend wanted a blank CD and I gave him one on the condition that I borrow this new Flaming Lips thing for the night. I listened half a dozen times before bed. I scoured the band’s website, where the entirety of Yoshimi and a handful of earlier album songs streamed free (this was extremely novel and rare at the time, about 2002). I became a total diehard fan in a matter of weeks.
This is all to preface the fact that when I dug through my collection after moving – when the cds and vinyl are all out in the open like that, it’s easier to become excited about certain albums – I had a lurch in my heart toward this album. I needed to hear it. My soul was calling to it, or being called. The next thing that happened was.. despite never having had much of an extended break from hearing it, I was getting the fresh, brightening outlook, rising sun, open chakra, wide eyed feeling all over again, a decade later. The thing that meant most to me at the time, I believe, was this feeling of new possibilities and opportunities everywhere. This adventurous, brave, open and attentive nature was overtaking me and my outlook on life literally widened in scope. It was a confluence of events and life changes, but The Soft Bulletin crystallized that feeling in a single disc I could grasp forever. It was exciting; all the rough, unnerving bits that hit me by surprise like sudden deer in the headlights became the very signposts for the change I was seeking. This album is not only different from what the band was doing, what was accepted and loved in pop music, and what I’d been into until that moment, it actually embodies that jarring, eye-popping thunderclap of sudden and real change in life. The songs each take off like a homemade rocket, reaching space against all odds in some miracle of ingenuity and love. This is not something I take lightly.
I came here today merely to share the following documentary but was overcome by my continent of feeling for this album. I could drift for days on how this makes me feel. I know it was released last year but I only came upon it during my recent binge and was blown away by the reverence and passion the band still have for this masterpiece. It not only delves into the nuts-and-bolts creation of the music itself but also dissects a bit of what makes it such a personal touchstone for a certain set of folks. If you’re already a fan, be prepared to have your nostalgia drive working overtime and keep the album handy for an inevitable post-viewing listen. If you are unfamiliar, I kind of envy your position. This is beautiful new territory, and in my view the documentary will make a perfect introduction.
I must note for the diehard fans that the audio used in most of this appears to be from the 5.1 and/or recent vinyl issue of the album. If you’re as irredeemably familiar with this music as I am, it’ll be a nice experience to get hands on either of those releases and hear this music rendered in a slightly different (clearer?) light.
My list of connected blogs should change more frequently, and now is a great time to start. There are a couple I have in mind, music blogs with vast knowledge and interesting subjects. I need more. Not only to spread the word here, but for my own benefit. I find it easy to slide into routines and some fresh perspective is a necessary punctuation. So:
What are your favorite music blogs?
Any type: essays, reviews, videos, original material, file sharing, etc.
Please leave a comment and then listen to this absolute stunner from Robbie Basho, Blue Crystal Fire.
This song resides at the center of Visions Of The Country (1978), the only Basho album I have. Having discovered his music this month I’m not experienced enough to convey much more than the notion that this is an essential listen for fans of guitar music and/or incredible voices. It is. I literally cried during my first listen.
Great cover artwork, too!
Thank you for the replies!!
This video is old and I haven’t written a post about Gang Gang Dance in a while, but neither fact matters. This is a freewheeling ode to getting high on your music.
I really can’t say more. Watch the video.
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
Long ago I was shown The Necks. The internet was not such a hospitable place and my search for an album to sample was fruitless. Alas, after the buzz wore off they were forgotten. Now, thanks to a helpful soul on a forum, I was reintroduced to what is quickly becoming a new addiction. Here is their first album in its entirety.
The band, comprised of Chris Abrahams on piano, Lloyd Swanton on bass and Tony Buck on drums, unspools boundless jam fireworks outside of any specific genre or time. There’s the interplay of jazz, an often motorik pulse of krautrock, and space based atmospherics of kosmiche all woven together in a pristine spartan construction. They make an hour disappear without breaking a sweat.
I don’t like doing research simply for the sake of posting on here so I must return at a later date when I’m fully immersed in The Necks. For now, enjoy the debut and seek out more if this is your kind of thing. And please, buy their music if you enjoy it. Everything they’ve released is available on their site:
The title says it all: Miles Davis Live Electric and Brutal.
Just hit play, turn your volume up to an uncomfortable level, and let this thing blast the top of your head off. You will feel like a new person after watching this, and go forth into your day with fresh energy and a skyward gaze. Your life will be that much closer to completion. Seriously!