November 1, 2013
For those who know their music, Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter, Kurt Vile would like to clarify something: When his parents, Mr. and Ms. Vile, named him Kurt, they did not know anything about the early 20th-century German songwriter Kurt Weill, whose last name is properly pronounced “vile.” Speaking over the phone from his home, the 33-year-old Vile said of his parents, “They had no idea who the composer was … I do have German in my ancestry, but my running joke is I always forget my family tree.”
It’s a great sign when a musician reveals a sense of humor about what is possibly a question he might have heard more often than he has cared to answer. As suits such a giving artist, Vile spoke frankly and was not above giving credit where due. From sonic ideas to his influences, he seemed happy to talk about it all. It was therefore easy for this writer to produce not one, but three different articles on Vile for the “Miami New Times,” ahead of his first live appearance in the Magic City tonight at Grand Central (see details below, as well as more tour dates).
The first article appeared last week, which also appears in print in this week’s issue of the “Miami New Times.” On the publication’s “Crossfade” music blog, the headline for the article tempted some commentators to answer Vile’s rhetorical question:
Vile spent even more time talking about long songs than was fit to print. His new album, Wakin On A Pretty Daze features a plethora of rambling, lengthy tracks. He admitted he has long had an affection for indulging in riffs that invite the listener to get lost in the music. He pointed to Neil Young as an example. “Like that song ‘Cortez the Killer,’ it can go on forever because he is just playing the right cords,” he said. “It has the right feel, the right groove. That’s an example of a song that doesn’t matter how long it is, and I was just taking that without exactly thinking about ‘Cortez the Killer,’ but there’s a million artists. It’s like the beginning of time, just people in the fields are playing blues riffs forever. So it’s just fine-tuning that and making it your own thing.”
Vile revealed that he felt a new-found ease with these new songs after getting his 2010 breakthrough album Smoke Ring For My Halo out of his system. Though the new songs flow easy and organically, he said they did not necessarily come out in single writing sessions. A lot of the songs were written in different parts of the world while he toured. “Different parts of the songs I write in different places,” he said, “but it all just kind of works cohesively and finally, ultimately when you go into the studio, you’re still not sure it’s all going to work out, and then you hear it back. Then there are sections where you just keep it going and think maybe you’ll just fade it out, but then you think this is where a solo will happen and then you listen back and you just realize you got to a place where the whole thing is good like that or at least good enough for you to not cut it out, whereas, in the past, I’ve done long songs too where they are seven, eight minutes long, but it’s still kind of primitive, though.”
Long songs have been something Vile has tried to fine tune for several years. He looks back at earlier experiments with modesty and without shame. ”You listen back, it’s primitive. I like it, but I didn’t quite nail it in the recording cause it just kinda sounds all the same, all the way through to me. There were a lot of long songs for Smoke Ring too, but we just had to edit them down because after a while you weren’t bobbing your head. And also you wanted a single. It was that kind of record where a song like ‘Runner Ups’ was longer, cut it down. ‘Society Is My Friend’ was longer, cut it down. Stuff like that,” he added with a laugh.
Humility seems to be part of Vile’s character. The second article for “Crossfade” came easy: his confession to feeling insecure about the recording and production process:
All there was to say on the topic appeared in that article. What was left included more technical insights into his craft but also his demystification of analog recordings to vinyl. A self-proclaimed fan on vinyl records, Vile said they just do not make them like the used to. The picture below is a still image from a home-made video for “Never Run Away,” from Wakin On A Pretty Daze, featuring his then 3-year-old daughter and his record collection. After the jump to this third article, you will find the video.:
Kurt Vile and the Violators with Beach Fossils, VBA and the Band In Heaven. Friday, November 1. Grand Central, 697 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Doors 8 p.m. Tickets cost $15. All ages. Call 305-377-2277 or visit grandcentralmiami.com.
His tour continues up Florida and later in Europe:
11-02 Orlando, FL – The Social *
11-03 Tallahassee, FL – Club Downunder *
11-05 New Orleans, LA – One Eyed Jack’s *
11-06 Houston, TX – Walters *
11-11 Oxford, MS – Proud Larry’s *
11-12 Chattanooga, TN – JJ’s Bohemia *
12-07 Stockholm, Sweden – Debaser Medis
12-08 Lund, Sweden – Mejeriet
12-11 London, England – 02 Shepherd’s Social Club
12-13 Leeds, England – Brudenell Social Club
12-14 Manchester, England – Manchester Academy 2
12-15 Glasgow, Scotland – Arches
12-16 Bristol, England – The Fleece
12-17 Brighton, England – Concorde 2
12-19 Paris, France – La Gaite Lyrique
12-20 Tourcoing, France – Le Grand Mix
* with Beach Fossils
More tour dates into 2014 and several dates in Australia can be found on Vile’s official tour page (that’s a hotlink).
May 13, 2013
Thanks to NPR Music’s “First Listen” series, Deerhunter’s new album Monomania has had two weeks to seep in. It soon became apparent that this album was a marvelous continuation of the Atlanta-based band’s arty noise-pop sound. Any doubts about this album for this writer lasted only halfway through the band’s premiere of the title track on Jimmy Fallon’s late night show a few weeks ago. Deerhunter would give one of the most brilliantly subversive television performances I had ever seen. Lead singer/guitarist Bradford Cox hid most of his face under a disheveled mop of a jet-black wig. He gripped a microphone on a stand with his right hand and snarled through the song. But the scene-stealer was a missing middle finger on his left hand. His face mostly hidden, one could not help but notice the bandaged and bloody nub where one of his fingers should have been. Though later proven a stunt (he had just curled up his finger and wrapped it tight), this “prop” raised the performance to an entrancing level, especially when one has to think what this might do to the guitarist/songwriter’s process considering the wall-of-guitar sound of Deerhunter.
Then, a little more than halfway through the song, as the band dove into a roaring cacophony of dueling guitars, Cox walked off the stage. A cameraman followed him backstage, as his mates bent over their respective instruments to squeeze the life out of their strings, seemingly oblivious to the disappearance of their frontman. Guitars still wailing in the distance, Cox walked past a couple chatting in a backstage hall, snatched a cup from a woman yapping and either chugged the cup of water or threw it in his own face (I can’t recall, the video is no longer on-line). With the band members still pounding on their instruments, he walked over to an elevator and pressed a button, as “Monomania” came to a sputtering end. Fallon walked over to the stage holding a vinyl copy of the album. “Deerhunter, everybody!”
This is the genius that informs this music that I have consistently celebrated since I first heard of Deerhunter via their third album, 2008’s Microcastle. Three albums later and Deerhunter have not lost their touch to these ears. The new album opens with two noisy tracks with vocals so loud they rattle eardrums, distorting beyond perception of lyrics as guitars screech and shimmer, dipping into sporadic bits of feedback. Then comes relief in “The Missing,” a pretty melody crafted by guitarist Lockett Pundt, who also has a noteworthy solo project called Lotus Plaza. Pundt’s shy, breathy singing is the perfect complement to the delicate songcraft: pretty guitars and synths sighing an iridescent harmonic whoosh under the bright guitars. None of these songs on their own would feel as potent taken out of the context from one another. It’s a great bit of dichotomy. To reduce Deerhunter as a grungy shoegaze/noise pop outfit interested solely in reverb is to overlook the patchwork brilliance of the entire experience of its albums.
Last week, the vinyl version of Monomania arrived, and it provided yet another layer of revelation. What becomes immediately noticeable, thanks to the clarity of vinyl, is the acoustic guitar strumming within the din of the opening track, “Neon Junkyard.” There are also various whirs and fizzes that comprise the noise from unknown sources. The lyrics are also clearer, and the first line may as well be Deerhunter’s manifesto: “Finding the fluorescence in the junk/By night illuminates the day.”
The great thing about noise pop albums on vinyl is how the format clears up the din like a high-definition video screen. There is finesse in the racket. The clarity of the instruments, from the strum of acoustic guitars to the pluck of bass strings, pops out with not just crispness but dynamism. “Blue Agent” contains a staccato lead guitar line the oozes liquidity. However, its terse delivery features a new dynamic in each pluck on vinyl. The sonic range via vinyl turns what could be regarded as a cute gimmick in playing to elevating the song with a deeper character that sounds far more human and real.
“T.H.M.” opens with a delicate guitar line and soft beat decorated with a shaker. The song picks up on a sprightlier beat with hand claps as another guitar jumps in to add another terse melody before returning to the more spare verse. The kicker comes when Cox supplements his growling lyrics with a chorus of asthmatic coughs.
Side two opens with a billowing whir and then bright guitars drive the song along toward a chorus featuring an echo effect capping off the end of each line Cox sings before more guitar strums pile up to swell and suddenly back off and let the initial hook trot along to the song’s finale. It’s a brilliant tease of noise versus melody. In fact, this side more than side one features the catchier tunes and reveals the early ‘90s/late ‘80s noise pop sonic influence from bands like Dinosaur Jr. and Pavement. However, whereas those bands were usually against keeping keyboards and keeping synths out of the mix, Deerhunter has no fear of using them to supplement its sound. Then again, there is that roar of an outboard motor that takes over from the crush of screeching guitars at the end of “Monomania.”
Beyond the gritty sound juxtaposed with brightness are the dark lyrics by Cox. That’s where the true heart of darkness of this album lies. As bright as “T.H.M.” sounds musically, the lyrics reference a violent death (“Took two bullets to the brain”) coupled with “coming out” and insanity. Throughout Monomania, the lyrics seem to wallow in misunderstanding and a frustrated solitude. It comes from a very real place, as Cox rarely sentimentalizes his homosexuality. Even Pundt’s only song, “the Missing,” fits the vibe of the album lyrically.
Deerhunter has always known its way around darker subject matter, and such deep exploration births an honest sound that does not always produce pure melody. The members of Deerhunter consistently prove themselves crafty with guitars and pop songs, but they know how to dig deeper to offer something much more dynamic with not only volume but cacophony. As ever, Deerhunter proves there is a beauty in noise. Monomania may have frayed and weathered edges but it’s representative of a real humanity beyond the songcraft.
March 18, 2010
It has happened: the Flaming Lips are now taking pre-orders for their collaboration with Stardeath and White Dwarves, Henry Rollins and Peaches doing Pink Floyd’s the Dark Side of the Moon. . . on regular 140 g weight vinyl, which comes with a bonus CD! Click here to pre-order the item direct from the Flaming Lips’ website.
The official release date for this reportedly limited edition vinyl is slated for April 17, which happens to be National Record Store Day. The CD-only version comes out later, on May 4.
Originally released as a digital-only album on iTunes, Napster and other sources, this collaboration blew my mind from the first few seconds, when the Lips and Stardeath crew decided to turn the original mellow, wash of “Speak to Me/Breathe” into a driving noisy bass hook. The rest of the album comes across just as inventive while still showing great affection and respect to the original work of Pink Floyd.
I immediately pined for how this might sound on the openness of vinyl, and I wasn’t the only one. I’m glad to see this is coming out on my preferred music format.
As for that annoying Parental Advisory sticker, I don’t know if it will really be on the album sleeve, but the Christmas on Mars LP was supposed to have it, and mine does not.
November 18, 2009
Since David Bowie is my unequivocal favorite recording artist, I was excited to have received a promo copy of the 40th Anniversary pressing of Bowie’s Space Oddity record (It was officially released in the U.S. yesterday). But I’d be remiss not to note my disappointment. The sound quality was nothing new to me, as the only other vinyl version I have of this record is the long out of print Rykodisc reissue from about 20 years back. Both are digitally sourced. It doesn’t matter much the remasters might differ, as digital recordings lack the warmth of the original analog tapes, the ideal source for vinyl.
Some of the apparent faults of digitally sourced vinyl can easily be heard on the first side of this record. The jam at the end of “Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed,” especially where the horn comes in, pierces the ears. Following that track is “Letter to Hermione,” which has some unfortunate, distracting amplified sibilance throughout (which actually sounds less annoying on the Ryko release). Then, during “Cygnet Committee,” I thought I was hearing things, but after checking back three times, when Bowie first sings, “Because of you I need to rest/Because it’s you that sets the test,” I could hear distant voices and/or music. It reminds me of what a re-used cassette might sound like when you copy over music that was already there, and you can hear the ghost of that music below the new music you recorded on top. I wonder if this audio “ghost” may have been chit-chat in the studio that the microphones might have picked up…*
The reissue packaging is OK. EMI has done better with their “From the Capitol Vaults” series: The jackets are sturdy and painstakingly reproduce the quality of the original release (Space Oddity was not first issued in a flimsy high-gloss sleeve, though this vinyl reissue for the first time returns it to its original self-titled glory on LP). The package also includes a giant poster that reproduces a poster promoting a concert featuring Bowie during the record’s original release, which reeks of its digital source, an unfortunate visual reflection of the quality of the audio (you can see some of that psoter in the image of the record above). Personally, the Ziggy Stardust era image on the back cover of the original RCA reissue (seen left) would have made a way cooler poster, when the album was first re-titled Space Oddity (thanks to Epiclectic’s cool Flickr photostream featuring original album art for the image!).**
But the joy of this record is having another close listen to the songs. I first heard it when I was a young teenager in the 80s, having only been familiar with “Space Oddity” as a single collected on one of Bowie’s greatest hits (a cassette of either Fame and Fashion or Changesonebowie). What stood out to me then was how different some of the songs sounded in comparison to the trippy quality of the title track.*** This was Bowie in his short-lived hippie persona, which would later suffer a violent end with his 1970 follow-up, the pre-heavy metal tinge of The Man Who Sold the World.
What still strikes me is how sad some of these songs sound: the passionate delivery of the social critique that is “Cygnet Committee,” the lovelorn longing in “Letter to Hermione,” the pathos of “God Knows I’m Good,” the over-the-top melodrama of “Wild Eyed Boy From Freecloud.” Even “Memory of a Free Festival” has this mournful nostalgic quality, a beautiful moment that has died, similar to another cut on this same album, “An Occasional Dream,” except that the former recreates a shared experience with like-minded bohemian souls, while the other portrays a more private experience with a soul mate.
This album truly was Bowie with soul bared naked at the time (I believe he was 22 or 23 at the time). He wasn’t hiding behind some over-the-top persona, nor was he the self-conscious fame-seeking pop artist of prior failed attempts for notoriety as a soulful mod rocker and pop crooner. He also was yet to begin the more abstract cut-up lyric writing technique he took from famed beat writer William S. Burroughs–that would first occur on 1974’s Diamond Dogs.
For me, the strongest bits of the album include the otherworldly finale “Memory of a Free Festival” with its refrain of “Sun Machine is coming down, and we’re going to have a party” (noise poppers Mercury Rev would later record an appropriately strong version of this song). The jam that ends “Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed” was a revelation for Bowie at the time, since all his earlier songs were mostly compact pop numbers. Which leads me to the epic grandeur of “Cygnet Committee,” a song that grows from delicate sing-song to its soaring, pounding finale over the course of nine and a half minutes, his longest song to that date.
Though probably his strongest work at the time, Space Oddity was never the strongest album of his career. It really shows a newfound sophistication for him both lyrically and musically since his prior work, where his biggest inspiration was the cheesy pop of Anthony Newley, which sometimes resulted in some embarrassingly zany moments that shall remain unmentioned out of respect. He would later temper these naïve self-conscious themes with deeper existential musings in much stronger songs like “Quicksand” and “Life on Mars” or the more surreal “Bewlay Brothers,” all from 1971’s Hunky Dory.
Finally, a 2-CD version has also been reissued at the same time as this vinyl version, which collects some songs never officially available to the public.
*After checking, yes, this audio “ghost” is also on the Ryko LP version, and, yes again, I checked the Ryko CD, 1999 Virgin CD reissue and the Japanese mini LP CD—it’s on them all. I guess I never heard it before because I never had the system I now have (more on that in another post). I’m only left to wonder if it’s on the original RCA CD or LP (it probably would not have come out on the cassette due to the inherent hiss of the tape).
**Before the album had been simply titled David Bowie, just like his first full-length in 1967 on Deram Records, adding to some confusion. To top it off, when it was first issued by Mercury in the U.S. the artwork was changed somewhat and the shameless (unapproved by Bowie) title Man of Words/Man of Music was added on. It became Space Oddity in 1972, when RCA bought the rights to Bowie’s back catalog and reissued it during the Ziggy Stardust craze that again saw the cover art altered to feature Bowie’s Ziggy persona on the covers). Ahhh, the marketing strategies of early music labels, how fun.
***It’s important to note that, per the liner notes on the inner sleeve by Kevin Cann, that “Space Oddity” was produced by Gus Dudgeon, and not Tony Visconti, who recorded the rest of the album (and continued to work with Bowie here and there on some of Bowie’s greatest records, down to his last release, Reality). Cann notes how Visconti had an aversion for the song and refused to record it for Bowie, so Bowie, asking Visconti’s permission, went to an outside producer to record it anyway. It would famously become his hit single thanks to the timing of its release with the first Apollo moon landing, though it was actually inspired by the grim future vision of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey. It would turn out that none of the other songs, as strong as some still are, ever had single quality, to the frustration of the label and Bowie. Fame would elude him until his other interstellar ride as Ziggy Stardust, three long years later.
November 6, 2009
Seeing an opening cut on the jacket simply titled “Krautrock” intrigued me, as I certainly count myself among the fans of the genre known by the same name. I never had a clue that the genre title used to describe the likes of Kraftwerk, Can and Neu! actually came from a Faust record.
This opening track is actually a noisy instrumental piece of loud, pulsing synthesizers that thread an array of randomly growling electric guitars with a steady tambourine beat beneath it all. Halfway through the tambourine gives way to a drum kit that takes over the rhythm and the guitars continue to wrestle and wind with each other, oblivious to the beat. It’s some of the most blissed-out noise ever recorded.
The piece actually reminds me of early Stereolab. Stereolab were never shy about their early Krautrock influences, and beyond their rhythmic electric guitar jangle clearly inspired by the work of Neu! I can finally hear where Faust figures into their equation.
The next song is an extreme shift from the fuzzy, trippy ebb and flow of “Krautrock.” “The Sad Skinhead” cuts into the hypnotic state induced by the early track with a sloppy, over-modulated yell and creepy, stalking guitar lines, with occasional moans of feedback, with lyrics sung in heavy accented English:
“Apart from all the bad times you gave me
I always felt good with you
Going places, smashing faces
what else could we do?”
Again, in perfect complement/contrast to that almost annoying song, the next cut stuns in its shift of tone. “Jennifer” blows over you like a cloud of soothing, enveloping cool air.* The throbbing, rhythmic drone below a lugubrious and dreamy guitar hook on “Jennifer” pulses with amazing vividness on the wax. This is easily my favorite track on the album. The dreamy, breezy guitar hook repeats over and over again as the singer croons surreal lyrics: “Jennifer, your red hair’s burning/Yellow jokes come out of your mind” before swelling into a wash of noisy distortion that ebbs and flows like waves lapping the shoreline of some faraway, other-worldly beach made of white noise. Then, the crash of a cymbal cuts the noise off only for a coda featuring some old-time sounding piano, that still follows the Krautrock aesthetic of catchy, simple, redundant hook with random improvisation flitting and dancing over it. In this case, the low end becomes an anchoring droney, hook, and the higher octave winds up and down the scales in some nightmare attempt to make a melody.
The second side opens with “Just a Second,” another brilliant instrumental of guitars and synthesizers, which melts into the psycho bounce of “Giggy Smile,” which has an extraordinary amount of shifts in tones and styles, opening with a zany polka-like sing-song and shifting into a chill jazz number with saxophone and then ending in some super catchy, driving keyboard hook with guitars weaving in and our and zipping about. It’s so repetitive it sticks in your head, but the layers of the improvised guitar playing is so dynamic, it never grows tiresome.
“Giggy Smile” comes to an abrupt halt and you suddenly hear what sounds like some casual conversation in the recording booth in German, the only spoken or sung German on the entire record. Just as this peek behind the curtain appears, it vanishes into the pastoral ramble of “Lauft… Heisst Das es Lauft Oder es Kommt Bald… Lauft” (that is the brief spoken German dialogue). The gentle acoustic guitar punctuated by a driving violin and handclaps and a distant, howling flute with vocals sung in French again offers an odd shift away from the stylings of the other tracks.
As the whirring din of rattle hushes “Lauft” and a meandering synthesizer that recalls the mood music of another famous Krautrock act, Tangerine Dream—or another Krautrock-influenced Englishman Brian Eno—hums along like an ambient puff of harmonic smoke. It swells loudly then dissolves into another soft acoustic-guitar driven song that again has pastoral qualities, the finale: “It’s a bit of a Pain.” The track, a beautiful, soft moment of rambling acoustic guitar and dreamy piano, punctuated by the occasional juxtaposition of white noise buzz from some other-dimensional synthesizer, soon rambles off into quietness, closing out one of the greatest art rock records ever composed.
Caught up with the mastery of the music on the record, I have to hand it to Capitol/EMI in its remastering. Subtle sounds, like the delicate throb of “Jennifer,” which is more felt than heard, is as clean as can be (hence why you need the vinyl, as on the CD things get muddy due to the limits of compressed sound). The rattle above the calming acoustic guitar and whining violin of “Lauft” almost hovers out of the speakers, as if it’s coming from another room.
Sourced from the original master tapes, according to the liner notes on the inner sleeve (which even faithfully reproduce the band’s tour dates at the time of the record’s release), the dynamic depth of these complex tracks, so laden in noise, dazzle. This is the sort of record made for appreciation through the depth of vinyl. I honestly do not believe I would have enjoyed it as much had I heard it on CD first. This music is too dynamic and complex to be relegated to that restrictive medium, much less the mp3 format.
*I can’t help but think about that out-of-order Wolfmother record I got earlier this week, and how important the order of the tracks are on this record. Fitting songs on two sides of a record is an art mostly lost on today’s musicians. With the varied dynamics and sounds on Faust IV that lend so much to the flow of the songs, the right order of tracks is essential to experiencing this record all the way through. It’s a true masterpiece through and through.
November 3, 2009
For instance, “New Moon Rising” is track 3 on side C on the physical record and not track 2 on side A as listed on the record jacket. All tracks seem to be on random play, as if you chose the option on a CD player, and it hurts my head because it can’t be undone. Granted, some might think this makes it a killer collectible, but I wanted a record in the proper playing order.
As I played it, I noticed the flow of the songs felt weak (yes, there is an art to arranging songs on a record, especially a four-sided vinyl release!), and sure enough, upon close inspection, the tracks listed on the sleeve did not correspond with what was on the vinyl. I am wondering if anyone has had a similar experience with the vinyl version.
I just re-ordered a copy from Amazon, hoping it will be accurate. I will report back, of course.
November 3, 2009
Today EMI/Capitol continues its “From the Capitol Vaults” series where the major record label reissues long out of print vinyl records of essential albums. These come on thick, 180-gram slabs of wax in packaging that mimics the original release. Sometimes there are nice bonuses, like the large posters reproducing the Roxy Music covers or the liner notes in the newly reissued Faust IV album.
Also released in this series are:
The series was also to include David Bowie’s Aladdin Sane, Diamond Dogs, and Young Americans, however their release dates have been pushed back to Jan. 26, 2010.
Speaking if the Bowie reissues, a source at the label told me that the sources used for these are all digital. Specifically, for Diamond Dogs, they used the digital master from 1999, Young Americans, comes from the 2007 digital master and Aladdin Sane, the 2003 digital master. So no official, reissued Bowie vinyl has yet to be sourced from the original analog master tapes and none are planned for the near future. I have the Space Oddity reissue coming on the way from the label (it’s due for release on Nov. 17), so it’s a wait and see on that.
But back to the current releases… For me, the gem in this batch is the Faust record. I’m not denying the importance of the other releases, which are definitely popular classics for many, but, as a hardcore fan of Krautrock musik, Faust IV blew my mind. Before listening to this album all the way through I had only given Faust cursory listens: a track here and there. But a few listens of this gorgeous slab of wax, has made it one of my all-time favorite records from the scene, not to mention the early 70s in general (Here’s my review).
I’ve bought many records in the series, including most of the Radiohead reissues and all the Roxy Music reissues, and have been impressed with the sound quality of these reissues. The records barely make any noise at all, and they are up there in pressing quality with the likes of releases from Matador Records, who clearly are affectionate about their vinyl pressings. However, as I have noted, some “Capitol Vaults” records do come from digital sources instead of the ideal source of the original analog master tapes, which hold much more realistic depth to the music as compared to the compressed sound of digitally stored music.
I plan to investigate further as to the sources of all the records in this series. At least in the case of the Faust album, I had to open the record and read through the tiny liner notes to learn the source.