RHP promo stillFull disclosure: Mark Kozelek blew off a scheduled interview to my face the night after this concert. Still, I don’t take my taste for his music personally. I kinda knew he could be rude after this show in St. Petersburg, Florida. At one point he shared his hotel room details on stage because he’s “on the prowl now.” At another point he told a fan, “I’ll fuckin’ choke you with this Flying V.” Despite all that, this show at the State Theater, on Nov. 21, 1997 is one of my fondest remembered live shows. His Name is Alive opened it, and I met with them at sound check (they were way friendlier). I’ll never forget the long row of varied guitars lined up backstage for Red House Painters. There must have been 40 to 50 of them, including that Gibson Flying V. Reportedly, all had their own tuning for various songs, depending on what Kozelek would feel like playing that night.

My interview with His Name Is Alive was for “Goldmine,” which they got a kick out of:  an obscure alt-rock band — whose biggest hit played on MTV’s weekly alternative late-night show “120 Minutes” — profiled in a stodgy record collector’s magazine. The Red House Painters interview would have been for “JAM Entertainment News,” a statewide Florida ‘zine. It could be Kozelek wasn’t impressed with the opening act going into the national publication, or he just didn’t feel like talking about his music (he denied we had the appointment, even though his PR company would express their frustration to me about him, as if he had done this before). Who knows? I don’t care much about it at this point. This has become my fun Kozelek anecdote from back in the day.

What matters is that his music still holds up, and I was really pleased to see 4AD recently reissue its entire RHP catalog on vinyl (I picked it all up). Most recently, I was digging through some of my old cassettes and found a decent quality audience recording of RHP’s performance from the night before I was supposed to sit down and talk to Kozelek in Orlando. This was the first of two dates in a Central Florida tour in support of Songs For a Blue Guitar.


One of the things that make the Red House Painters live so interesting is how they reinterpret their original recordings. Live, the songs often change a lot, and often for the better. Take this night’s version of “Grace Cathedral Park.” Kozelek’s voice is sadder than on the record. He sings each line with a yearning, which is more powerful than the wistful reserve on the record. Even the guitar line has changed. On the record, it’s a dreamy, strummed affair, but live, it’s a rambling, hypnotic hook in a minor key. “Evil,” despite Kozelek double-timing the vocals, is as intense as ever because of the song’s crawling tempo and dynamics. A change halfway through, where Kozelek groans out wordless vocals that crescendo from a mutter to a siren’s howl, is remarkable in its stripped down, hypnotic drone rock mastery.

Despite a terrific version of “Evil,” the highlight of the night wasn’t familiar songs, but a brand new track he didn’t even name. He only introduced it by saying, “We’re gonna play a couple of new songs.” Then he played some dreamy chords, awash in a watery effect. In my notes I called it, “You Are My Everything” based on the refrain before the song took a turn during an explosive jam before clamoring into a lower gear and settling back to its beautiful, familiar chords. The part returned with an extra bit of guitar solo on top for a brief moment. I wanted it to go on longer. It was heartrendingly gorgeous. It would later be re-worked (in my opinion, to its detriment) into “Michigan,” on the band’s follow-up album, Old Ramon. It’s so amazing that I have isolated it as an mp3 for download:

Download “Michigan” (live in St. Pete) here

But, if you want hear (most) of the show as it unfolded, you can stream it below in two parts that I’ve uploaded to YouTube. It was recorded with a handheld cassette recorder on a 100 minute Maxell XLII-S cassette. The tape was not long enough to capture the entire show. “Lord, Kill the Pain” was cut short on Side A and “I Feel the Rain Fall” was cut short on Side B. I faded out both before the harsh cuts. By the end of Side B, the band hadn’t even gotten to their encore. As for the sound quality, it’s an audience recording, so there’s not much dynamics. I messed with the amplification a bit in Audicity, which helped. There’s also some tape hiss, but the audience stayed quiet for much of the show (there is some unfortunate restless muttering during the quieter parts of the new songs). In the end, it’s a good historic snapshot of where the band was between what would be their final two albums, Songs For a Blue Guitar and Old Ramon. They actually played three songs that would end up on Old Ramon, which only saw official release in 2001 via Sub Pop Records. Here’s the set list:

“Uncle Joe”
“Albuquerque” (Neil Young cover)
“Grace Cathedral Park”
“Lord, Kill the Pain” (cut)
“Medicine Bottle”
“I Feel the Rain Fall” (cut)

And now the show:

Hans Morgenstern

Images courtesy Island Records.

(Copyright 2015 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

AmenDunes_AlbumArtMore than ever this year Independent Ethos has drifted toward film over music. Even the “Miami New Times” and “Pure Honey” magazine, which in the past, usually have tasked this writer with music writing, has assigned more film writing over music. Also, save for a particularity unforgettable performance by Mogwai at Grand Central, this year saw a dearth of live shows from visiting bands. But that did not mean I have ignored new music in 2014. This year was especially remarkable because it also included a type of album that comes by every five to seven years: a masterpiece from an unknown band. This blue moon belongs to Amen Dunes’ Love.

From when I first heard this album, months ago, in the spring, there was no doubt Love would top this list because not only is it the best album I heard in 2014, but one of the greatest albums I’ve heard in the 21st century. As usual, with such bold statements, it’s personal. But I cannot help but marvel at the microscopic musical moments within the album that make it otherworldly and gorgeous.

The instruments are so subtly handled on Love some are hard to recognize sonically. Was that a flute shimmering through the extended, sustained squonk of saxophone in the fade out of opening track “White Child”? Is the rumble in the distance a trumpet? Could there be lightly bowed violin mixed into the quiet strumming of follow-up track “Lonely Richard”? I prefer not to know because the spectral quality of many of the songs on Love weave a transporting tapestry of atmosphere simply unheard of on many modern rock albums.


Musicians, especially pop artists, are so full of self-conscious awareness nowadays that it’s refreshing to hear an album as remarkably luscious as Love while maintaining a mysterious distance of relatability. It’s more impressionistic than expressive, a seeming throwback to Brian Eno’s Another Green World in the vividness of the songs. It helps that there is a beautiful photograph of nature on the cover art. It appears to have been taken at dusk, the moon fading into the early light of day next to a massive puffy cloud and a tree line shrouded in fog. There’s a woman in the corner, baring her bosom to the scenery, looking away from the camera and toward the landscape. You don’t picture this music coming from a studio in Brooklyn, where much of this album was recorded, the music flows out from the earthy branches of trees like a mist.

These songs are auras of ghosts. But it’s not a record fixed in ethereal atmospherics turned to mush, like the Cocteau Twins. It’s more the grounded residue of Meddle-era Pink Floyd with a minimalist touch and the vocals of a rustic Bryan Ferry or Tim Buckley. Singer and multi-instrumentalist Damon McMahon strips down his style on “Sixteen” with only his fluttering voice so drenched in reverb, it’s not always clear what he’s singing. “My love, you’re gone” stands out, but not every line of the lyric. The piano line that makes the music of the song at most has two phrases with two notes each. But it’s not the melody so much as the echo that bounces from one speaker to another that creates the song’s dreamy quality.

That’s the simplest song on the album. Some songs on Love, the second album by Amen Dunes on Sacred Bones Records, have a country feel like the ramble of “Rocket Flare” or a Latin jazz vibe, like “Lilac In Hand.” But genre skipping is only in the shadows of this music. A distinct ghostly style defines the record. The opening of “Lonely Richard” sounds like that moment of slipping out of consciousness into a tranquil slumber. The song begins with a light strum of an acoustic guitar above the echoing end of bow on a string instrument. Opening the song with the reverbing luster of a note’s end upends how the listener considers something like a violin or viola that’s not there and defines this record’s quality. It’s probably guitarist Jordi Wheeler’s fingers delicately touching an electric guitar’s strings, playing the reverberations of the strings instead of the strings themselves. Below the luscious drone of the lightly strummed acoustic with that delicately bowed reverb, drummer Parker Kindred plays a light beat on his snare augmented by the soft rumble of a tom-tom that he must be hitting with a padded timpani mallet. As McMahon sings “know yourself … known yourself for all time” the shimmering drone does not break but creaks along while a quietly tapped piano fades in from nowhere to add to the melody and another vocalist adds some lower-end “deh, deh, deh…” as the song fades away before growing too complicated.

Amen Dunes creates musical miracles with voice and instruments. It culminates with the album’s epic title track, which begins with an ambling piano and some softly tapped hand drums. Amen Dunes LoveOccasionally there are misplaced notes, but they add a human character that trumps anything made by a computer. McMahon sings of dreaming and lost love, as a few more instruments join in, like a shaker and then the distant exhalation of breath through a French horn, but mostly McMahon piles on vocals, from an extended single note, to some unclear, simple scat singing over his lyrics that have become too obscured to make out, but it’s OK, it’s a terrific jam that never overwhelms and maintains the record’s wonderful mood.

Love undoubtedly stands out as the best of the year for this writer. It was one of the few vinyl records purchased this year, and I was happy to find an early clear vinyl edition at Sweat Records, my local Miami record shop. There were only two other records Brian Jonestown Massacre vinylI found worth ordering as imports after streaming them on Spotify because they just were not available in the U.S. at the time. Those two records top the beginning of the rest of this writer’s 10 great albums of 2014. The first was The Brian Jonestown Massacre’s Revelation, which came as a beautiful dual-toned blue vinyl on two LPs. As great as the packaging was, the best thing about it is the music. On first listen, I thought the songs were minimalist Kraut-rock-like drones, but then repeated listens reaped more rewards, as the complexities of the tracks began to stand out. Favorites are the opener and closer, two songs that rock and drone in their own lusciously layered, melodious manners. The first harsh and aggressive, the final buoyantly pretty.

The third vinyl purchase was the original motion picture soundtrack of Only Lovers Left Alive with music primarily by the film’s director Jim Jarmusch and his band Sqürl with accompaniment Only Lovers vinylby lute master Jozef van Wissem. Again, great gatefold packaging featuring colored vinyl, in this case clear blood red. for this soundtrack of a terrific film on the existential malaise of immortal vampires. The film features a couple of great musical moments, a dizzying opening featuring twirling camerawork surely based on 33rpm vinyl and a visit to a bar in Tangiers out of a Win Wenders movie. It’s a film that will rate high on my list of the best films of 2014 only because it all works so well together: the acting, writing, cinematography and of course the music (read my review).

The bottom of the list are records I did not buy (except for one weird exception) but enjoyed repeated listens via Spotify (follow us here), including one I reviewed. I’ll list them in descending order with appropriate links to my writing. Also, as above, all titles link to the item description page on Amazon. If you purchase via the specific link, you will be financially supporting this blog:

  1. Ty Segall – Manipulator (A link to my review)
  2. Owls – Two
  3. Broncho – Just Enough Hip to be a Woman (A link to a preview of the album)
  4. Gov’t Mule – Darkside of the Mule
  5. Dylan Howe – New Designs on Bowie’s Berlin
  6. Jozef van Wissem and Jim Jarmusch – Concerning the Entrance Into Eternity
  7. Guardians of the Galaxy – song soundtrack on cassette (just because the format is so cool and the songs are great selections from the commercial radio I grew up with)

Guardians cassette

Tomorrow: part 1 of the 20 best films of 2014.

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)
cleancutcThe revival of analog releases and recording methods is more than a kitschy approach to music in a world dominated by on-line hits and streams. It can actually form the music. Miami-based musician Alex Caso understands the role that the analog plays in creative restraint. It is one of the reasons why he self-released his two recent albums — under the alter ego Alx Czo — as cassettes.

Perched on the edge of Independent Ethos’ leather couch, Caso is decked out in a Hawaiian shirt, shorts and canvas shoes. His translucent blue sunglasses are perched atop his bushy hair, as we share a listen to his ambient album, She is a Galaxy. He checks to make sure the noise reduction is off on our sound system. It’s the way he prefers people listen to his new albums.

Releasing his music on tape is not so much a choice to satisfy audiophiles as it is to have a physical end-product that defines the music. Let’s face it, cassettes have an inherit hiss by nature, and there is always a generational loss from the master, but when music can take those qualities and run with them it transcends the medium’s limitations, and Caso’s luscious, dreamy, rough-hewn music works aptly with it.

Mujeres cassette

It’s not about pristine sound quality. The subtle hiss of tape adds an almost subconscious layer to the music, which itself is quite layered with the dreamy wash of synths and guitars. That it is rich with electronics that reverberate with a layered luster somehow makes it appropriate for the medium. But do not call it ramshackle or gimmicky. Caso put a lot of consideration into these albums.

Listening to the wash and sparkle of the ambient album, Caso admits a preference for this music over what he calls his “pop” record, Mujeres Infieles, which roughly translates from his native Spanish to “Unfaithful Women.” As you may infer, his preference is not so much about the quality of the music as it is what inspired the different works.

He wrote and recorded Mujeres over the course of a year, between 2011 and 2012. He calls them love songs, but they are not the uplifting sort of ditties that elevate the romantic notion to a pedestal. “I work a lot out of emotional needs,” Caso explains. “A lot of these songs I wrote after a break up. It’s all emotionally based. It’s like exorcising demons. They’re what I call heartmares.”

In fact, the album features two tracks named “Heartmares,” a “dub” version that closes out Side A and the original version, that ends the album. The dub version is an instrumental of layered, twinkling melodies and hums, that also has a steady, casuallashing crackle that actually sounds like a brittle, old tape. The original actually sounds like an early Depeche Mode song, if Depeche Mode made spy music. The only vocal is a distant howling wind, distorted by a ghostly echo.

It’s generally hard to understand what Caso sings on the album of pop songs. It could be by design, as he’s not really into revealing details about who the songs are about. Though, he says, they may know who they are. But it matters little, as it’s about his affection for sonics, which sound inspired by early Magnetic Fields and My Bloody Valentine. The album opens with “Princess Fantasy,” featuring an electronic beat mixed into a hissing, percolating melody that chugs along like a brilliant early Magnetic Fields song, in fact.

He is aware that ‘80s and ‘90s-era music is a big influence on him. He says pop songs from back then were just better than those of today. He notes there is just no vision in commercial or pop songwriting anymore. “The old guys were right because every decade the songs are getting worse,” he bemoans. “Everything now is a dance remix or songs about butts/big booty girls or a generic hum to drink your coffee at Starbucks.”

His vocals are mixed into the music in such a way that it is hard to make out exactly what he is singing, but the ambiguity is part of the music’s charm. During “Princess Fantasy,” I may have heard “She belongs to Satan” at one point. It works, as these tapes are a sonic statement to an era with sly little nods to its medium. Within the album there are also sonic effects like warped piano and some clicks of mechanics that might seem like the aural symptom of an aged cassette tape. That the music is often muscular and catchy is testament to this Miami music veteran’s skill as a songwriter.

Whereas Mujeres was completed in a year’s time, he notes She is a Galaxy is the product of roughly a decade of ideas. The springboard often came from a need to wind down from a night of work. “A lot of this stuff was recorded at 4 to 5 o’clock in the morning after DJ-ing,” he says.

Galaxy cassette

Sometimes he would be wired from the rush of spinning and in need of mellowing at home, so he would brew up some ambient music on his keyboards and computer. He admits that the effects of the buzz of excitement, libations and sometimes exhaustion was not always conducive to judging his work. When he would wake the next day and listen back to the results he could either be delightfully surprised or horrified. Though he admits to the challenge of this music, he says he preferred working on the ambient work over the pop songs because of the amount of free-flowing creativity involved. “It’s based on a sound, and then you go from there,” he says.

Still, the former member of the Miami-based band The Waterford Landing — among other area groups — notes that he enjoyed working solo. Even though he also admits missing some aspects of collaboration. He found himself with some surprising mic checkchallenges when dealing with some elements of the pop songs, from the way the music sounded to the bridges within the songs. “When I was in a band, things would get recorded faster,” he explains. “It’s always better working with more heads, and sometimes you get in the way of recordings with self-doubt.”

But he is quite happy with the results, and the neat package of the cassette offers a sense of closure and accomplishment. He says it’s about preserving an era, even if some of that was documenting an emotionally painful time (he’s currently in a content steady relationship). Music is by its nature ephemeral, but these tapes capture his songs in a satisfying physical object. “I wanted some sort of document,” Caso says.

He also says the package signifies the end of a project in a nice tidy physical object, but it also offers something deeper. “It is nostalgic too,” he admits. “It reminds me of when I was a kid. There is something about the sound quality.”

He only had 50 tapes manufactured of each album, and he still has a few left. He says he found the process easy and enjoyable. Now, Caso is already considering releasing more music, if not his then someone else’s. “If I could keep it as a boutique label, I’d be happy,” he notes.

Hans Morgenstern

You can order either cassette via Alx Cxo’s Bandcamp page: www.alxczo.bandcamp.com, and stream them in their entirety at no cost. There is also a 6-song covers EP called “Under Cover,” which you can even download for free. Both these albums are also available in the Miami area via Sweat Records and in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at Radio-Active Records. Tomorrow is International Cassette Store Day, and both stores will be running specials during that day.

(Copyright 2014 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)