Laraaji & Lyght – Celestial Realms (Telephone Explosion / Morning Trip)

RJC 12 Inch JacketIn a pawn shop circa 1974, Edward Larry Gordon made a fateful decision.  Following a clear and present inner guidance from deep within, he traded in his guitar for an autoharp. From there, he embarked on a quest for musical enlightenment, and never looked back. Taking on the name Laraaji, he would begin the building of a massive body of work comprised of his own unique ambient New Age stylings.  One of the most well known stops on his journey was a collaboration with Brian Eno that resulted in the album Ambient 3: Day of Radiance which was released in 1980.  The meeting between the two artists seemed the result of cosmic will, as it was due to Eno catching the artist busking in Washington Square Park.

The self-proclaimed Celestial Musician though has plenty more to offer for those intrepid inner space explorers who choose to dive deeper into his work.  Thanks to the folks at the Telephone Explosion label and in conjunction their new imprint Morning Trip, we’re getting a reissue of his 1986 album Celestial Realms.  Originally released a cassette, it is a collaborative effort between Laraaji and Lyghte (a.k.a. Jonathan Goldman) which consists of two side long explorations into deep inner space.  Lyghte provides a foundation of low sustained guitar and crystalline ambient synth drones, while Laraaji sails above the foundations providing otherworldly sounding bell tones and zither work.  One might make the mistake of turning this album into a passive listening experience. However to do so would be missing out on all that’s being offered here.  As one contemporary critic was keen to point out, this isn’t background music for dishwashing.  If you’re lucky, some active listening of Celestial Realms might just result in the shifting of some brain waves at the very least, and possibly even provide a bit of inner healing.  If you think you’re ready to hop on board, then prepare yourself to beam up now.

Order the album via Telephone Explosion.

Tim Presley’s White Fence – I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk (Drag City)

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I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk is the latest from neo-psychedelic wunderkind, and occasional Ty Segall collaborator, Tim Presley.  It’s a cryptic, and delicate song cycle that began it’s life in the rural United Kingdom town of Staveley, before being committed to tape in San Francisco, where it used to be a good move to be sure to wear flowers in your hair.  A fact that I don’t think was lost on its creator, as the city’s past psychedelic vibes seem to have gotten under Presley’s skin on the resulting LP.  While the finished product bears the audio and aural markings of both locations, it also remains content to float in its own peculiar pharmacological bubble outside of time and space.

The album feels like one of hazy rebirth.  You get the Barrettesque sea legs of the title track, and the Beefheartian shuffle of “Until You Walk”, along with the ode to the mysterious locale of “Fog City,” presented to us in two versions that only help to add a generous helping of disorientation.  The album’s primary 12-song cycle is built on this theme along with two additional instrumental pieces of Harm Reduction that seemed geared to assist the listener with the sometimes bumpy reorientation process.  You’re going to need it, as this new internal world is populated by both natural wonders and piss covered floors.  Set free to find a new illusion?  This seems to be the main dilemma the album is grappling with.  I Have To Feed Larry’s Hawk ultimately leaves the listener to decide the answers for themselves.  Be forewarned, regardless of what you think, that hawk still needs to be fed.  As Presley notes, there’s always a danger in leaving the past.

Order the album via Drag City.

Big Star – Live On WLIR (Omnivore Recordings)

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It’s 1974, the Memphis group known as Big Star are holed up in Ultrasonic Studios in New York, and they’re starving.  As then bassist John Lightman explains, “…we were all very tired and hungry. we had low blood sugar. They wouldn’t let us leave to get food because they thought we wouldn’t be back in time for the broadcast.”  This was a band looking for more than just a quick bite; they were striving for the chance to finally live up to their name.  It wouldn’t happen the way they hoped it would, but there was no way they could have known that then.

Live On WLIR is Omnivore’s reissue of Big Star’s incendiary 1974 live in the studio performance for New York’s WLIR-FM.  It’s one of the few documents we have of the Alex Chilton led group performing in the actual decade in which they created their slim but still influential body of work.  If you’re a neophyte to Big Star, and the whole Bell/Chilton saga, then in all honesty this release isn’t probably the best entry point.  Just go buy a used copy of the #1 Record/ Radio City two-fer on CD, or some reasonably priced reissues.  Get back to me whenever you’re ready.  For those still hanging around, let’s get down to the nitty gritty.

It’s not the first time this set has seen the light of day, for that see Rykodisc’s 1992 release Live.  The EQ’ing and mastering is a little different for this edition, and in all honesty both versions sound good.  Though to these ears, this new one sounds a little more geared to accentuate the rock.  I’ll save the entire deep dive A/Bing comparisons between the two for some geek on The Steve Hoffman forums.  What will be important for most is to finally have this set readily available on vinyl.

The lineup on here is a power trio featuring Chilton doing all the rhythm and lead guitar work (which is honestly a joy to hear), with then fresh recruit John Lightman on bass, and the ever reliable Jody Stephens on drums. Sorely missed on this set are founding members Chris Bell, and Andy Hummel.  What’s good on here though is really great.  Since the set was recorded live to two-track, it presents the band sounding lean, mean, and with absolutely no frills.  There are even some technical hiccups as the sound guy mixes the band’s performance as it goes, which if you ask me only adds the audio vérité of the proceedings.  You will also get a delightfully thorny, and at times awkward interview between Chilton, and DJ Jim Cameron, which is classic Alex.  There’s also a nice acoustic performance in the middle, which is heartrending stuff.

The timing on when this set was captured is probably what’s most important.  In just a few months, Big Star would collapse into a black hole of sullen entropy that would result in the sessions for their brilliant third and final LP.  After that, Chilton and Stephens would split.  Despite the latter day reunions of the group, this is one of the few chances you have to hear Chilton fully committed to playing these songs with an unbridled enthusiasm, as opposed to the levels of detachment that he would approach most of these songs with in later years.  Despite of all of his grumbling during the interview about how scummy it is being on the road or low album sales; it doesn’t sound like the dream of Big Star had completely died for him yet.  Not at least on that day in 1974, and sometimes timing is everything.

Order Live On WLIR via Omnivore Recordings.

 

Michael Chapman – True North (Paradise of Bachelors)

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True North the latest album from living legend amongst us Michael Chapman feels like a collection of songs that were written in a series of motel rooms, and not the kind of places you would like to stay in unless you absolutely had to.  They are the kind of lodgings that you imagine have the shades perpetually drawn, are strewn with empty bottles of cheap booze, and have ashtrays that are overflowing with cigarette butts.

It’s a record that sounds populated by ghosts and regret with the 78 year old Chapman ruminating on all of fate’s cruel twists, and roads not taken.  A dark and vital collection of songs that boast a masterfully spare production courtesy of Steve Gunn.  Most of the time, it’s just Chapman’s time worn voice accompanied by his beautifully down-tuned acoustic guitar ringing clear as a bell against oblivion.  It’s stripped bare with just the right amount of accompaniment; some of the best of it coming from the pedal steel of BJ Cole whose playing adds a haunting element to the proceedings, cellist Sarah Smout’s ethereal strings, and Bridget St John’s occasional vocal turns which shine especially on “Full Bottle, Empty Heart.”

The lyrics on True North are direct, and they cut deep. Chapman sounds like a man who doesn’t have the time for the bullshit anymore, and seems painfully aware of the clock running out.  It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.

Buy the album from Paradise of Bachelors.

Guided by Voices – Zeppelin Over China (Rockathon)

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It’s kind of unimaginable to think that Robert Pollard and his band Guided by Voices are still kicking around; never mind, releasing such vital music in 2019.  Some thirty years on, and the former elementary school teacher turned full-time indie rocker is still cranking out a seemingly inexhaustible supply of tunes and high kicks like some kind of Miller Lite fueled energizer bunny.  Add to that the fact that we’re kind of in a new golden age when it’s comes to the group; boasting a current roster that some are referring to as “the new classic lineup,” which consists of Doug Gillard (guitar), Kevin March (drums), Mark Shue (bass), and Bobby Bare Jr. (guitar).

That brings us to their first offering of the new year, Zeppelin Over China.  It’s the new group’s second (!) double album since the latest incarnation of the band gelled together sometime around 2017, and it follows last year’s almost unimpeachable effort, Space Gun.  An album which is already considered by some amongst the greats in the GBV LP Hall of Fame, slotted alongside efforts such as Isolation Drills and Bee Thousand.

Zeppelin Over China sports a similar mostly high fidelity sheen as their last few previous efforts thanks to the work of engineer, Travis Harrison who along with the band excel at the task of elevating Pollard’s compositions to new heights; building the album from Pollard’s primitive boombox sketches to fully realized guitar rock.  It’s a massive 32 song work that sprawls its tendrils out of over four sides of wax, and unlike the groups’ previous double album effort August By Cake which featured songwriting contributions from every group member; Pollard’s hyper-prolific kaleidoscopic pen is doing all the heavy lifting this time around.  If there’s an album in the GBV oeuvre that’s similar to this one, it’s probably 1996’s Under The Bushes Under The Stars in that it’s a record that rewards, and reveals itself with repeated listening.  Sporting a collection of songs that run the gamut from the anthemic indie pop of “The Rally Boys,” to the proggy acoustic weirdness of “Bellicose Starling,” and the wirey post-punk moves of “Where Have You Been All My Life.”  There’s plenty to dig into on here, and it’ll probably take you a bit longer to explore everything here than you did on their last go round.  Which is totally fine, since it doesn’t seem like Bob Pollard and his crew are going anywhere anytime soon.

Order Space Gun via Rockathon Records.

Welcome to Earth pt. 2

cropped-hipstamaticphoto-569387776.028777.jpgThe 13th Track has been kicking around using a Tumblr site as our main hub for the last couple years.  But it’s 2019, and it feels like we’ve taken that platform as far as we can go with it.  So, we’re going to be migrating here for our reviews and features.  We’ll probably still keep publishing stuff over there too for the time being, but we’re gonna try and spread our wings out over here.  Don’t mind us while we move the furniture around and get situated.