Guided by Voices – Warp and Woof (Rockathon)

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Sometimes I think that it must be exhausting being Robert Pollard. Hell, sometimes it feels exhausting just being a casual fan.  After dropping a double album Zeppelin Over China only a few months back, the fading captain sails back into port with another offering under his arm from his most reliable crew Guided By Voices.  The aforementioned album in question is Warp and Woof, and while it’s credited to the same rock solid lineup that has graced the past few exemplary efforts, it feels like a different animal altogether.

The album’s genesis started with an itch by Pollard to record some quickie EP’s following the completion of their last album, however when a boombox writing session produced six fully formed songs in under half an hour, it seemed another album was brewing faster than previously expected.  I imagine this would probably be a surprise to absolutely no one in the Pollard-verse given this guys proclivity for cranking out tunes.  Although this time there seems to be an element of Pollard having his (August by) cake and eating it too, as the material that comprises Warp and Woof was first released a series of 4 7″ EPs (which are the amazingly titled 100 Dougs, Wine Cork StonehengeUmlaut Over The Ozone, and 1901 Acid Rock) prior to the albums release proper.  Although GBV’s label Rockathon issued the following disclaimer about those cheapskates thinking about getting just the EP’s and not the album proper, “Just because you have the 4 EP’s doesn’t mean you have the album! Our Uncle Bob is the king of sequencing.”  As far as that whole thing goes, I think I’m just gonna leave it to the GBV podcast dude, to figure all that out as far as what’s what.  I’m sure that episode should be dropping any day now (if it hasn’t already).

What I do know is that Warp and Woof has a looser more fragmented vibe than anything else that has been credited to GBV’s so-called “new classic lineup” thus far.  For those familiar with the GBV oeuvre, think Alien Lanes or somewhat more recent reference point Let’s Go Eat The Factory.  That’s probably the more spontaneous circumstances of the writing and recording with guitar tracks being cut at sound checks or in a van hurtling at 60-plus m.p.h with Pollards’ vocal tracks being laid down in hotel rooms or small studios.  Unlike the past few albums which featured compositions that were meticulously crafted by producer Travis Harrison, and the group into miniature alternative universe arena rock epics using Pollard’s boombox sketches as the blueprint.  The end result is collection of tracks that whips by faster than the mile marker signs on your way to the next gig with plenty of left turns, and unexpected detours.  Quicker, dirtier, and more psychedelic; should probably be the disclaimer on the hype sticker.  If all this sounds like your cup of tea when it comes to GBV, then perhaps it’s time for another faster than expected motel check in with Uncle Bob.

Order the album via Rockathon.

Local Band Feel: Das Black Milk – DASBLACKMILK

a3378511685_10Local Band Feel is a column dedicated to shining a light on music that’s happening around the corner, down the block, or a few towns over in our particular corner of the Pennsylvania wilds.  We encourage you to support the bands featured, should you feel so inclined.

Full disclosure: These guys are pals of mine.  In the not too distant past, we shared stages playing gigs with my old band at local watering holes, and think I might even make a cameo one of their earlier records at some point.

So clearing the decks of any personal bias when reviewing this can be a bit tricky to untangle.  But, I think the latest EP from the group known as Das Black Milk is worth trying to make the attempt, as it might be one of the best things they have offered up to the world so far.  Since their inception in the mid-aughts, at the groups’ core has always been the duo Nathaniel Kane and Brian Emmert, and their output has always been an entertaining mystery box of post-punk informed hijinks.

After taking a few years off to focus on solo endeavors (Cold Coffee & Brian TV), the newly reformed group seemed to have found a new sense of purpose with freshly recruited bassist Craig Metcho and a trusty drum machine in tow.  Since getting back in the swing of things, DBM have wasted little time releasing a prolific string of EPs and singles in various sub-underground formats such as lathe cut singles, and cassettes.

Their latest DASBLACKMILK self-released on their own imprint Leopard Libido.  A label whose slogan not so humbly proclaims itself “The TRUE sound of Scranton.”  But, the thing is that they might on to something there as no other band around here that I can think of that truly captures the existential angst of living in the seemingly perpetually gray-skied Electric City better than Das Black Milk. The six songs presented on here are populated with men on fire, broken stuntmen, and the bad guy looking back at you in the mirror. If you like your local rock with a dark subversive streak, then it’s time to get with these self-appointed purveyors of the new lifestyle.  See, your cool points just went up.

Gary Wilson – King of Endicott (Cleopatra Records)

Gary Wilson 10x10It seems appropriate that both Gary Wilson and Rod Serling share the same hometown of Endicott, NY as Wilson’s latest album sounds like the kind of music that one of his characters would be playing in a seedy nightclub staked just on the outskirts of the Twilight Zone.  The artist known as Gary Wilson emerged from his parents’ basement sometime around 1977 fully formed, covered in flour, and sporting cat eye sunglasses with copies of his breakthrough album You Think You Really Know Me tucked under his arm ready to blow minds.  The music contained on that record was an improbable hybrid of bedroom funk meets the avant-garde with just enough rock ‘n’ roll in its DNA to make it some previously unknown mutant form of pop music.

Things of course didn’t go exactly as planned.  As Wilson’s late ’70’s and early ’80’s attempts at stardom fizzled, the artist retreated back into a self-imposed fortress of solitude in the form of a dead end job with a steady helping of playing regular lounge gigs on the side.  Things picked back up again around the turn of the century with the rediscovery of his aforementioned magnum opus, and he’s been at the wheel ever since pumping out a torrent of releases both new and archival; there’s even been a Christmas album for God’s sake.

The King of Endicott is a love letter from Gary to his hometown, chock full of homages and references to his city of a thousand lights. Wilson seems to be trying to put himself back there with recollections of places and lovers who might be real or imagined, it’s sometimes really hard to tell what’s what in the Wilson-verse, or what exactly is lurking beneath the surface on even the sunniest of musical offerings on here. With lyrics that read more like the artist’s inner monologue than anything necessarily based in reality.  While some of the artist’s edgier musical proclivities have been sanded down with time, what’s remains is the pulse of a drum machine, and a gnawing obsession with wanting to be wanted; peppered with just enough of his trademark weirdness lurking around the edges to make you feel uncomfortably at home.  The King of Endicott makes it clear that Gary Wilson is still here, and still waiting to take on that perfect date to the park in his magic city.  If you’re game for a real sick trip, swipe right.

Order the album direct from the artist.

Bill MacKay – Fountain Fire (Drag City)

cover_1544126457352464Based on the sounds contained on Chicago-based avant-folkie Bill MacKay’s latest album Fountain Fire, it seems apparent he’s been racking up the miles both literally and figuratively.   It’s a dusty gem of an album that slowly reveals its treasures with repeated listening, and feels like a sprawling road trip across a new weird America with a transatlantic flight or two thrown in for good measure.

Album opener “Pre-California,” sets the table in a cinematic fashion, allowing a widescreen view of MacKay’s 6-string sprawl replete with walls of rumbling, and sliding guitars which evoke images of tectonic shifts, and primordial volcanic ooze.  It’s a mostly instrumental set, but the few tracks which utilize vocals are stunners; such as the Janschian English folk moves displayed on “Birds of May.”   It’s a timeless sounding set that hums with a crackling kinetic energy, even in its quieter and more contemplative moments.  Closing with the urgent and apocalyptic sounding “Dragon Country,” MacKay seems to evoke the sound of darkness descending with its nervy acoustic finger picking, walls of tremolo, and sneaky electric guitar lines.  Fountain Fire is an album that evokes powerful emotions and imagery almost entirely via MacKay’s masterful guitar work.  Just hop in the van, and let him do all the driving; it’s a trip worth taking.

Order the album via Drag City.

John Vanderslice – The Cedars (Native Cat Recordings)

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The 11-square-mile area, called the Cedars located in Placer County, California is a mysterious place which boasts all types of unique geological phenomena including Mars-like red slopes, strange mineralized rock formations, and high-alkaline springs that have fostered plant species found nowhere else in the world.  It’s also nearly impossible to access due to barriers both natural and legal.  A place so unique it even has piqued NASA’s interest. It’s also the title, and a source of inspiration for former American Fourtracker, John Vanderslice’s latest album.

It’s easy to draw the parallels between his latest offering and this almost alien world; as there’s almost nothing direct about the musical architecture employed on The Cedars.  Using his Oakland based Tiny Telephone studio as his own sound lab, the impeccably constructed album is filled with the sounds of humming synths, looping drum machines, bursts of white noise, and walls of multi-tracked vocals that all work to weave an unpredictable sonic backdrop which frame Vanderslice’s at times cryptic and others brutally honest songwriting.

The Cedars is a song cycle which feels like the work of a disoriented wandering soul in a world where people disappear, and locations are important. When the album begins, he doesn’t even quite sound like himself at first.  The spiraling dream logic of tracks such as “Spectral Dawn,” have a downright Lynchian zing right down to the mention of a missing girl named Audrey.  I’ve been listening to the album pretty obsessively over and over again the past few days, because it feels like a puzzle just asking to be solved.  The truth of the matter is that there are probably a few pieces Vanderslice deliberately left out of the box just to keep us guessing.  In life and art, sometimes we don’t always get all the answers we want, whether it’s a mysterious stretch of land in northern California, a relationship that dissolved for unknown reasons, or an album of jagged challenging songs.  If you think about it, isn’t it better that way?

Order the album via Native Cat Recordings.