Features and reviews focusing on the known and unknown legends of Rock 'n' Roll; the private press heroes, doomed power poppers, psychedelic guitar warlords, avant garde outsiders, and lo-fidelity all stars.
It starts with cold digital silence and ends with a field recording of what sounds like people milling about a train station. Sandwiched in between these two extremes lie Russ Waterhouse’s (formerly of Blues Control) latest album. I remember Waterhouse first popping on my radar around the turn of the century. I seem to remember spray painted cassettes arriving in the mail. A few years later, I recall catching Blues Control (a duo which featured Waterhouse along with partner Lea Cho) playing a local Scranton haunt sometime around 2009. Their record Local Flavor looked great on the merch table, and sounded even better on my turntable at home after the show.
With the aforementioned duo currently on an indefinite extended hiatus, Mr. Waterhouse stands alone again with his latest album 1 Minute 2 Midnight. Consisting of two side long explorations, what we have here is some prime one-man electro racket. The first side features “Hopewell,” a piece anchored by minimal rhythmic digital tics and glitches which gradually build in intensity to a white hot freak out while the second half’s “Too Many People” seems to blend field recordings and spacier electronic moves into a deeper ambient space. The whole thing flows like the work of an artist determined to obliterate the past, and ready to step out on the rocky grounds of a new uncertain path. Godspeed.
I first met Lou Rogai sometime around the turn of the century at a basement show in Scranton, PA. I don’t quite remember why I was there. It was probably just because I saw a flier hanging up somewhere, and I was desperate to find some like-minded musical souls in such a small town. It’s important to keep in mind that this was a time before social media bound us all up in its tendrils, and making connections with others about matters such as art and music was not as easy then; especially in an area as unwieldy as this particular and peculiar corner Northeastern Pennsylvania which I still call home. I recall that evening he played a wonderfully spare acoustic set that was head and shoulders above most of the other local stuff I had encountered up to that point. After the show we chatted, and I traded him one of my hopefully amateurish cassette demos for one of his CD’s. Credited to Lou, the EP was titled Empty Throne. I recall the music being a shimmering and dusty mix of Springsteen era Nebraska mixed with the influences of his then indie folk contemporaries.
We periodically kept in touch, and when I next heard from Lou, things had changed. He was no longer a solo artist. The nom de plum he was operating under now was Lewis & Clarke and the sounds he was creating had expanded, and so had the personnel. Things were in widescreen now; the expeditionary party had been formed. Over the ensuing years, Lou and I ended up working together on a U.S. release of the group’s debut album Bare Bones and Branches before we both moved in to other things. People to this day still ask me about their cover of Jandek’s “Nancy Sings,” that the group cut for a tribute album to the enigmatic Texan for my label back in 2005.
But time as they say, does indeed march on. I suppose I’m thinking about those early days for a few reasons, mainly because for the first time since that tentative (and now very scarce) early EP was released almost twenty years back that Lou Rogai is releasing a new record Cathedral under his own name again. The other reason is because his latest work is very concerned with time and memory. Bubbling underneath the album’s shimmering surfaces of ambient, folk, and neoclassical textures, lies the albums’ central mediation on how we relate to our past, and find refuge in places both physical and temporal. I imagine that if you listened to Lou’s first EP followed back to back with his latest offering, it would create the same kind of cognitive dissonance that would occur if you watched the first episode of Mad Men and then went directly to the series finale.
Cathedral makes it pretty obvious this is man who has been on a journey both artistic and personal. On the album’s three-movement 17 minute piece, Rogai strips away the confines of song structure, submerging himself in the slipstream, so to speak. While the the music featured on the second side entitled Music From Essere Amato spins like an elegant collision between Morricone and the Rachel’s. It’s funny how a lot of the time, the most vital work an artist produces occurs when they ditch the roadmap, and drive towards the unknown darkness on the edge of town. That’s definitely what’s happening here, and for those listeners with open mind; it’s certainly a trip worth taking.
Based on the sounds contained on Chicago-based avant-folkie Bill MacKay’s latest albumFountain 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.