Jandek – The Ray (Corwood Industries)

It’s been awhile since a package from Corwood Industries has graced my mailbox, and it feels like a visit from an eccentric uncle that you haven’t caught up with in awhile.  Sure, there was a time when you used to drink beer together after work, and ponder the bigger questions that life has to offer.  But then things change, time keeps moving and you lose touch.  Do people still review Jandek albums or for that matter even read record reviews anymore?  In the world of Jandek everything always seems to boil down to a question mark in the end, and that’s probably by design.

Since 1978 the entity known as Corwood Industries has been privately issuing a singular body of work mostly credited to the entity known as Jandek (save for the initial release Ready For The House which was credited to The Units, until a cease and desist letter resulted in a change of plans).  Noted rock scribe Byron Coley in Spin Magazine described this debut as an old dead leaf blowing around the country painted dark purple.  This was just the beginning, and there were plenty more purple leaves to come.  The music issued forth at a steady pace from the mysterious Houston based Corwood PO Box, first as a singular form of avant folk blues that was not for the faint of heart.  As more and more albums sprang forth, additional instrumentation was added, and occasional anonymous collaborators would pop out of the woodwork to add color and surprising twists.  Until Jandek’s emergence from the shadows in 2004 to perform live, no one was even 100% sure if the man who appeared on the album covers was the person behind the sounds presented.  It appears that the representative Corwood sent just happened to bear a striking resemblance.

I spent a lot of time in the late 1990’s staring at those blurry album covers, listening to those records, and looking for clues while pondering the mysteries and motivations of the artist behind it all.  It even prompted me to assemble not just one, but two tribute albums, in part just to help me work out how other people interpreted the otherness of the sounds presented.  Somehow, this all brings me back to Jandek’s latest, The Ray which in a lot of ways feels like a culmination of the work that Corwood started back in 1978.  Consisting of one-hour length piece, it’s also by my estimation the closet the artist has come to something resembling psychedelic rock.  The instrumentation which seems to consist of drums, bass, guitar, and synthesizer that swirl and churn like a maelstrom around that artist’s anguished vocals which read one part twisted inner monologue, and one part conversation with God. The music throughout the piece is ever changing, yet ever the same; it feels like the musical equivalent of driving in a blizzard. While the lyrics telegraph feelings of isolation, deep psychic wounds, and a desperate longing for escape before the narrator seems to resign himself to the will of the divine at the end of the movement. Though it’s hard to say for sure, one gets the feeling the artist played all the instruments on this one, and seems to have taken a lot of the lessons from his decade plus experience playing live with various collaborators to forge something new from the musical language created on such seminal Jandek albums as The Rocks Crumble and Interstellar Discussion.

It’s always tempting to read into such a singular statement as a signal that Jandek’s days of music making may be drawing to close, but fans have been thinking that since the cacophony of “The Electric End” that closed 1987’s Lost Cause album, or the then out of character solo piano piece that provided a coda to 1999’s The Beginning.  In 2003, Corwood promised the makers of the documentary film Jandek on Corwood that the future would be surprising.  Turns out that it was, and I have a feeling that it will remain so, especially if albums as strong as The Ray keep issuing forth from a certain Texas based PO box.

Buy The Ray from Corwood Industries.

Spiral Wave Nomads – s/t (Twin Lakes Records / Feeding Tube Records)

SWN cover art-01As a musician, it isn’t always easy to capture that moment in an improvisational situation where the pieces all click together to become something other. That mercurial sound of the players’ subconscious unfolding in real time. The Spiral Wave Nomads manage to pull it off against the odds with their self-titled debut.

Those aforementioned nomads are a duo comprised of Eric Hardiman and Michael Kiefer. Both of whom have put in some serious time in the sub-underground trenches. For the Albany based Hardiman, his resume includes being a member of the psychedelic rock collective Burnt Hills, and his one man ambient/noise project Rambutan; all while curating limited run avant-garde damage on his Tape Drift Records imprint. Kiefer’s prior work includes time with exploratory outfits such as More Klementines, Rivener & the neo-Americana of No Line North. He also runs the Twin Lakes label. This album is a co-release between Twin Lakes, and the seemingly inexhaustible underground wellspring that currently is Feeding Tube Records.

It’s pretty remarkable how full these tracks sound for being credited to a duo, and how much musical ground is covered by Hardiman and Kiefer on these takes.  From the swirling Crazy Horse influenced stomp of “Blue Dream,” replete with Hardiman’s searching guitar leads to the technicolor buzzing eastern drones of “Wabi Sabi.”  While “Floating on a Distant Haze” is content to drift on a sea of serene kosmiche musik waves.

Spiral Wave Nomads is an album electrically charged by the sound of two artists hunkering down for the simple joy of seeing what might happen in the moment, and the results are stunning. Ride the darker wave.

Buy the album from Feeding Tube Records.

Local Band Feel: Family Animals – The End Is Mere

coverLocal 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.

I remember these guys from a few years back when I was helping organize some bands to play a local arts fest.  They seemed like a bunch of unassuming friendly dudes.  One of the things that stuck out most was that the guitar they used was a battered fiesta red Fender Jag-Stang. There was something about the groups out of time approach that seemed perfectly encapsulated in their choice of that timeline scrambled Kurt Cobain designed axe.

The band that I’m talking about is the Family Animals, and up for review today is their latest The End Is Mere.  A trio comprised of two brothers, drummer Anthony Viola and vocalist-guitarist Jesse Viola along with best pal Frank DeSando on bass. The group has racked up the miles playing hundreds of shows and putting out seven proper releases over the past few years.  It’s evident they have that intangible type of telepathic connection that bands get after playing together for an extended period of time.

There seem to be three p’s that matter the most to these guys: punk, psych and prog.  I’m happy to report that their latest delivers the goods on all fronts.  Wrapped in some very groovy psychedelic art courtesy of another former local Brian Langan (SW!MS, Langor, Needle Points, etc) that perfectly matches the surreal sci-fi world the band has created on this semi-concept album.  It’s a song cycle that manages to never take itself too seriously.  There’s a Zappaesque playfulness about the proceedings that manages to shine through especially on tracks like “Guitarbot 4000 & The Two Tongued Twins (Live at Magnitard’s Tavern),” while “Captain Z Bop’s Friendly Friends” seems to use The Strawberry Alarm Clock’s “Incense and Peppermints” as a launching pad for a Nuggets influenced jam all its own.  Those are just two examples on an album full of absurdist left turns, and a crazy amount of variety from song to song.  The End Is Mere feels like a kaleidoscopic postcard from the edge of the group’s own far out musical universe.  Hop on aboard; it’s a trip well worth taking.

Sparrow Steeple – Tin Top Sorcerer (Trouble In Mind)

cover_1549567443798140Sparrow Steeple’s Tin Top Sorcerer is the group’s debut for best label Trouble In Mind, and it’s a tight collection of some real gone Philadelphia-style psychedelic garage rock stompers.  The kind they don’t really make anymore.  You can almost hear the cans of watery domestic ales popping between takes, and picture the ramshackle recording set up these guys committed these whoppers to tape on.  These guys have the credentials that are needed to pull this kind of stuff off, as four members of the band used to be part of the legendary 1990’s Siltbreezers known as The Strapping Fieldhands.

Boasting plenty of acid-fried guitar solos and avant folk trickery, the best stuff on here elicits the same kind of joy that a clutch of obscure 45s you happened to discover in your cool Uncle’s attic might.  Finding particular favor with this writer is the twisted horror rock of “Wolfman of Mayberry” which would be sure to even bring a smile to Roky Erickson’s face.  Elsewhere the surreal wordplay, and Revolver-like backwards guitar swirls of “Stabbing Wizards” makes me jones for some prime early ’90’s era GBV with a healthy side of Brother JT.  If you’re feeling like a retronaut out looking for some cheap thrills and plenty to love, this is definitely the platter for you.

Buy the album from Trouble In Mind.

Local Band Feel: Kali Ma and the Garland of Arms – s/t

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Local 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.

 Jamie Kali lives one city over from me.  Wilkes Barre is the Shelbyville to Scranton’s Springfield.  If you live in there, your perspective is probably vice versa (at least I hope that it would be).  That seems like that’s the way that it’s always been, and probably will be forevermore.  Putting all of my sister city biases aside, Ms. Kali along with her compatriots have crafted something pretty interesting with their latest release; a self-titled, and self-released effort credited to, Kali Ma and the Garland of Arms.  What’s offered here is a bakers dozen of dreamy neo-psychedelic tunes that seem to take more cues from Grace Slick’s early Airplane flights than Lennon/McCartney for once, which is a nice change of pace.  We recommend you crack a Steg and settle in for a long strange trip down the electric mindshaft for this one.

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.