Monday, May 29, 2006

thrift store find: Decca DL 8858

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Fuzz Folk: Pop Music Your New Boyfriend is too Stupid to Know About

Setting the tone for the eighties Larry Williams was found shot to death on January 2nd followed throughout the year by the deaths of Bon Scott on February 19th, John Bonham on September 25th and finally the murder of John Winston O'Boogie Ono Lennon on December 8th. Clearly the past was dying or being killed off. The eighties were to be a musical proverbial nightmare. By 1989 Kurt Cobain was experimenting with some tape weirdness and had "Bleach" in the works and Ruston, Louisiana's Jeff Mangum had made a cassette tape for a friend he called "Pygmie Barn in E Minor" by Milk.

The nineties had begun pretty much the same teenaged wasteland as the eighties. Some will refer to 1991 as the year that punk broke, with the success of Nirvana's "Nevermind". I guess that could be one way to dismiss that year. More of the past was dying; Freddie Mercury, Doc Pomus, Mort Schuman, Johnny Thunders, and Miles Davis all saved the last dance for '91. Jeff Mangum made another cassette tape; "Invent Yourself a Shortcake".

By April of 1994 Cobain had exited the painful road he paved and claimed his star on the walk. Jeff Mangum had produced four more cassettes; "Beauty" (1992), "Hype City Soundtrack" (1993) "Demo 1" (1993) and "Demo 2" (1993). 1994 saw the first official Neutral Milk Hotel release, a seven incher, "Everything Is" on Cher Doll Records. Four years later, their second album, following "On Avery Island"(Merge), "In an Aeroplane, Over the Sea"(Merge) would be their best and last.

It has taken me more than ten years to catch up to Jeff Mangum and Neutral Milk Hotel, and not a minute too soon. It has been awhile since I stepped on my wagging tongue from gushing. Many moons have risen and fallen, I've seen fire and rain and sunny days I thought would never end...

I'm a bit of a, seen it all, crusty old curmudgeon, jaded as a Louisiana 'gator but I do try to maintain some sense of awe and wonder. I try to stay open to the possibility that I could still be impressed, taken aback. I have worked really hard over the eons to assure that if the rapture were to come today I would have the grace not to say; "been there, done that, fuck it, let's get something to eat." I try to retain the ability to be surprised by the gigantic talent of a single artist. Jeff Mangum is that kind of artist.

As I said, normally I don't gush, and go on and on and on. Now, I used to chase people down and practically physically force them to listen to my latest discovery, so sure was I, that I, alone, possessed the superior knowledge and insight to really HEAR the magic so I had to guide them on their trip and point out every mind expanding lick and turn of phrase. I have tried to cure myself of that but please pardon me, because when I do take it upon myself to gush, there IS magic in the air. The carnival of souls, Salvation Army, solar Arkestra, medicine show and junk band runs head long into white light white heat, side swiped by a dose of Syd Barrett's big pink floyd sound. A marching band, falling down stairs with a dying tube fuzzed-out guitar and singing saw. All this combined with surreal dreamland lyrics, spicing this cacophony into a savory stew, thick and exotic, dense and airy. And that's just the band, wait till you hear this guy sing. Magic. The secret ingredient cannot be revealed, only experienced, if you have the ears to hear it. Use those ears that are connected to your heart.

The singer-songwriter is the most maligned and the most revered of all the wild and wicked muse-ickle creatures. A guy with his heart and sometimes a lot of other things too, on his sleeve, with a flat top box and a story to tell. It's as traditional as the ages. I always seem to get the fractured, the edgy, zigzagged out, bric-a-brac broken and wounded, the slightly cracked but somehow saintly souls, just too pure.

Every slick paper, newsprint or Internet blog scribbly scribe will continually drop the names Syd Barrett, Roky Erickson, the Velvet Underground as source material and those influences apply here in spirit if not in actual sound. There is also plenty of Tim/Jeff Buckley, maybe some Eugene Kelly and dare I say Bob Dylan. Folk tradition with a literary psychedelic twist, Mangum draws from folk music all over the world and filters it all through a free jazz approach to singing pop songs. It's "Fuzz Folk". Mangum sets no limits, on the contrary, he hits you with a "sound collage" now and then to remind us that he will not be confined to a sandbox of foreign design.

See, you'll LOVE it. Like others in the brotherhood though, I am unable to reveal the secrets of the magic to you; these tricks are kept close to the chest. In fact the slight of hand/slight of mind offered by this artist is almost guaranteed to send some scurrying for safety of the exits while others will hold up a lighted bic for hours and hours, in salute, in homage, proclaiming the new messiah. I can't tell you how to get the trick. I don't even know how I became infected. I think I was reading an article about John Darnielle and the Mountain Goats and it mentioned Neutral Milk Hotel. So, I got curious.

Neutral Milk Hotel is Jeff Mangum, the "solo" artist, the "concept" and the "band". If you are of open or expanded mind, I cannot overemphasize the need to jump dead into the catalogue of Jeff Mangum and Neutral Milk Hotel today. I found a bunch of mp3's on the Internet, that's how I got hooked. Get hold of everything you can lay your hands on and allow Jeff and the band's organic outpouring to liberate your spirit and free your soul. Let the Milk man attach the alligator clips to the electrodes in your numbed out, decaying, Frankensteinian neck and shock you into a new reality. Let it draw new maps to the uncharted reaches of space and time and sever your bindings, to those ridiculous boundaries you expect everything to conform to.

Jeff Mangum is a folk singer at the razor's edge. Here's a guy that has explosions of unreal, off the Richter scale, fits of creativity and then, seemingly as quickly, inexplicably, recedes, then dives pell mell into the mirrored halls of obscurity, silenced, as if repelled by the thought of acceptance, of fame, repelled by the thought of having to answer for the art.

The "classic" line-up of the touring Neutral Milk Hotel is Jeremy Barnes on drums and organ, multi-instrumentalist Julian Koster on bass, singing saw, banjo, accordion etc, Scott Spillane on horns or emphonium and Jeff on guitar and vocals. Other associated musicians; Laura Carter on zanzithophone, Richard Benjamin, Lisa Janssen, Apples in Stereo's Robert Schneider, Olivia Tremor Control's Cullen Hart and Bill Doss, and any number of other Elephant 6 Collective members. Jeff Mangum and whoever he has playing with him is Neutral Milk Hotel. It is a little difficult to excise Mangum from the Elephant 6 Collective he began with Will Cullen Hart, Robert Schneider and Bill Doss back in Ruston but he is clearly a leading presence. Neutral Milk Hotel is by far the highest profile project that fell under the Elephant 6 umbrella.

Monday, May 01, 2006

sad news in the MX-80 Sound camp...

see Rich Stim's remembrance: