Though it started life modestly as a strip at the University of Maryland, Aaron McGruder’s shrewd cultural comedy The Boondocks worked its way from the pages of The Diamondback to the pages of The Source to its current, best known incarnation as an animated series on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim. Originally pitched to Fox as a six-minute one-off, McGruder got support from Sony to run a full 15-episode season on Adult Swim in late 2005. The show has enjoyed critical success and cult status in the time since.
VHS Head is the pseudonym of the enigmatic Adrian Blacow, and he uses it as a vessel for some of the most bizarre, unfathomable electronic dance music you will find. Blacow uses old, library-sourced VHS tapes (hence the name), in this case apparently horror films, and then dissects them and splices them back together into high-octane dance floor pounders, of a weird sort.
In a recent issue of The Wire, Carla Bozulich wrote a bleak little piece about the moment when she sold her mom’s Billie Holiday LP, which had been in her life since before her birth, for drug money. It’s raw remembrance of pain and foolishness, and it ends with the epiphany that she would never recover the sense of everything being all right that she associated with that record. The bands she played in over the twenty-odd years that followed rueful realization (Ethyl Meatplow, Geraldine Fibbers, Scarnella) didn’t sound much like each other, but they were united in one thing; whatever their merits, their music was never as tough and traumatizing as the personal experiences and preoccupations that Bozulich was trying to channel.
Composition titles can be contentious vessels of meaning in purely instrumental music. Absent the explication delivered by lyrics, specific intent often falls to inference on the part of the audience. Saxophonist JD Allen muses on this situation in the self-scripted liners to Bloom, his third album for Savant. By his reckoning, “Each title should represent a type of mindset to have while listening, a kind of soundtrack without a movie.”
The 10 titles that make up the album in question certainly work as effective catalysts in this regard, conjuring imagery and ideas without obvious explanation and with a collective ear toward succinct transmission.
Spray Paint plays splayed out, detuned grooves on instruments so loosely constructed that it sounds like the strings are about to fall off. Its two “singing” members — George Dishner and Cory Plump, who also both play guitar —spew atonal, psychotic rants in unison. Chris Stephenson (also in Dikes of Holland) holds the whole thing together with manically clattery drums.
Jason Roebke has been a stalwart presence on Chicago’s new jazz and improvised music scenes since 1999, but he’s a Midwesterner since birth. Enamored by Motown sounds, he first picked up a bass as a teen in Kaukauna, Wis., and he worked as Roscoe Mitchell’s transcriber for 18 months before moving to Chicago. Since then, he’s worked with Rob Mazurek, Tony Malaby, Fred Lonberg-Holm and the superb Steve Lacy repertory band The Whammies. Roebke’s latest work as a bandleader, High/Red/Center (Delmark), uses swinging grooves to propel ceaselessly mutating colors and textures from a five-piece, all-star horn section.
If you were in New Zealand in March of 1982, killing time in Dunedin with a small wad of cash in your pocket and an unremitting urge to buy vinyl, you might have ambled into your local record shop and purchased one of the original, limited-run copies of Dunedin Double. If so, you probably didn’t realize quite what you’d purchased. For one thing, the title Dunedin Double is purely descriptive — it’s a pair of 12-inch EPs with a different Dunedin band on each of the four sides — and doesn’t appear on the cover.
Rather more importantly, Dunedin Double, as one of Flying Nun Records’ earliest releases, helped to define the Dunedin Sound — an indie-pop variant known for languid vocals, jangly guitars, melodic keyboards, minimal bass, workmanlike drumming, and of course the blurry, lo-fi production typical of the four-track era.
Brainfeeder, the child of Steven Ellison aka Flying Lotus, is a curious affair. Ellison set the bar for head-nodding, good-shit-bong-smoke, L.A-warm-breeze instrumental hip-hop with 1983 (2006) and Los Angeles (2008), and then moved on to more jazzy, spazzy, disparate genre-bending materials with Cosmosgramma (one minute he has Thom Yorke in an Aphex Twin spin, the next he has cousin Ravi Coltrane playing sax over broken-beat, free jazz like it’s an Ornette Coleman improve.), leaving his protégé roster to take up the guard. But there is a lot of barely-explored real estate and abandoned cool concepts there, which is where 26-year-old Mtendere Mandowa aka Teebs, a former FlyLo roommate, self-professed Broadcast cleric and lover of Dabrye comes in (all ingredients for success).
Estara (Estará sí hablas el Español) is in no way just a Flying Lotus — or Dilla — outtake.
J. Spaceman (Spiritualized, Spacemen 3) is no stranger to improvisation. He’s been playing unscripted music with Matthew Shipp and other people whose names are in the Springheel Jack phonebook for more than a decade. Kid Millions (Oneida, Man Forever) has likewise engaged in plenty of extemporaneous music-making over the years. And since this live recording was made on a night off from Spiritualized’s 2013 U.S. tour, on which Kid filled the drum chair, they had already played with each other. So while this Record Store Day vinyl special (four tracks spread across one LP and one seven-inch) documents their first improvised performance, it is certainly not a record of a step into the absolute unknown.
It makes sense that the version of I Dream of Wires that’s currently available on DVD is the four-hour “Hardcore Edition” (with a shorter cut being saved for theatrical release); most people who are going to want to spend any time at all watching a film about modular synthesizers are probably in it for the long haul. There’s enough of interest here—to anyone interested in music, technology, cultural history, and so on—that a shorter cut of this documentary is more immediately appealing to a wider audience, but those willing to watch a movie that’s basically as long as most 5-6 episode miniseries will find some pretty rich rewards within.
When a musician records under an assumed name, they issue a proscription — don’t look for me. But when you point away from yourself, you inevitably point somewhere else. Where does Kassel Jaeger want you to look? It doesn’t take much digging to find his real name and some biographical clues. His birth name is François Bonnet, he is Swiss, and he lives in Paris. He works at the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM), a collective founded by Pierre Schaeffer and directed for decades by François Bayle, which is devoted to the investigation, propagation, and chronicling of electroacoustic music; his job description is “Researcher responsible for programming with Christian Zanési (GRM’s artistic director) and pedagogical coordinator of acousmatic sound path arts.” In that capacity, he has facilitated the reissuing of some classic GRM sides on Editions Mego’s Recollections GRM imprint.
So perhaps the function of adopting the name Kassel Jaeger (“Kassel” is a German town, “jaeger” is German for “hunter”) is to separate his artistic identity from his day job? If so, it’s worth nothing that personal dissociation does not involve a renunciation of the knowledge and skills he’s acquired through that association. Jaeger handily wields the tools of acousmatic music, in which any sound can be put to musical ends. Natural field recordings, mechanical audio artifacts, and instrumentation all have a place in his sound fields. He’s a modern guy, so improvisational action, digital sound manipulation, and straight-up noise also appear alongside the painstaking sound placement and analog processes of vintage musique concrète.
Enigmatic ensemble name aside, the trio of trombonist Ku-umba Frank Lacy, bassist Kevin Ray and drummer Andrew Drury evinces a transparent approach in musical concept and application. The name is a reference to the Planck temperature, a measure of heat “at which matter ceases to exist and conventional physics break down.” It’s an at once obscure and colorful analogue for the trio’s anything goes attitude toward jazz-centered musical expression. Lacy’s been at it for better part of a quarter century, coming off a college degree in Physics and formal music study at both Berklee and Rutgers to collaborate prolifically with Julius Hemphill, Henry Threadgill, David Murray and other peers. Ray and Drury are his juniors by several decades, but their resumes are similarly active.