Gastr Del Sol

Camoufleur (Drag City 1996)

Forever will I be a hopeless sucker for the changes in season. It isn’t always a basket of puppies and Wawa hoagies since fall’s slide into winter gives me a taste of the lonesomes. Since it is safe to say that I’ve bid those months adieu, spring has definitely fulfilled its old role and friend and rejuvenator of withered spirits. No matter how many rings accumulate inside my trunk, spring serves as an annual starting line for  a giddy gambol filled with newfound optimism, budding friendships, repaired and broken hearts and the liberating feeling of being out and about in this grand old world. It’s when you rediscover the fact that it’s time to get your hands dirty and hit those high notes or fall flat on your foolish face. Pardon my hyperbolic descriptions of the seasons, but they are all so distinct to me that it seems I sometimes view life as the passing of seasons, not years. Then again, I am also the one who harbors an irrational fear that sharks lurk in every body of water.

Oh yeah, this is supposed to be about an album isn’t it? Well, there is actually a method to my malingering. “The Seasons Reverse,” the opening track on Gastr Del Sol’s grand finale Camoufleur, always embodied these sensitivities to the seasons.

september reverses and the equinoxes flip

winter turns into fall

when glimpsed in leaps of nine months or more

the seasons reverse

they swing back and fall forward

they reshuffle when you touch down at long intervals

they shuffle because it’s been more than two years

first seeing you in a snow bank

then a sweater

then a swelter

they rehsuffle with leaps of some time

or reshuffle with leaps of distance

This song kind of epitomizes the reasons behind the band’s demise. I love it because it sounds like two musicians doing their own thing in total separation from the other. David Grubbs aims for minimalism as he croaks his off kilter harmonies while Jim O’Rourke opposes him by tossing everything but the kitchen sink into the mix. However, that’s what sparks the magic here. O’Rourke performs an extreme makeover on Grubbs, removes his horn-rimmed glasses, messes up his hair a bit and transforms the asexual into the sensual. The damn song even ends with a steel drum coda. Now, we’re talking! It just symbolizes the joy of the new and the comfort to be found in the romanticizing of the old. It’s conflicted and full of regret and positivity. It’s all over the goddamn place, but I like folks who are goddamn all over the place.

On one level, Camoufleur is a lot like the Mirror Repair ep and Upgrade and Afterlife ep with its dependence on spare piano jaunts, mournful melodies and sparse aesthetic. However, you can sense that Jim O’Rourke didn’t give a shit about following Grubbs anymore and he sabotages each song in the best way possible. Field Recordings, french horns, long organ solos and grimy bursts of noise punctuate many songs. It’s a schizophrenic listen, but somehow it flows together perfectly in an unexpected and jarring way. Then yet again, I’m the kind of creep who would eat risotto, pad thai and kielbasi in one sitting.

Pencil me in as a sucker for Markus Von Oehlen’s stark cover art. It’s a depiction of two sets of hands joined in unison while two sets of mouths vie to be first in line to grasp a set of musical instruments below.  Plus, I love how it’s so wintry with its abundance of whites and smudgy greys, but the lines are in constant motion as if a change is gonna come. Whether its inclusion was intentional or not, it sums up the end of a partnership and the a shift of season all in one. Any way you slice it, Camoufleur tackles the end of a partnership while making something elegant out a potentially awkward situation

Luciano Cilio

Dell’Universo Assente (1977, reissued by Die Schachtel in 2004)

Much thanks to Jim O’ Rourke and the Die Schachtel label for helping to reissue this Italian composer’s work so that new ears can appreciate its delicacy and beauty. Picture a lusher and more linear take on Morton Feldman abstract washes of sound. Now, I love me some Morton Feldman, but Dell’Universo Assente bests his high points by far. Some of it even reminds me of Roedelius’ hertbreaking piano work on Lustwandel minus the Vangelis sweep and majesty. It is not all shimmer and sparkle becaue Cilio’s compositions have plenty of rough edges and discordant moments that transcends a moody confection.

Dell’Universo Assente was his 1977 debut and this is made all the more tragic due to the fact that he took his own life in 1983. Maybe it is because I have been obsessed with Charles Ives, Feldman, Giacinto Scelsi and Steve Reich lately, but Cilio’s debut really speaks to me lately. I’ve been kind of down and out and its slow-motion dissonance coupled with stately melody just really sums up my mood these days. It’s kind of a bummer for a classical album and I feel like I am staring from the bottom of a well as I listen to it. There is something hopelessly gorgeous about it. It is the sound of giving up and reconciling yourself to your fate.  At the same time, there is something uplifting about it due to how it taps into the sublime and makes you believe that a classical/drone/etc. album can really change your whole day at the sound of the first note.

Arnold Dreyblatt

Animal Magnetism (Tzadik 1995)

I have spent an hour or two pondering life while listening to the rich drones of Arnold Dreyblatt. I first encountered the name while paging through an issue of Your Flesh where Jim O’ Rourke listed his favorite albums of the year and christened Animal Magnetism the best of 1995. Being the bleating sheep that I am, there was an immediate order placed at the Wall to Wall Sound and Video in my godforsaken town. I expected something akin to the Scott Walker, Roy Montgomery and Rafael Toral listed in his love letter, but was pleasantly surprised to hear that it wasn’t quite like anything else on that minimalist list.

There are many improbably combinations that our minds can conjure: Peanut butter and cauliflower puree, scallops and butterscotch or Kevin Spacey in a Bobby Darin biopic. Most of these flights of fancy are purely the result of narcotics. However, I cannot explain Kevin Spacey’s unfortunate foray. However, if you had suggested that you could combine Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians with Tom Waits’ Rain Dogs, I would accuse you of putting your mustard in my chutney.

Thankfully, Arnold Dreyblatt’s Animal Magnetism does exactly that. It takes the textured waves of minimalist composition and the musician play like a band made out of junkyard instruments. This is somehow funky in its clunky and hypnotic sort of way. It is a strong, muscular album that removes minimalism from the realm of lanky miscreant and makes a dance party out of it. I haven’t yet been so far gone to attempt an Arnold Dreyblatt dance party, but give me a ring and we shall see what we can muster up.

This is the sound of music hitting ecstatic peaks and mining mournful valleys. This is the sound of repetition taken to new places. This beats the pants off those moments where I pleasured myself with sounds of a single string. It is a joyful cacophony that makes me realize all that is wonderful about music.