Magicistragic Mix for the Advent of Autumn

Time is tight here at my homestead, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a place for a serene soundtrack to make a moment feel like a mellow millennium. Yeah, fall seems a bit distant if you look at the calendar, but the temperature is dropping day by day and an orange tinge has tainted the trees in my neck of the woods if you look closely enough. Therefore, here is a haphazard collage of bruised and melancholy sounds to prepare you for your personal hibernation.

Julia Holter-Marienbad

The Magic Numbers-Mornings Eleven

Bridget St. John-Nice

Tony, Caro and John-The Snowden Song

Paul McCartney-Coming Up

Johnny Rivers-Midnight Special

Dadamah-Replicant Emotions

Bobby Jameson-Vietnam

The Ex-Caitkin

Wild Nothing-Nocturne

Here We Go Magic-Alone, but Moving

Pond-Sorry I Was Under the Sky

Leo Kottke-Vaseline Machine Gun

Goldfrapp-Eat Yourself

King Dude-Lucifer’s The Light of the World


Lemma Demissew-Lezelalem Nuri

Epic Soundtracks-She Sleeps Alone/Love Fucks You Up

Hoapili-Home Grown, Hawaii’s Own

The Lilys-Kodiak (Reprise)

Royal Trux-Stop


Dog Faced Hermans

Hum of Life (Konkurrel/Project A-Bomb 1993)

The embittered old codger in me whines that they just don’t make ’em like this anymore, but the realist in me wholeheartedly believes that the Dog Faced Hermans can never be properly copied or borrowed from in any meaningful way. Although they bore some resemblance to the agitated political punk of the Ex, the band’s scope peered far beyond any stylistic ghetto or singular influence. You were likely to hear strains of improv, 8 Eyed Spy and Ornette Coleman covers, feminist manifestos, wry commentary and rollicking trumpet blasts amidst a more familiar punk framework. Sure, lots of bands have deftly incorporated oodles of tasteful influences into their homebrew, but there was a passion, intelligence and political activism to their music that was alternately raucous, yet thoughtful.

Hum of Life is sadly out of print. It’s a shame that their wonderful, but inferior album on Alternative Tentacles is the only recording that is readily available. Hum of Life is their masterpiece since it encompasses all that I love about this band. I swear some of this reminds me of some bastard child of Klezmer, gypsy music and the Gang of Four/The Ex. Catchy anthems suddenly explode into free-jazz interludes only to see vocalist/trumpeter Marion Coutts take the reins and lead the band into some bizarro surf guitar riffs. I don’t know if I have heard such a stylistic hodgepodge ever sound so cohesive and unique. By all means. their high hopes should result in failure, but every spoken word section, spastic interlude and tender soliloquy reminds me why I obsess over albums that are so utterly transcendent.

There are two songs in particular that excite and haunt me 16 years after I first heard them. The first is “Jan 9” which is an almost sci-fi punk song about the dangers of creationism and fundamentalism as it details a society where science has been subverted by the government in order to establish a society where inquiry is sinful. I always loved the opening lines which describe a world where science is like a fly with its wings cut and left to wander the floor with the rest of us peons.

Jan 9 in future time/the day science clipped its wings/nobody flew/we all stood around/shaking hands on the ground/congratulating ourselves/we could only see the soles of their feet/we thought there were angels up ahead

“Hook and the Wire” is the other masterpiece as it attacks the pro-life movement and paints a picture of a patriarchal society where men carelessly impregnate women and send them off to deal with the hook and the wire. It details a society where abortion is no longer an option and sexual partners coldly banish their love to an alleyway to deal with it themselves. It is a somewhat ironic tale of a world where misogyny and the far right have overtaken our lives and males and enforce self-mutilation is an acceptable solution to a pregnancy. The sad part about both of these tunes is that they don’t seem too far-fetched these days.

Although Mississippi Records reissued a vinyl edition of their first album, the rest deserve your love and attention so some stalwart label can expose more folks to the beauty of their catalogue.

Myra Melford and Hans Bennink

Eleven Ghosts (Hatology 1994)

Myra Melford is an adventurous jazz pianist who has collaborated with Henry Threadgill, Butch Morris and Dave Douglas while leading her own troupes on a series of albums. Hans Bennink may be one of the most adventurous and creative drummers of the past 40 years. He’s worked with Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Eric Dolphy, The Ex, Derek Bailey, Don Cherry, Peter Brotzmann among many others. Bennink is a drummer who has always been adept at straddling the line between playfulness and ferocity. It is only fitting that these two souls should collaborate on album that makes free jazz somehow delightful and accessible. I love free jazz, but this may be one of the most fun examples of the genre that I’ve heard. If your ears shut themselves off at the mere mention of free jazz, then check this one out since it is alternately absurd, avant-garde and a ray of sunshine. Eleven Ghosts somehow puts a smile on my face even though it is a bit impenetrable at times.

I’m posting this album because it contains one of those moments that reaffirm my faith in music as an uplifting force in my life. These two musicians tackle Scott Joplin’s “Maple Leaf Rag” and turn it inside out and make this ragtime classic into something entirely their own. Melford vamps the timeless chords in an unfamiliar way while Bennink utilizes his bag of rhythmic tricks, bells and whistles to create a entirely new work that alternates between explosiveness and familiarity. It is a fitting finale to an excellent album that properly showcases what these two musicians are capable of in the company of one another.


Pish in Your Sleazebag (Blast First 1991)

I posted their album Five Fingers, Four Thingers, etc. this week, but this release is entirely a horse of a different color. Yes, they still possess the ability to blast beat their way through chaotic punk songs, but the band have embraced a more chaotic path, but one where oddball samples, electronic fuckery, relatively quiet passages and industrial meanderings/tape loops ala Severed Heads enter the fray. Now, this isn’t to say that they have transformed into a bleak, noisy offshoot of Throbbing Gristle or the Kronos Quartet, but they have expanded their musical worldview.

This album makes you wonder why I ever associated them with The Ex and Dog Faced Hermans because Pish in Your Sleazebag alternates between testosterone-fueled anthems that wouldn’t sound out of place on Amphetamine Reptile, jagged Gang of Four fiascos and oddball smooth jazz interludes that sound like bad Ninja Tune outtakes. Overall, it rages non-stop and their vocalist jabbers like madman throughout, but the experimental touches point towards a more interesting future cut short by their dissolution.


Five Fingers, Four Thingers, a Facelift and a New Identity (Uk Moksha 1988)

If there was a reality show to crown the biggest puss-puss of the late 80s, I would have been an excellent contestant. Although I didn’t develop into the pinnacle of manliness that stands before you until my collegiate years, I always pursued catharsis through my musical purchases. Husker Du, Bad Brains, Pixies and even 24-7 Spyz enabled me to pump my fists in a fruitless rage against the faceless souls who somehow held me back. In retrospect, I was just a big puss puss and I held myself back, but there was no talking to me in my cubicle of a bedroom filled with Nintendo games, masturbatory rags and a pile of cds that kept me sane.

One of my most cathartic albums was Stretchheads’ Pish in Your Sleazebag which was released by Blast First in 1991. The riffs were batshit crazy, samples appeared out of the blue, the vocalist screeched like a goddamn banshee and it all rollicked onwards in a chaotic onslaught of noise. This is their debut and I only discovered it in the past few years, but I think I prefer it to their followup which inspired many a pumped fist. Less samples and desire to fuck with the listener, this one is all adrenaline, aggression, poor recording quality and wound-up hatred. They were contemporaries of better-known art-punks like The Ex, Dog Faced Hermans and Dawson, but they did it the best in their own ham-fisted manner.