sleep like it is winter

“sleep like it is winter” by Jim O’Rourke.
Bandcamp Link: sleep like it is winter

I was going to give myself this week off from writing about music and maybe get caught up in my plans for world tea domination.

But then I got all caught up in remembering I hadn’t listened to the new Jim O’Rourke album.

Decided I had to buy it on Bandcamp and then listen to it.

And it turns out to be good.


Jim O’Rourke is a polymath guitarist, producer, mixer, engineer, etc. Maybe best known for being the 5th member of Sonic Youth from 1999-2005, he has been involved in a very long list of bands including Illusion of Safety, Gastr del Sol, and Brise-Glace. As a producer, engineer, and mixer his list of credits is too long to even get started on. He has also released a string of eclectic solo albums under his own name, which range from strange, to rock, to folk. Often on the same album.

Lately, he has been producing albums of abstract electronics under the “Steam Room” name.

Those albums are great, but they are fairly abstract, with no noticeable pulse, or, often, even recognizable instruments.

“sleep like it is winter”, from what I’ve been unable to avoid reading, is viewed as a confluence of O’Rourke’s two worlds.

“sleep like it is winter” is a single 45 minute piece.

It starts, quietly, in the Steam Room world, scratchy shortwave radio samples and pulseless fields of bell-like sounds.

This atmosphere slowly gives way to panning bass sounds, piano, and synthesizer.

The piece briefly transitions to dissonant, industrial sounds, but finishes with consonant, long synthesizer tones which cross each other to form almost hymnlike-chords.

While there are somethings like melodies, there are no voices or discernible guitars.

Dissonant without being harsh, pleasant without being boring, it reminds me of the music groups like Tangerine Dream made before they turned into businesses.

Certainly, self released 45 minute long pulse-less electronic music pieces with periods of dissonance aren’t likely to be racing up the charts, (are there still charts?) any time soon, but in a better world, they would be.

#JimORourke #sleeplikeitiswinter #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack


Messthetics by Messthetics.
Bandcamp Link: Messthetics

I was kind of excited by this album when I heard about it. A propulsive instrumental trio. Two of the members had been in Fugazi.

It starts off promising, the first song reminds me a bit of the band Massacre, (Frith, Lasswell, Maher,) or of some of Joe Baiza’s groups.

But, I dunno, the album just doesn’t sustain that level of creativity or interest. Kind of devolves into prog-ish, instrumental, pop-music. There’s a Focus-esque song. There’s a metal-ish song. There’s the obligatory nylon string, folk-rock song.

Plus, there are too many guitar solos.

By the end, instead of sounding like a great instrumental record, it sounds like the demo tape of a band looking for a lead singer.

#TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #Messthetics


Hell-On by Neko Case.

Neko Case has had a series of great albums, from “Blacklisted” through “The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You”. Her last project was the trio including herself, k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs.

We saw Case/Lang/Veirs perform and it was obvious that playing with a performer like k.d. lang and a songwriter like Laura Veirs was making Neko a little insecure about her own art and performance strategies.

On Hell-On she is stretching herself in every possible way. As a songwriter, these are some of her most literary songs every. As an arranger, these are some of the most complex arrangement she has ever written. As a singer, she is stretching to do new things with her voice.

The risk of stretching that much, however, is that you might break.

While Hell-On has its moments, a lot of the time it feels a bit broken.

I would say, if there is a touchstone here, it is her cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Don’t Forget Me” from Middle Cyclone. It feels like she is channelling a bit of that dissolute 70s songwriter’s spirit on “Hell-On”. 

#TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #NekoCase #HellOn

Perfume by Wand

Perfume by Wand.
Bandcamp Link: Perfume

This album starts off with a couple songs that put me off kilter. Classic Psychedelic vocals, a la Incense and Peppermints, languidly floating over a rhythm section that could be from a Green Day song. It’s an odd combination, like the rhythm section is playing to a beat twice as fast as the vocalist.

There are a couple more normally organized songs, and a couple more that revisit the agitating contrast between the rhythm section and vocals, but my favorite is the last, “I will Keep You Up”. It’s a sort of sweet, yet powerful, Brit-pop-ish anthem, in the Primal Scream vein, that gets me choked up a bit. I’m getting soft, I guess.

A great album that keeps you guessing and rewards multiple listens.

#Wand #Perfume #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack

V. by Wooden Shjips

V. by Wooden Shjips.
Bandcamp Link: V.
A little bit like Meat Puppets and a little bit like Kelley Stoltz, Wooden Shjips are a home town, San Francisco band.

Fuzzed out bass and rhythm guitar. Echo-ing lead guitar. Repetitive drumming. Chanting, sing-song lyrics. Definitely, Meat Puppets influence happening.

Somehow just the right thing for my jet lagged mind. Appropriately psychedelic. Plus, they’re playing some shows, Huichica and The Chapel, in the relatively near future.

#TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #WoodenShjips #V #TheChapelSF #Huichica

Failed Celestial Creatures

Failed Celestial Creatures by David Grubbs & Taku Unami.
Label Website: Failed Celestial Creatures

Guitar Duets which take their inspiration from short stories by the Japanese author Atsushi Nakajima.

One extended song, one medium song with vocals, one medium song without vocals, and a few short songs. 
The extended song which opens the album is the eponymous “Failed Celestial Creatures”. It starts very quietly, (almost too quiet for a commute soundtrack,) and as the dialogue between the two guitarists builds, likewise it gains in volume, culminating in a burst of feedback interplay at around the 15 minute mark that wouldn’t be inappropriate on an Earth album.

The second song, “The Forest Dictation”, includes a poetic recitation about forest creatures that takes a bit of a turn towards the macabre and the philisophical.

The four pieces which close out the album, “Threadbare 1-4” are little gems of shimmering guitar interplay.

The following included quote also seems to be of import to the music in question. “Before becoming disciple to the Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang in the novel Journey to the West, Shā Wùjìng was cast out of heaven, exiled to earth, and transformed into the river monster Wujing, one of the thirteen thousand monsters in the River of Flowing Sand, plagued by philosophical questions and doubts: ‘I am a fool.’ ‘Why am I like this?’ ‘I am a failed celestial being.’” 

#FailedCelestialCreature #DavidGrubbs #TakuUnami #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack

Solo Contra

Solo Contra by John McCowen.
Bandcamp Link: Solo Contra

I happen to think the Contra Bass Clarinet is the king of all instruments. An octave below the Bass Clarinet, it is one of the lowest instruments in the semi-normal range of orchestral instruments. Though, not a particularly common instrument.

Also, there is a style of metal Contra Bass Clarinets where the tube is bent into an oval. It looks totally steam punk and its mechanisms are ridiculously complicated.

In any case, this is an album of pieces for solo contra bass clarinet.

In these pieces, Mr McCowen treats the instrument more like a didgeridoo than using the typical methods. Which is to say, he is manipulating long tones using breath, embouchure, and the shape of his vocal cavity. He creates overtones, plays up harmonics, and in general messes with the pre-conceptions of what a serious orchestral instrument should sound like.

It’s pretty great! Well, if, like me, your idea of a good time is harmonically complex drones, it’s pretty great. I suppose, for some people, it might sound like the SF Bay Foghorns. But, who doesn’t love to listen to the foghorns around the bay?

I have long lusted after the calla lilies which grow profusely in our neighborhood. But, it seemed silly to spend money on something that grows everywhere. Finally, last summer, I broke down, picked up some Calla tubers which had come loose in a neighbor’s front yard and brought them home. I planted them in dirt and, amazingly, they have flowered in their first year. Just, FYI, it can be a little hard to tell Calla tubers from small dog or cat poop, which also seem to reproduce profusely in our neighborhood yards and on our sidewalks.

#JohnMcCowen #SoloContra #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #Zantedeschiaaethiopica #CallaLily


Universalists by Yonatan Gat.
Bandcamp Link: Universalists

When this album started, I wasn’t sure if I had put on the right thing!

It first reminded me of something Socalled might put together with samples and live music.

It seems like what they’ve done on this album is to take elements and samples from different sorts of folk music, from Klezmer to the indigenous people of North America, and used it to inform the tracks.

Listening more, it really reminded me of what the band Can was doing with their Ethnological Forgery Series. Well, if Can was a 21st Century eclectic surf guitar band. In any case, many of the collage elements do remind me of the sort of high jinks Holger Czukay got up to on his 1990s albums like Der Often ist Rot and Rome Remains Rome.

In fact, they find some of the very specific guitar sounds and techniques that Michael Karoli used on those albums for a couple of the shorter, more collage-ey tracks.

I don’t know if this is an intentional tribute to Czukay and Can or if it is a sort of convergent evolution.

In any case, a great new album from a great band.

#YonatanGat #Universalists #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack


Conquistador by Dylan Carlson.
Bandcamp Link: Conquistador

Dylan Carlson is the main guy behind the heavy drone band Earth.

This is his first solo album in a while (he also sometimes records under the name Dr Carlson Albion). Atmospheric, scorched earth, desert maladies for your post-apocalyptic listening pleasure.

My main complaint with Conquistador is it ends far too soon. Any of these songs seem like the sort of late night studio exploration that could go on for hours, yet the album is only a half an hour long. Please, Sir, I want some more.

FYI: He’s touring this summer and will be playing solo August 09 at the Hemlock Tavern in San Francisco and on Oct 12 he will be back in SF performing “Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull” with Earth. Bring ear protection.

#DylanCarlson #Conquistador #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #MatilijaPoppies #RomneyaCoulteri

Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun

Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun by Ben LaMar Gay.
Bandcamp Link: Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun

I mentioned I had seen Jaimie Branch in duo with Ben LaMar Gay last year. They played some pretty out there stuff, mostly synth and processed horns.

So, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from Mr LaMar Gay’s solo album.

Even not knowing what to expect, I was surprised.

It’s sort of an esoteric pop record with elements from, well, everywhere. Some Jazz, some Electronic, some Bowie, some Funk.

To a certain extent the record it reminds me most of is Bowie’s Low. Well, if Bowie were a deep voiced African-American man. There’s a feel of eclectic experimentation which seems similar to what Bowie and Eno were trying to accomplish, especially on Low and Heroes.

The album feels like something that LaMar Gay has been working on as a passion project in his spare time for a long time, piecing it together track by track in his garage.

It’s funny, moving, and, despite occasional dissonance, pretty easy to listen to. After listening through the first time, I immediately restarted it at the beginning to give it a second chance to sink in. It’s that kind of record.

I recently noticed this Beach Sage (Salvia africana-lutea) bush on the VA campus. It’s a pretty unassuming Salvia until it starts flowering, and then these incredibly bizarre looking long nosed brown flowers pop out.

#BenLaMarGay #DowntownCastlesCanNeverBlocktheSun #TodaysCommuteSoundtrack #Salviaafricanalutea