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Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Despite The Roar
I've grown really fond of the person I imagine the average Freeway Jam reader to be. I've taken no surveys, gotten few hints into your psyche, have very little actually to go by except the numbers on the stat counter.
I'm going to guess that if you've been here twice you are a music listener with fairly broad tastes but a special fondness for rock music. I'll imagine you are a fairly thoughtful individual; intelligent and curious; open-minded towards new things but also a tad traditional, someone who likes a lot of new music they hear, but often obsesses over old favorites.
That's fine; we all do that.
I'll also hazard a guess that you're in a range about 20 years on either side of me; that would put you squarely in the 20-60 bracket. So, we're looking at Generation X and the half of the Baby Boom.
So, I might even go out on a limb and suggest a few of you -and I'm not saying who- have experimented with drugs.
We're all adults here, so we needn't get into the dangers of drugs here, their health effects, which ones are the most fun, which ones are wacked out, and the like. We'll get to that one day too I suspect.
Let's focus on the music; the soundscape to a lovely trip.
In the old days, drug music was famously provided by bands like Grateful Dead, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Pink Floyd, even our friends the Beatles.
Much has been written about that music in the past; I'm assuming most of you are familiar with those guys.
But if you're anything like me, there are days when you like a fresh new soundscape to listen to. Even the squares have to admit that there really is a finite number of listens one can give Atom Heart Mother or Aoxomoxoa.
There's Phish and Widespread Panic and String Cheese Incident and Rusted Root and all those other jam bands that split up the Grateful Dead's market share after Jerry Garcia died. They make good music; nothing wrong with it. But their fans will be the first to tell you (like some Dead fans even will) that the recordings don't ever quite capture the essence of the band. To appreciate them, the conventional wisdom goes, you really had to be there.
So what can a guy do? If you want some decent drug music, for research purposes or whatever, and you just can't take going back to Pink Floyd because the mildew on the jacket is going to send you into a bad death-trip bummer, where can you turn?
The aptly named "Space Rock" genre, of course. A term once used for out-there music like Pink Floyd and Hawkwind, it disappeared from the lexicon by the mid-80's; it was as defunct as doo-wop.
The new "Space Rock" isn't a revival of a musical style, in the sense of a rockabilly revival or ska revival. It was more of a revival of a sonic attitude; one of long hypnotic drones and feedback jams. Vague, eerie lyrics as often sung by a femme fatale as not, spooky keyboards, ethereal texture. It is not the same as electronica, although it may incorporate some of its elements. Most of the playing is standard guitar-bass-keyboards.
"Space Rock" often makes no secret of its ulterior motive. The Spacemen 3, chief among architects of the sound in the late 80's, even titled an album Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To.
So: tonight's automatically generated playlist will be Space Rock, late-80's to date.
I'll set the genre tag to Space-Rock, use no other filters, and away we go...
(Auto-generated playlist from a collection of 103 titles; first 10 tunes selected are profiled, Jam Tags, 1-5 stars follow):
1. The Verve: Come On (live, 1998) *****
On first glance, you can be forgiven if you lump The Verve together with Oasis; looks can be deceiving. Oasis were pop; The Verve were spellbinding. Fueled by a cornocopia of drugs, The Verve managed to combine the best of classic psychedelic exploration with the mirage-like reflective atmospherics of the shoegazers. Come On is both propulsive and hypnotic at the same time, no small feat. This bootleg version is a good one, excellent quality.
2. Spiritualized: Come Together *****
A rare case of a band put together by a member of a great band after a breakup that actually improves upon the original band. Imagine a band equal parts Velvet Underground and Steve Riech, with a pronounced gospel lilt, throbbing bass, and an almost Phil Spector-esque construction of horns, cymbals, maraccas, assorted percussion swaying and swinging in the background, and you have the essence of a truly trippy cut, by a truly trippy band. Pass the hookah, bro.
3. Bardo Pond: Datura ****
Most Space Rock practitioners come from England, but America has some good ones, too. Bardo Pond hail from Philadelphia, and was part of a bourgening space-rock scene there in the 90's. Unlike the British bands, Bardo Pond's sound had its roots in New York's no-wave movement and free-jazz. As they developed, their music took on more traditional motifs, but has always remained at the fringe. Datura opens like Pink Floyd in mid-interstellar overdrive, and goes from there.
4. Spacemen 3: Come Down Softly To My Soul *****
Originators of the genre, Spacemen 3 delivered a minimalist psychedelica heavy on guitar harmonics and hypnotic drone, punctuated by explosions of white noise. Their sound is really incomparable to anyone else's; here, we have a gentle tune with heavily distorted keyboards and heavily phased guitar building in gradual intensity and complexity. Music for slightly after peaking; while you're still up there, but gently floating downstream.
5. Chapterhouse: Pearl ****
Contemporaries and tour mates with Spacemen 3, Chapterhouse's music featured bipolar swings from bliss to dread, multilayered phased guitar and buried vocals. Pearl begins happily enough with rollicking bass, punchy percussion, shoegazer vocals. We get a good drums 'n' bass bottom during the break with some feedbacky guitars. We get an extended coda with echoey female vocals buried in the mix. This one doesn't really arrive anywhere special, but packs a consistent otherworldliness that's appealing.
6. Flying Saucer Attack: Distance *****
The duo of singers/guitarists David Pearce and Rachel Brook (ex- Lynda's Strange Vacation) are the lo-fi practitioners of the space rock genre, favoring home recording experimentation. The result is maybe the trippiest track among everything on this playlist. Phased drum patters from space, drifting about in an automated, quasi-industrial atmospheric din that waxes melodic. Guitars sounding like foghorns in the distance erupting into sprays of color. Everything in the background gradually whipped into a faster and faster frenzy in the background, as the foghorn guitars move in closer.
7. Windy & Carl: Balance (Trembling) ***
Part of the Michigan space-rock scene, specializing in guitar drone. This one is all drone. I mean, that's it; just drone. Fans of Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music or Weld by Neil Young might like this. Minimal as you can get; but still compelling on a sensory level.
8. The Verve: Lucky Man *****
One of The Verve's masterpieces; a little less trippy and sharper focus than their earlier work, absolutely gorgeous in its shimmering arrangement and crackling guitars. Lyrics are among their better ones. I've found that even chicks dig The Verve; keep that in mind, guys. Urban Hymns is their most tuneful, although A Storm In Heaven is by far the trippiest.
9. Bardo Pond: Inside *****
Ominous, intense trance rock from Philly's Bardo Pond. Nicely druggy female vocals, enough guitar to last you all day, and a long, long drone taking you gently though a dark looking glass, like an episode on ether you dimly remember a short time later, while still on ether. This is pretty dope stuff, if you're getting my drift. Dilate is perhaps the best of the band's albums.
10. Wilco: Spiders (Kidsmoke) *****
Wilco is a weird band. Jeff Tweedy's post Uncle Tupelo band, he made the staggering transformation from alt-country rock to experimental and space-rock step by step, in little increments. 2004's A Ghost Is Born made this transition complete. Spiders has all the elements of great space-rock. Hypnotic beat, snakey guitars, impressionistic and vaguely creepy lyrics, a 10 minute length. Best recording rock group in America right now, I'm very tempted to say.
That's all for today; bon voyage, hope you enjoy the trip...