Slagr: Dirr


Slagr: Dirr
Hubro/Grappa, 2018

Sommeren 2018 ble den varmeste og tørreste i manns minne. Den ene dagen etter den andre med tropisk hete man helst kjenner fra langt sydligere breddegrader. Eng og åker visnet bort, vannet forsvant og vi nordboere la oss til en roligere væremåte, satte arbeidsoppgavene på vent og søkte etter noe så unorsk som skygge i den dirrende luften.

Dette kunne ikke Slagr forutse da de fullførte sitt fjerde album, mens snøen fremdeles dekket landet. Dirr ble et fast lydspor til denne underlige sommeren, men den har beholdt sin relevans også inn mot kjøligere tider og vil ganske sikkert være en følgesvenn inn mot en ny vinter. Dette er musikk for alle årstider, og for mange sinnsstemninger.

Slagr er fremdeles Anne Hytta på hardingfele og Amund Sjølie Sveen på vibrafon og glassharmonika, samt cellist Katrine Schiøtt som på sømløst vis har erstattet Sigrun Eng. Dere som kjenner trioen fra tidligere utgivelser eller fra deres liggekonserter, der musikken kan nytes i en høvelig posisjon og hypnagoge tilstand, vil ikke bli overrasket over det som serveres her. Dette er ikke en trio som radikalt søker bort fra sin etablerte kontekst fra plate til plate. Deres katalog pusles heller møysommelig sammen til å danne et helt særegent bilde, der utvikling og variasjon kommer i form av ørsmå detaljer, og der låtene og platene er brikker underordnet denne helheten.

Etablerte stikkord for å beskrive det de står for er fremdeles gyldige: mediterende minimalisme, filmatisk folkemusikk, atmosfærisk avantgarde. De tilhører ikke én tradisjon, og skal heller ikke presses inn i noen fasttømret boks. Slik sett er det naturlig at deres siste plate kommer ut på den sjangerfrie kvalitetsleverandøren Hubro. Slagr er frigjort fra det åpenbare, og selv om de definitivt er jordet i noe ur-aktig og bestandig, henvender de seg vel så mye til drømmenes verden og det abstrakte.

Dette gjør de uten å lage noe i nærheten av «vanskelig» musikk. Slagr har alltid vært en ren nytelse for sjel og sinn. De komponerer særdeles vakre melodier, saktegående og dvelende, som kan nytes både i konsentrert lytting med gode hodetelefoner eller som bakgrunnsakkompagnement til den frie natur. Slagr blir liksom en naturlig del av deg og dine omgivelser.

Platen er innspilt i Sofienberg kirke, en omgivelse som passer platen. Det er høyt under taket her, en romlig klang som kommer til sin rett enten de tre spiller sammen eller står fram med solospill. I likhet med deres foregående plater er det ikke lett å trekke fram enkeltspor som skiller seg fra andre, for igjen har de laget en plate som bør spilles i sin helhet, slik at sporene høres i sammenheng.

Dirr er delt inn i 8 stykker, alle med korte navn som «aur», «eir» og «hel». Titlene angir en klar norsk og nordisk kulturarv, men musikken i seg selv beveger seg på tvers av både landegrenser og tidsepoker. Det har gått inflasjon i begrepet ‘tidløst’, men skal man først ty til det, så er Slagr den rette mottaker. Det er rart med det: Med sitt lavmælte tonespråk og minimale estetikk evner Slagr igjen å åpne ukjente dører og male store bilder, mens tankene blir til drømmer og drømmene blir til musikk.

Reklamer

Ween: 12 Golden Country Greats


Ween: 12 Golden Country Greats
(Elektra, 1996)

Wonderful Ween. So eclectic, so unpredictable and always great. Gene and Dean Ween (real names Aaron Freeman and Mickey Melchiondo) are to music what the Coen Brothers are for the movies; stealing and lending from a wide array of cultural references and creating something completely their own.

Ween started out in the mid 1980s and by 1996 they already had an astonishing catalog under their belt, including their major label debut Pure Guava (1992) and the formidable magnum opus Chocolate & Cheese (1994). Their previous albums were all rollercoasters of various styles and influences, but on 12 Golden Country Greats they decided to focus their sound on good ol’, classic country music, from honky tonk and countrypolitan to folk.

To do things right they even went down to Music Row and brought in a bunch of legendary Nashville session musicians and hired Ben Vaughn to produce. The final result is 10, not 12, golden country songs that are musically superb and work tremendously well beyond just being a parody of the genre by two college boys from the Eastern seaboard. Yes, their sense of humor and vulgarity aren’t for everyone, yes they fool around with all the Nashville clichés in the book, but overall 12 Golden Country Greats is one of the best country albums of the 1990s.

Featuring some of the Ween’s finest songs, including «Japanese Cowboy,» «Help Me Scrape the Mucus off My Brain» and «You Were the Fool,» it’s an album hardcore country fans will appreciate, and also an album that will turn non-believers over to the genre.

Getatchew Mekuria & The Ex: Moa Anbessa


Getatchew Mekuria & The Ex: Moa Anbessa
(Terp, 2006)

What happens when free-minded Dutch anarcho-punks meet a 70-year-old Ethiopian jazz saxophonist? Well, in this case, pure magic; or as Terrie Ex calls it: «A tribute to the free spirit.»

The story goes that the members of The Ex were longtime fans of the Ethiopiques re-release of the 1972 album ‘The Negus of Ethiopian Sax,’ where the big sound and memorable vibrato of Getatchew Mekuria (1935-2016) caught their immediate attention. When the fabulous and open-minded punk veterans were about to celebrate their 25th anniversary in 2004, they had the wild idea of inviting Mekuria to the party. So, they went down to Addis Ababa, tracked him down and explained their story. Mekuria didn’t think twice. He joined the band for his first travels outside of Ethiopia, and he was on fire! The event was a massive success, and the combo agreed to record together.

Recorded partly in the studio and partly live, a number of traditional, mainly Ethiopian, songs were rearranged by The Ex and guests, including a horn section featuring Xavier Charles (Silent Block) and Brodie West (Deep Dark United), and Mekuria flexed his sax like there was no tomorrow. Titled Moa Anbessa, the result is completely dazzling: a fiery and joyous mix of funky Ethio-jazz and sharp, authoritative post-punk vibrating with soulful energy and warmth. So much more than your average «world fusion,» this is musical exchange at its very best. ‘Moa Anbessa’ is strongly recommended for all «free spirits» out there.

Put it on, don’t resist the urge to groove, dance or sing along.

Arthur Russell: World of Echo


Arthur Russell: World of Echo
(Upside, 1986)

World of Echo, the only solo full-length album released by avant-garde cellist Arthur Russell during his way-too-short lifespan (1952-1992), is a hands-down classic piece of music, and a transcendental listening experience to boot.

Born and raised in rural Iowa, Russell moved to New York City in the early 1970s for musical education, and ultimately became a fixture in the city’s vital downtown loft circuit, and he was even appointed as musical director of the artsy hotspot The Kitchen. Highly involved in New York’s bourgeoning punk, jazz and disco scenes, Russell literally worked with everyone, was all over the place musically, and particularly made a name for himself on dance floors with his various pioneering projects (Dinosaur, Loose Joints).

World of Echo is something else entirely, mainly consisting of Russell’s bowed and percussive cello and his dreamlike, echoey vocals, with some additional electronic effects. It’s a mediative and minimalistic masterpiece, suspended outside of time and space. A bit distant or hazy at first as the songs ebb and flow in no strict particular direction, repeated listens will unveil its beauty in full. Embracing ambience and textures in favor of beats, it’s akin to equal parts Nick Drake and Philip Glass. And no matter how intimate and personal this is, it also resembles the heyday of the New York underground, the vast cornfields of Iowa, transcendental meditation and deep dub.

The echoes of this album haven’t faded at all, and still can be heard around the world in all its quiet glory.

Magnet & Paul Giovanni: The Wicker Man


Magnet & Paul Giovanni: The Wicker Man
(Trunk, 1998)
The Wicker Man is a magnificent 1973 horror movie set on a fictional remote Scottish island, and starring Christopher Lee in the unforgettable role as Lord Summerisle. He is the leader of the island, where Sgt. Howie, a devoted Christian policeman, is being lured from the mainland in search of a missing girl, just to be dragged deeper and deeper into a bizarre and mysterious world of Celtic pagan secrets.

It is a thrilling story, but the soundtrack, closely interwoven as an integral part of the film and finally resurfaced in 2002, is not only crucial to the whole experience, it functions as an astonishing album in its own right. The Wicker Man arrived amid the fruitful British folk revival, but the music was actually created by American composer Paul Giovanni and a one-off band entitled Magnet, with performances from various cast members. The story goes that the songs were written in just a couple weeks, but they manage to capture the essence of British folklore with a combination of new and traditional songs, on what turned out to be a stunning record revolving around pre-Christian mythology and traditions.

Listening to the album gives an immediate urge to put on a mask and dance around a maypole while chanting creepy nursery rhymes. Highlights include “Willow’s Song,” later remade by Sneaker Pimps and epitomized in the movie by the landlord’s seductive siren daughter (Britt Ekland), the ballad «Gently Johnny,» the child-sung «Maypole» and a chilling version of «Sumer Is Icumen In.» The movie is still disturbing and scary as hell, and the soundtrack is hypnotic, creepy and beautiful at the same time.

Make sure to watch it – not the lousy remake with Nicholas Cage – and enjoy to this spellbinding soundtrack.

The Lounge Lizards: s/t


The Lounge Lizards: s/t
(Editions EG, 1981)

The Lounge Lizards were a sharp-dressed act made up of some of the coolest cats in New York City, including filmmaker John Lurie, The Feelies drummer Anton Fier and DNA guitarist Arto Lindsay.

The eclectic (and over the years revolving) lineup reflects the music on their 1981 debut album, where downtown jazz, no-wave and alternative rock flawlessly melt together into a higher unit. They never steered away from the outskirts of the music landscape, embracing an experimental approach and adding a renewed sense of energy and joy to the jazz scene of the early 1980s. They did so with a high acknowledgment of the past and managed to head into the unknown without ever leaving the listener behind.

Mainly consisting of Lurie originals, they also found room for a couple of Thelonious Monk tunes here, an album that still sounds remarkably fresh and exciting. The cover is designed by Peter Salville, best known for his work with Factory Records artists like Joy Division and New Order, who added an extra element of coolness to the band.

Lula Côrtes E Zé Ramalho: Paêbirú


Lula Côrtes E Zé Ramalho: Paêbirú
(Solar, 1975)

The Brazilian scene in the 1960s and ’70s blessed the world with some extraordinary artists and unique music commonly known as ‘Tropicália’. Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Os Mutantes, Gal Costa and Tom Zé spearheaded this sizzling melting pot of traditional sounds, African rhythms, breezy pop and avant garde.

The northeastern city of Recife was a major hub for an even more psychedelic branch of the Tropicália movement, centered around musician Lula Côrtes. On his 1975 album Paêbirú Côrtes collaborated with composer Zé Ramalho and created a strange, transcendental album where pastoral folk meets psychedelic electric freak outs, richly layered with field recordings and trippy detours. This is one hazy ride where the songs weave into each other with no clear start or ending, making it an endless voyage into the unknown.

Paêbirú is literally impossible to track down on LP, but fortunately it’s available digitally. Put it on one of these blistering hot summer evenings, close your eyes and drift away into a dense jungle of mystery and magic.

Songs: Ohia: Magnolia Electric Co.


Songs: Ohia: Magnolia Electric Co.
(Secretly Canadian, 2003)

Jason Molina was the best songwriter of the 2000s, and Magnolia Electric Co remains not only his finest work, but stands as a beacon of modern American storytelling. Fifteen years down the road, this album still burns with an eternal flame. It begins dim: «The whole place is dark/Every light on this side of the town/Suddenly it all went down/Now we’ll all be brothers of the fossil fire of the sun/Now we will all be sisters of the fossil blood of the moon,» and it ends as the «lonesome whistle whine.»

The lyrics are dark, the songs heartbreakingly expressive, and the including some wonderful guest vocals by English singer-songwriter Scout Niblett and country artist Lawrence Peters. It’s also a transitional album, on the way from Molina’s lo-fi origins under the moniker Songs: Ohia to a fuller, working-class band sound as Magnolia Electric Co. Whatever he named his projects, Molina had a tight grip on the American music mythology, which he closely intertwined with his Rust Belt surroundings.

Such were his personal demons part of the geographical landscape he knew so well: the abandoned factories, the dismal towns, the taste of gasoline and the odor of hopelessness, as he was writing about a people, a culture and a landscape torn between rural downfall and post-industrial struggle.

Jason Molina dug deep in the darkest corners of the human mind. He wrote 21st century blues about crossroads and back highways, shadows and ghosts, the moon above and hell below. He unveiled the loneliness inside our hearts and the emptiness that surrounds us. And he did so with a clear vision and a beating heart that bled clear through his shirt and dripped into ours.

In March 2013, the world lost a original voice – and his peer has yet to be found.

John Zorn – Bar Kokhba: Lucifer


John Zorn – Bar Kokhba: Lucifer
(Tzadik, 2008)

Ranking among the most enjoyable and popular projects from the highly productive avant-garde composer John Zorn are his works with the Bar Kokhba ‎Sextet, made up of the Masada String Trio – violinist Mark Feldman, cellist Erik Friedlander and bassist Greg Cohen – and featuring Mark Ribot on guitar, Joey Baron on drums and Cyro Baptista on percussion. Needless to say, this is a brilliant cast of musicians from the New York Downtown scene performing some of the most melodically rich and accessible music in Zorn’s wildly eclectic catalog.

Lucifer: Book Of Angels Volume 10 is a laidback and gentle journey of traditional Jewish harmonies, klezmer jazz and classical chamber music with smooth flavors of spaghetti westerns, latin rhythms and surf rock.

There’s not a dull moment here. This album flows like a lush breeze into an eternal sunset.

The Record Collection: 1989 – 2

R.E.M. | Life’s Rich Pageant | I.R.S, 1986 |

The fourth studio album from R.E.M. was my first encounter with the band. I bought it on cassette in 1986, and the LP version three years later. It’s still the favorite album from a band I never stopped adoring. Characterized by a cleaner production than on their previous efforts (thanks to Don Gehman), a punchy sound while maintaining their enigmatic presence and jangly roots. And of course, it has some of the band’s greatest songs, including the killer opening trio of «Begin the Begin», «These Days» and «Fall On Me.» I wish I still was in college, bury magnets, swallow the rapture.

The Beasts of Bourbon | The Axeman’s Jazz | Big Time 1985 |

A super supergroup from Australia, including members from Hoodoo Gurus, The Johnnys and of course The Scientists (Kim Salmon). This is their debut album, originally released down under a year before. With a mix of swamp rock, psychobilly and country blues, somewhere between The Cramps, Nick Cave and Hank Williams, this here beast was created during one particularly dark and gloomy evening in Sydney. The opening track and leadoff single, where singer Tex Perkins does a convincing take on Leon Payne’s classic murder ballad «Psycho» still remains one of the highlight on an album packed with stories about death and misery. The Beasts of Bourbon were confronting, abusive and filled with desperation and despair. This album gives you plenty of it all. Pour yourself a glass, turn the lights down low and join this band along the lost highway and into the night.

American Music Club | California | Frontier 1988 |

‘To the left, a beautiful California landscape
Dead ends in the sky
And to the right, beautiful mountains rise
High and dry
Another futile expression of bitterness
Another overwhelming sensation of uselessness’

Mark Eitzel is one of the great American storytellers and voices; deep, stoic and soulful, he fleshes out personal anguish and wry observations with an unmatched eloquent pen. American Music Club lived up to their name and incorporated many different styles into their music over the years, always gravitating around Eitzel’s magnetic presence, and on California they played it all out so extremely well. There is a barren feeling deep inside this golden landscape, where dreams meet the sea, a sense of sadness, longing and hopelessness so wonderfully conveyed on tracks like «Last Harbour», «Western Sky», «Laughingstock» or «Firefly», but all conducted with elegance and beauty. Into a story not only about inner demons, or the state of California, but of America itself.

The Band of… Blacky Ranchette | Heartland | Zippo 1986 |

When Howe Gelb got the country itch, he let Giant Sand rest for a while, saddled up Blacky, teamed up with some of his finest compadres and set out on the western trails. The first Blacky LP came back in 1985, ‘Heartland’ followed a year later. Both albums are a testament to the sparkling relationship between Gelb and Rainer Ptacek, two creative geniuses and close friends until Rainer sadly passed away in 1997. Blacky pursued a more pure country sound than the Giant Sand moniker could provide, but always bumped into the usual detours that makes Howe Gelb’s music so irresistible. This is a “lost” Americana classic way before that became a hip term.

Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ | Mystery Road | Island 1989 |

Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ masterfully merged Southern indie with Southern hard rock and country, and managed to unify it all into a stirring hot cocktail under the guidance of singer and main songwriter Kevn Kinney. Their two previous albums are both wonderful, but Mystery Road shines with confidence, power and the sharpest set of tunes in their entire album catalog. The country/folk songs are particularly strong, «Ain’t It Strange,» With the People,» «Peacemaker,» and of course the wonderful «Straight to Hell» are classics in its own right and also remains a missing link between Gram Parsons and Uncle Tupelo and the whole Americana resurgence of the 1990s. But Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ always had the urge to rock off too, Aerosmith style («Toy Never Played With,» «Wild Dog Moon») and ‘Mystery Road’ gives you plenty of it all. This is an album you can drive and cry to.

Pixies | Surfer Rosa | 4AD 1988 |

This is one of my definitive favorite albums of all times, and both Surfer Rosa and Doolittle are on my Top 10 Album List of the 1980s. Pixies was brand new to me when I bought ‘Surfer Rosa’, on a warm springs day, and it became the soundtrack for the summer when I turned 17. How fortunate! I believe the combination of their super catchy songs and disturbing lyrics («He bought me a soda and he tried to molest me in the parking lot», «I got no lips, I got no tongue, where there were eyes, there’s only space», «I’m the horny loser») somewhat resonated to a teen life being equally carefree and confusing. Needless to say, all these songs here are classics in my book, and every time I put on the album, not as often as before I have to admit, but it’s just as rewarding as in 1989, I’m being transferred back to this time in my life. So grateful Pixies was there to guide me into adulthood. PS: On the back cover, I still see the fingerprint marks from the day I bought it. I hated the stains back then, now it’s almost like a stamp of remembrance, something that would never occur in the digital world. There’s a beauty in that as well.

The Feelies | Only Life | A&M 1988 |

Some discovered The Feelies on their 1980 debut album, and I guess that must’ve been a thrilling experience. I bought my first Feelies-album on a hunch (I believe) some time in 1989. Their legacy didn’t matter to me, it was all about the moment. In hindsight, Only Life might not be considered such a seminal album, but to a perpetual nervous teen it was mind-blowing and just the best thing ever. I was well into jangle pop at the time, but was starting to look out for something with more punch, and The Feelies served just the right mixture of restless indie charm and groovy rhythms. As a huge fan of all kinds of horror movies, I remember how the cover art appealed to me big time, imaging these five fellas standing in front of Amityville, Elm Street or whatever VHS flick I was watching at the time. I guess that is what I still find fascinating; the dreamlike, hypnotic sounds of innocence and the tempting undertows towards something darker. I never tire of The Feelies, and I’ll never stop listening to this album.

Dinosaur Jr. | Bug | SST/Blast First 1988 |

Remember the last time you heard a new album and instinctively knew it would not only blow your brains out in the moment, but also mark the beginning of a life long relationship? An album of such impact that you just had to play it over and over again, share its brilliance with anyone with the slightest of interest and memorize every word and note? Not too often these days for my part, but hopefully youngsters still do, it’s a glorious feeling. I went and saw Dinosaur Jr in this tiny club after buying Bug in the summer of 1989, holding my under-aged breath while sneaking in, squeezed in right by the speaker and witnessed a loud, loud mess of guitar insanity, the songs hardly recognizable, buried deep below endless layers of feedback and noise. My ears were ringing for weeks afterwards. Bug is also a noisy mess, but with this brilliant mixture of emotional vulnerability, slacker coolness and full on assaults that makes it such a classic. «Freak Scene» is the obvious key track, a super catchy indie anthem if there ever was any. I was not the only kid yelling out lines like these on a frequent basis, but it was like J spoke directly to me:
«Sometimes I don’t thrill you
Sometimes I think I’ll kill you
Just don’t let me fuck up will you
’cause when I need a friend it’s still you
What a mess» ‘Bug’ is a lot more thank «Freak Scene» though, «They Always Come», Budge» and «Let it Ride» are equally addictive, and I’ve always adored hazy slow burners like «Yeah We Know» and «The Post» just as much. One of my fondest memories is tied to the sludgy, epic finale of «Don’t.» Remember how I occupied the DJ booth at our weekly youth club disco and blasted it on max volume, giggling at the horrified faces in front of me. Oh the days of joy and guitar noise.

Black Sun Ensemble | s/t | Reckless 1988 |

Much of the music from the American southwest is rooted in the dusty ground with the barren landscape as a majestic backdrop, but some went even further. I was deep into many of the bands being labeled as ‘desert rock’ at the time, but Black Sun Ensemble was something else indeed. There is an undeniable flavor of the frontier twang in their sound, but as they reached for the sky, they also discovered other horizons, including ritual music, Medieval patterns, space rock and Indian raga. This album is a collection of some of their early hard-to-get cassette releases (‘Sapphire Sky Symphony’, ‘Raga Del Sol’) and a couple of new tracks, and works as a great introduction to one of the many overlooked bands from this time and place. It is a magic carpet ride of hypnotic cosmic desert psychedelia centered round the intricate guitar work of Jesus Acedo (1962-2013), imagine a mix of John Fahey, Jimi Hendrix and Ravi Shankar, instrumental explorations of the outer world and of the inner mind. It’s a trip alright, this is Country & Eastern at its finest.

The Leaving Trains | Transportational D. Vices | SST 1989 |

The Leaving Trains came out of the same vital Los Angeles scene that spawned likeminded artists like The Gun Club, The Flesh Eaters and The Dils. They were a wild ride in the glory days and left behind a string of great albums in the latter half of the 1980s ranging from rambling punk frenzy to introspective, self-loathing material. Transportational D. Vices leans towards the former, with its hard-hitting down-and-out tunes mostly between 1-2 minutes long (including a cool cover of Urinals’ «Black Hole»). Falling James Moreland was the only steady member in a band with a constant revolving lineup, and his keen melodic sense always shines through their ramshackle sound. Falling James is quite a story by the way, notoriously known for his crossdressing appearances, a super brief marriage with Courtney Love, name-dropped by Tom Waits («Gun Street Girl»), and now retired from music he’s a writer for L.A. Weekly. ‘Transportational D. Vices’ is produced by Earle Mankey (the Weirdos, Runaways, Concrete Blonde, The Three O’Clock, The Long Ryders) and the album cover is a photo of Howe Gelb’s very own ’66 Barracuda. Such is the life of Falling James, packed with fame and tragedy, peculiar incidents and surrounded by cult figures, living in the gutter and looking at the stars. Just as the songs he made.