srijeda, 8. kolovoza 2012.

Blues Control - Valley Tangents + Blues Control & Laraaji -

Blues Control: Valley Tangents
Bend Blues Control, fala bogu, nema nikakve veze s konfekcijskim glazbenim bluesom, nego s kontrolom bluza kao psihičkog stanja. Zamislite da su čakre prostata i da vam netko gura ruku kroz kralježnicu i masira ih jednu po jednu, ali ih ponekad i uštine, prignječi ili čak zareže noktom. Potom vam čakre izvadi iz tijela, malo ih preprži na tavi i vrati vam ih nazad - kao ukusan, iako pomalo reš, pop-corn.

For whatever reason, there came a time when I couldn't think of rock n' roll-- the term, or the idea-- without wanting to puke. I'd become overwhelmed with flashbacks to my time in a Judas Priest cover band, playing to an aging, mulleted bar band boys club who would gladly sing along to "Hell Bent For Leather"-- but still, years later, hadn't accepted that Halford was gay. The dark side of rock and it's accompanying "isms" are enough to make one lose track of the exciting, universal role it plays in American experience. That first time your mom or dad passes along Pink Floyd's best LPs to you, time and geography melt away, generations lose their meaning, and everyone still feels their gut rumble if they can't make out all of the details yet. Luckily, Lea Cho and Russ Waterhouse of Blues Control haven't forgotten about this feeling, and it shows on Valley Tangents. By realizing that following the footsteps of your elders is deeper than looking or sounding like them, they've managed to make one of the best, classically "rock" albums in recent memory. It's all about going back to what it was all about in the first place: making a mess of the status quo.
Valley Tangents is not an aggressive takeover, nor is it a protest-- Lea and Russ' wield their talents with subtlety, favoring the deft touch over the extended wank. lt's a bit like seeing the most talented artist in your painting class meticulously render something for hours, only to smear his or hr hand in one glorious streak down the middle of the canvas at the very last second, a shit-eating grin on full display. It's bold move, and yet the work will be critiqued all the more favorably because of it. Take, for example, the chintzy synthetic horns, exploding combat sounds, and chromatic piano-echo stream that introduce the album's highest-energy cut, "Iron Pigs." It's rather crass and shocking at first, but by a few minutes in, you realize that those crude interjections are what tie together the painfully orchestrated disco rock overture that follows.
Other tracks like "Opium Den/Fade to Blue" and "Gypsum" fuck with Americana a little less overtly, relying heavily on the sounds and timbres of a good ol' fashioned close-mic'd piano; but their strange chromatic twists paint the blues in strange new hues, like flourishing ragas over a skipping Traffic record. The duo's methods of arrangement can sound a bit like bolting together frankensteins, but they also employ more elusive methods, like the impressionistic, reverberating rubato of "Open Air," where the piano staggers deep in the background of the mix, forcing us to search it out in plain sight even when it's clearly the ringleader. "Walking Robin" also toys with instrumental roleplaying; the drums are whisper-quiet, dwarfed in volume by an accompanying harpsichord cameo later on.
Despite my initial thesis, Tangents is always graceful. The artist who smeared his or her work last minute in class wouldn't even think to do so, or know where to do so, if he or she didn't have all that meticulous rendering down in the first place. Blues Control, despite often getting confused for "noise" musicians, have always been songwriters, but they've finally mastered  the featherweight touch that they didn't used to have full command of. "Messing with the status quo" is deeper than a violent sound or shocking act, and it goes to show that a relatively peaceable album like Valley Tangents can manage to stir up so much more than another aimless drone or doctrinaire hardcore 7" could ever hope to. Lea and Russ have managed to get off the grid in this beautifully composed, stylistically adventurous resistance to the Big Brother age of music discourse. It feels good to rock again. - Matt Sullivan

Over the course of seven years and five LPs (as well as a couple of singles and a handful of cassettes), the Philadelphia-based duo of Lea Cho and Russ Waterhouse have built their own extraordinary soundworld out of very minimal means. A cheap electric guitar, electric piano and synthesizers, percussion, and pedals and loops are the basis of Blues Control’s palette, but their vision expresses both concision and a broad-minded approach that brings with it ambient music, dub, breezy analog electronics, homemade/amateurish jazz improvisation, and lilting classicism. Valley Tangents is their latest LP, following last year’s FRKWYS collaboration with zither musician Laraaji (Edward Larry Gordon), and, continuing a penchant for label-hopping, it’s their first for Drag City. At 34 minutes in length and six pieces, Valley Tangents doesn’t overstay its welcome, but covers a lot of ground in its brief running time.
The opening “Love’s a Rondo” might be the most mature Blues Control piece on record; it combines love for Swell Maps, Manuel Göttsching, and Boston fusion group Worlds’ and all that those names imply. Loose percussive support from traps, cymbals, and congas grant airiness to a spiky piano and guitar duet that quickly unfurls into thin, flatted eddies and chunky turnarounds, marked by synth washes. Waterhouse splays out in a bit of gritty fuzz, but it’s not overpowering, instead hanging atop a sunny thrum. Keyboard fanfares and a mechanical backbeat signal the ridiculous entry of “Iron Pigs,” in which the duo finds a way to employ “chintz” to non-ironic ends. It’s a dangerous slope, setting tinny synthesized brass against a metronome and turning the results into a bright, funky march. But laden with a syrupy groove, the tune is easily kept afloat and absent hokiness.
Despite their full orchestrations, the duo’s essence is drawn from keyboard and guitar (not unlike Bay Area poly-stylists Grex), and even when supported by electronic effects and canned beats, their base axes shine through. Waterhouse’s cheap grungy guitar is curiously tasteful, an astringent complement to Cho’s alternately stiff and romantic clamber, heard to great advantage (along with flute, perhaps synth-derived) on the gorgeous “Opium Den/Fade to Blue” closing the album’s first side. “Open Air” finds Cho working through a filmic piano improvisation en plein air (hence the title). Muffled and swathed in environmental trappings, overlaid with reverberant electronics and indeterminate patter, it’s a home recording filled with a surprising amount of gravitas. The set closes with the excellent “Gypsum,” Cho’s right hand skittering upwards as her left has an earthy weight, all mated to a hefty backbeat. One can discern the palimpsests of vibes, cello, and organ in the breakdown that follows, before the focus shifts to a punchy, melodica-like keyboard solo. The third movement features a rather unexpected keyboard riff based on Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” as the duo trade off noisy guitar and out-of-tune piano statements, the latter ricocheting towards an abrupt conclusion.
Had it been waxed 30 years ago and self-released in miniscule numbers, Valley Tangents would be a holy grail of the collectors’ market. And it’s not that unfair to historically qualify Blues Control — at times, they project a vibe that, while completely honest and bullshit-free, is also linked to the “all in” DIY/outsider environment of the 1970s and early 80s. Regardless, Blues Control are one of the most intriguingly unclassifiable outfits in contemporary music, putting forth music that is clear and refined while also being absolutely incomparable. - Clifford Allen

Blues Control & Laraaji - FRKWYS Vol. 8

The latest in RVNG Intl's commendable Frkwys series pairs Brian Eno's favourite zither-tinkler Laraaji with his "musical friend" Arji Cakouros and Philadelphian duo Blues Control in a blissed out session. Laaraji will be best known to many for his sublime 1979 LP 'Celestial Vibration' reissued on Soul Jazz a few years ago, a gorgeous document of transcendent sonics which has served a high water mark in the recent swell of new age reissues. His friend Arji runs meditative "toning exercises" and yoga workshops in New York, and Blues Control have been working a fine blend of knowing new age ambience and classic rock for the likes of Sub Pop and Holy Mountain since 2006. Their collaboration documents a a single, improvised studio session recorded in late 2010, an effortless and playful union of their cosmic forces conducted with a grace and purity of intent which could easily be mistaken as the work of a long-acquainted unit. The A-side 'Awakening Day' showcases the supple, dissonant beauty of Lajaaji's zither accompanied by subtly attuned percussion and shapeshifting ambient environs while the longer 'Light Ships' introduces ethereal vocals to a strange, ancient and desolate soundscape. B-side 'City Of Love' sets a more percussive Krautrock vector with layers of motorik rhythm beneath arcing synths and slow, purposeful drone inflected with trickling thumb pianos, and 'Freeflow' is defined by lush reflections on chest-quivering vocal ululations and magically expanding ambient space. It's well recommended to anyone who loved the Border, Ferraro, Lopatin and co LP. - Boomkat

For the latest installment in their FRKWYS series, RVNG Intl. have commissioned a collaboration between the psych-drone act Blues Control and Brian Eno-endorsed zitherist Laraaji, assisted by his friend Arji Cakouros. FRKWYS perennially coaxes intuitive results out of its participants, and this eighth edition is no different, apparently recorded in just one day. Each side keeps the other in check: Blues Control's rockier instincts rarely show through, and Laraaji's expansive zither solos are saved for the bonus tracks. There is no cautious middle ground here, though—the balance generates a head-stretchingly spacious, mystical atmosphere.
"Awakening Day" is underlined by a field recording that grows noticeably urban as the track progresses, subtly shifting from fuzzy ambience to a collation of squeaking breaks, sirens, horns and voices. Apart from the resonant pulse of a bass drum, the instrumentation is fittingly understated, a blend of bent, sliding strings, blocks of glassy vibraphone, and occasional zither. The arrangement's sleepy ease tapers, along with its urban undercurrent, into a pastoral conclusion, as the vibraphone dips below the sound of burbling water.
"Light Ships" begins with tremors of piano and zither, before Laraaji enters with a few elongated wordless groans. Their development into chattering laughter and higher cooing opens a more relaxed passage, alternating with forceful vocals over robust synthesizer drone. It's the aural equivalent of tensing every muscle in your body and then letting them all go. "City of Love" false-starts on a sluggish motorik rhythm and a serrated bass drone, dissolving into a watery, bell-laden movement for the remainder. String swells meet more of Laraaji's yearning moans, before resigning back into a meandering, placid backdrop. Finally, "Freeflow" buffs up the synth drone to complement its pervasive chants, channeling the previous tracks' instrumentation for a guttural, cathartic final movement.
FRKWYS Vol. 8 unfolds with a measured patience, often feeling like a much longer work than it actually is. It's fitting, then, that the bonus tracks, "Somebody Scream" and "Astral Jam," are extended jams, giving the collaborators even more room to breathe. The record is composed with a sense of freedom and fluidity that feels out-of-time, otherworldly and almost ancient—an intense accomplishment for both parties. - Steve Kerr

In Father James Martin's recent book, Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life, he notes that some of Jesus' parables had a wry sense of humor underlying them, albeit the context (crucial for any comic) has been lost over centuries of translations. But if you think of it, a camel squeezing through a needle's eye is Monty Python-level absurd. The New Age artist Laraaji (born Edward Larry Gordon) understands such a spiritual dichotomy, offering workshops not just in deep listening but also in deep laughter. His blog even summarizes his skill-set as so: "Celestial Music Performances and Seriously Playful Laughter Workshops."
For most music fans, Laraaji remains best known for recording an ambient album with Brian Eno after the latter happened upon the artist improvising on zither in Washington Square Park. The resultant record, Ambient 3: Day of Radiance, catapulted Laraaji into the upper echelons of that then-nascent genre, even if albums like 1978's Celestial Vibration (reissued by Soul Jazz) and 1987's Essence/ Universe transcend all musical nametags, vitamin stores, lucid dreaming practices, and crystal healing sessions to send its listeners up into the ether.
And like other similarly inclined noisemakers (including but not limited to Emeralds, Oneohtrix Point Never, White Rainbow, and Hatchback), when New York's Blues Control began to explore psychedelic music from the chakra-relaxing end of the musical spectrum, it led them directly to Laraaji's back catalog. Similarly inclined to melodic improvisation, percussive playing, hazy instrument treatments, and sprawling soundscapes-- as evidenced on previous albums like Local Flavor and"Puff"-- it makes a strange sort of sense that Blues Control would reach out to Laraaji for a collaborative album released as part of the RVNG label's ongoing FRKWYS series.
Sonically, it makes for an exquisite follow-up to the previous entry. Recorded in an upstate studio over the course of a single winter's day, the four tracks that constitute the LP (not to mention the sprawling bonus tracks available via digital download and-- in a nod to the New Age genre-- cassette) feel of a piece. Blues Control's telltale murk is evident from the start of "Awakening Day", somehow discombobulating and evocative, full of echoing percussion and effervescent melodies from Russ Waterhouse's six-string and Lea Cho's electric keyboard. It actually takes a while before Laraaji's strummed zither rises to the surface, only to have the elegant track slowly dissolve into sounds of running water and trickling percussion.
Laraaji's effects-laden strings kick off the 11-minute exploration "Light Ships", as do his bellowing vocal improvisations. Piano and zither ebb and rise like oceanic tides, but soon that deep voice of Laraaji's turns into echoing laughter. Another belly laugh emanates from Laraaji on the half-hour bonus track "Somebody Scream", and there's also a chuckle as the droning closer "Freeflow" fades from view. From where does such mirth arise? There are no definite answers, but surely the body-moving drum shuffle that leads into "City of Love" will startle more than a few listeners as the collaboration somehow moves from Earl Young-worthy Philly disco into cascading kalimba and weightless ambiance into the sort of noise gurgle that Blues Control are expert at. Across the four tracks though, it soon becomes hard to distinguish the two separate entities at play, which by this point is to be expected. As the FRKWYS series continues to make evident, the perceived generation gap between bustling avant-garde noise musicians and their more steadfast New Age elder statesmen is-- funnily enough-- narrow indeed. - Andy Beta
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