With all the recent fluff about meaning and intent, it's good to see that two of the finest writers and thinkers on music just go about their business, being great at what they do. Onward. Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 of Simon Reynolds's long conversation with Greil Marcus.
SR: it just struck me how rock 'n' roll early on was teenage music, and even when it got arty and a little bit more grown-up, it was still caught in that sixties live-for-now mindset. Like Jim Morrison counseling "learn to forget." Rock 'n' roll in the beginning was very much "don't know much about history," but then all of sudden you've got the Band doing "King Harvest" about the plight of farmers in the late 19th century, and a little bit later Randy Newman singing songs about slavery.
GM: The Beatles are crucial in this, for both fans and musicians — like the guys in the Band. All our lives, from the time we became sentient beings and lost our lives to Little Richard and Elvis Presley, people were telling us "you're going to outgrow this." And in some way everybody believed we would: believed it with resentment, believed it with sorrow, believed it with a weary shrug of the shoulders, but believed it. But when the Beatles showed up, suddenly we — everybody who was still holding on to rock 'n' roll fandom, or rock 'n' roll as music you played, like the Hawks were, in nowhere bars — suddenly we realized, "no, you don't have to outgrow this." You can't outgrow this, you shouldn't outgrow this, and you won't outgrow this. And that was really something. I don't think anybody looked back after that. It might be something you might get sick of, that would wear itself out for you. But you were not going to outgrow it and go on to more mature appreciations.
These short reviews also appeared on The Liminal.
Artist: Chicago Underground Duo
Title: Age of Energy
Label: Northern Spy
2012 marks the 15 year anniversary of Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor’s various partnerships and collaborations. As members of the fertile Chicago jazz and improv scene, they have been involved in countless iterations of the expanding/contracting Chicago Underground set and beyond, including the Exploding Star Orchestra, and touring with a variety of bands (Taylor most recently with Marc Ribot’s band). Age of Energy is a very abstract and spacious record – especially when compared to the driving wallop of their last studio release Boca Negra. The duo make a good deal of use of extended synth and muted oscillator experiments, with long sections of ‘Wind and the Sweeping Pines’ (a 20-minute track) and the whole of ‘It’s Alright’ like long-distance observations of Herbie Hancock’s Mwandishi period. The latter has some of Manzarek’s trademark treated cornet smears, which waver and tremble like Miles at his most enervated. ‘Castle In Your Heart’ is a lush and hushed ballad, featuring little more than a buried, rattling snare, a sweet mbira line and Manzarek’s muted horn, sounding as if it’s piped in from another room. ‘Age of Energy’ is more raucous, with Taylor kicking up a storm, over which Manzarek whirls some oddly dental oscillator squalls and treated descending cornet lines. I guess Age of Energy isn’t exactly a coherent listen, but that misses the point – it’s engaging and unusual and well worthy of your attention.
Title: Oro – Opus Primum
Label: Supernatural Cat
There is something stately and inexorable about doom monsters Ufomammut, a relentless seething crawl. Since Godlike Snake (from 2000), they’ve refined their Sleep-like bludgeon into something more spacious and spacey, so that they’ve now reached a kind of plateau – instantly recognisable and with a kind of studied framework for their sound. Being honest, Oro – Opus Primum, sounds a bit like Eve, sounds a bit like Idolum, sounds a bit like Snailking. Which isn’t a criticism as such, just a recognition that they’ve marshalled the possibilities of their sound and are in total control. What has changed is their scope and level of ambition, with each project reaching further out. Their last record, Eve, was a single track split into five movements, Oro – Opus Primum is, of course, part of a longer suite, exploring the concept of knowledge and its power, and the magical stream controlled by the human mind to gain control of every single particle of the World surrounding us. It’s a fat sounding thing, full of their traditional loping rhythms and fibrous guitars; and you can sense an encroachment, a spreading into the available space of the room, the molecules around you gradually succumbing to the imperialism of sonic doom… There’s also the familiar sense of gruelling exhaustion – again, which isn’t a criticism, but a simple fact of quality doom metal. It’s supposed to be punishing, and there are few around doing it better than Ufomammut right now. The second half of the set, Oro – Opus Alter, is due later in the year.