Tao Lin Says:
This was my "most played" song (~1300 plays, I think) on my previous MacBook (~2008 to ~2010). I think I listened to it so much because (1) It has non-repeating lyrics and no chorus, which means I'm able to listen to it 3x more than a similar-- but less dense-- song before feeling not stimulated anymore. (2) It has dual vocals, which also contributes to its denseness. (3) It is not cleanly recorded, causing it to automatically contain more information, I think, in terms of there being a variety of noises that would normally be edited out or not recorded. (4) It has a computer-generated aspect (drum machine). (5) It has emotional lyrics I can relate to, for example (at 0:48), "It might have been something that you said/ or it might have been the tune of the Pinback song/ repeating in my mind that made me realize/ it's easy to be myself when you're by my side." (6) It begins and ends "full force" without a quiet intro or outro, so I don't "dread" or want to "get past" any part of it.
I think I first learned of The Stupid Stupid Henchmen by clicking bands' friends on MySpace in 2006 or 2007. I probably began on Leftover Crack's page, then clicked to No-Cash's page, then to The Stupid Stupid Henchmen's page. All their songs are free here. I don't think they've ever officially released anything, no 7"s or albums. I've fantasized about Fat Wreck Chords releasing "Charmingly Demonic" rerecorded. Another song I like by them is "Rude Girl" which begins "I took the medicine from my pops / 'cause I need to ease to put my mind at rest / 'cause there is so much I want but I will never have."
Joe Knight of Rangers says:
Chic became one of the most popular funk groups of the late '70s thanks to their disco hits and the impeccable production by Nile Rogers and Bernard Edwards. I find that a lot of funk and R&B from the late '70s has a unique sound caught somewhere in between the ultra-dry, dead room sound (think Aja by Steely Dan) and what would became the '80's synthetic sound of gated drums, digital delay and the highly coveted (or loathed) solid state logic console (think Avalon by Roxy Music). C'est Chic  by Chic sounds incredible. It has the warmth and lushness of classic '70s records with the liveliness of early '80s records. It's not too warm or cold, too dry or wet.
"At last I am free," which clocks in at over 7 minutes, oozes out of the speakers at a snail's pace, too slow and strange to dance to. The first thing that caught my ear with this song was the snare drum, which is pretty much the best sounding snare I have heard in any song. It sounds big and dubby and full of reverb yet small and warm at the same time. Perfect. Bernard's flare for the dramatic gets us going with one of his singular mini-solos, which he later re-visits. Nile glides into one of the signature chord progressions that would end up being a huge influence on the Postcard [Records], Scottish Pop sound as well as Manchester's Johnny Marr and countless others. The vocals are not the focal point of the song but simply another color in the mix. Even the repeated chorus, "At least I am free,/ I can hardly see in front of me," doesn't make a whole lot of sense in context of a love (or failed love) song. It's a strange thing to say, but somehow it works, and it's as if the singers are experiencing sensory overload from the music (or are peaking on acid). The verses are the obvious weak spot but luckily don't last that long before crescendoing to the outro. The clever arrangement and the thick, ambiguously ominous atmosphere keep me from dismissing "At last I am free" as cheesy jacuzzi funk. To me it sounds like a sultry dub ballad on quaaludes.
The Glass Haus mix does not want your undivided attention.
I've spent more time than I probably should have in thought or debate about various types of music. One area of fascination is the music we choose to play when we intend to focus on something else-- sex, reading, having a conversation.
Glass Haus is best experienced while performing tasks that require only a fraction of your attention. Nothing important.
What we hear while trying to concentrate can be distracting and impair our ability to memorize and recall information.
Nick Perham, PhD, and researchers at the Wales Institute in Cardiff signed up 25 people aged 18-30 to examine their ability to recall information while listening to various sounds.
They were asked to recall a list of eight consonants in a specific order in a test known as Serial Recall, and tested under several different conditions: in a quiet environment, while music was playing that they liked, and while music was playing that they disliked. They were also tested while a voice repeated the number three or spoke single-digit numbers randomly.
The study participants performed best while in a quiet environment or while listening to a voice repeating the number three over and over-- what the researchers called a steady-state environment.
"The poorer performance of the music and changing-state sounds are due to the acoustical variation within those environments," Perham comments. "This impairs the ability to recall the order of items, via rehearsal, within the presented list."
Perham concludes that to reduce the negative effects of background music when recalling information in a specific order, people "should either perform the task in quiet or only listen to music prior to performing the task."
"Listening to music you prefer prior to, rather than at the same time as task performance, does increase performance."
01 Arvo Pärt: "Tabula Rasa: II. Silentium"
02 Charlemagne Palestine: "Tritone octave 1, Pt. I"
03 Edgard Varèse: "Poème Électronique
04 Luigi Nono: "Como Una Ola de Fuerza y Luz: Beginning"
05 Karlheinz Stockhausen: "Studie 1"
06 Herman Heiss: "Elektronische Komposition 1"
07 Raymond Scott: "Cindy Electronium"
08 Rob Ellis: "Slightly Exotic Little Fake Alarm Clock Piece"
09 The Knife: "Colouring Of Pigeons"
Octavius' Laws is available now from Mannequin
Amitai Heller and Loric Sih of Water Borders say:
Back in early 2010, the nascent dawn of Water Borders, our friend Mara suggested we check out a dude named JAWS with whom we were occupying a parallel musical universe. We didn't give it much thought until a few months later when we got an opportunity to see him play live. Shirtless and sweaty, with blood capsules dripping down his square chin, JAWS operates a motherboard of analog synths, drum machines, effects pedals, smoke machine, and lights while maintaining a T.A.Z.-like stage presence. He hits drums pads with a massive Bowie knife and swings his white-hot lights around haphazardly, always seeming like he's going to pulverize himself and the audience. The show ended in haste when he accidentally machete'd his mic chord. Seeing JAWS is like watching a VHS bootleg on YouTube that attacks you or like living out the m4m fantasy of a D.A.F. album cover.
The track we included here, "Joined," is a fractured machine with a delayed D&B bassline squawk for a heart. Over the clanking chatter he chants, "Join me in the stream"-- or maybe it's "Join the industry." Either is appropriate as he now resides in Los Angeles. Also, here's a short clip of one of his shows at the now sadly defunct Eagle Tavern in San Francisco.
Tres Warren of Psychic Ills says:
When you're talking about experimental film, the first people that come to your mind probably don't have anything to do with The Muppets, right? In that case, check out Jim Henson goofin' off on "The Tonight Show." Pretty far out for TV-- especially with the Raymond Scott music. There's a better version of just the piece on Youtube, but at Psychic Ills headquarters, we like the Johnny Carson context.
Nick Ray of Speculator says:
I came across this video by chance sometime in the past last year. This guy, "RC Storm," a.k.a YouTube user ''MeAndTheV," has built what I'm guessing is the world's largest Flying V-style guitar. The guitar itself is not what really caught my attention; rather, I was struck by the sociopolitical statement which can be inferred. It's not a subtle piece, as the relationship between the size of the guitar and his rendition of our national anthem is an almost too obvious articulation of the cliché, American, "bigger is better" mindset. I won't insult your intelligence by discussing the transparent phallic imagery.
Watching a few more of his videos (he has 12, a loaded number in itself), I realized that this man simultaneously inspires and scares me, because I identify with him. I personally don't think the guitar he has built sounds very good. I guess it's cool that it's so large; the gimmick value is not lost on me, and I can appreciate how difficult it must be to play. His version of [Black Sabbath's] "Iron Man" sounds shitty. Still, you can tell by the expression on his face as he lays into that juicy riff that he is in ecstasy playing that thing. To him, it sounds awesome. It's not just the sound that he is getting off on; it's the sense of accomplishment he has from having created that unique reality.
Speculator's Nice LP is available now from Underwater Peoples
Brad Rose of Digitalis Industries says:
Even in a place that is seemingly a mecca for weirdo music-heads and tape labels alike, some of the cream still gets overlooked. Enter Portland, Oregon's Field Hymns label-- and more specifically, the awesomely-named Adderall Canyonly. This mysterious outfit has been operating in the shadows for a couple years now, but their recent digital-only freebie, Asuuna, shows that they just get it. It starts and ends with a stellar, warbling dual synth lead that has just enough funk to get you engaged and the perfect sliver of unpredictability to keep you on edge. Rolling underneath that lead are skeletal rhythms and dripping, synthetic minor-chord basslines that are vaguely haunting as they rise and fall. It's calm and deliberate and picks you apart with chilling precision. There's something so bizarrely unnerving about this piece that I can't quite put my finger on and that just makes me keep going back for more. Be a glutton. Be a masochist.
Download Asuuna for free via Field Hymns
Spencer Walker of OMG Vinyl says:
I first heard about Ash Borer when I was trolling on death and doom metal forums sometime last year. Back then, they were branded as “black metal.” Don’t get me wrong, these dudes aren’t not playing black metal, but if any band out there transcends the trappings of sub-genre classification, then it would be these guys.
After a few emails back and forth with Kyle of Ash Borer, I received their 2009 Demo tape. Red cassette, black & white j-card, gothic font on the imprint-- pretty standard deal for this scene. Ash Borer had no sample clips out there, no press photos, no YouTube videos. I had literally no idea what would come out of the speakers when I pressed play.
I desperately tried to find something to grasp onto during the ensuing maelstrom-- logic, reason, sanity, gravity, a center, an axis. The way the music effortlessly ascended from a pummeling, blackened vortex into calm, collapsed oblivion was unlike anything I had experienced before. So yeah, I guess it really is “black” metal. Black like the void, black like Nietzsche’s abyss. I gazed into it, and it gazed also into me.
There is no face-paint or sartorial shenanigans, and no defilement of Christian idols or adulation of Occult entities; just fierce and face-melting metal of the highest calibre. A group that makes great strides with every release, their newest self-titled LP is an easy contender for the most passionate and cathartic release of the year.
Jamie Granato from Group Tightener says:
I can't remember exactly when or where I came across Bobby Brown but I recall being really excited at the prospect of an undiscovered one-man mastermind with Hawaiian roots and a foot in '60s psychedelia. Then I remember lowering my expectations because this under-the-radar stuff is never quite as good as you imagine it being. Brown is one dude that seems to bridge all the appropriate gaps with quality and innovation to stand out amongst the pack of true weirdoes doing weird stuff. The end result, however, just isn't that strange. It is super listenable while still being original and different than most singer/songwriter, psych or traditional Hawaiian music. Plus, Prayers Of A One Man Band, is a great yard work album. Make sure you take a break to sip some lemonade though.
Last month, the Library of Congress launched the National Jukebox, an online archive of more than 10,000 songs recorded before 1925. While sifting through the mountain of rarities, we went from feeling eager to uncover its countless unheard gems to understandably overwhelmed. And while the staff-made lists are definitely a great place to start, we thought that we'd reach out and request a playlist that's just for Altered Zones. We were extremely lucky to have gotten the library's curator of recorded sound, Matthew Barton, to make us an exotic compilation of country, blues, and ethnic music imported from Romanian, Irish, and Jewish immigrants. Read Barton's words on the playlist and stream the playlist at the National Jukebox below. --Ric Leichtung, Altered Zones
Alex Bleeker of Real Estate says:
John’s Children were one of the most reckless punk bands of all time; and they were undoubtedly ahead of their own. The Brit psych-mod rockers had their LP banned in the US before it was even released. Multiple singles were deemed unplayable by the BBC, and they were ultimately kicked off a German tour with The Who in 1967 for inciting riots. They are probably best knows as Marc Bolan’s first band (pre-Tyrannosaurus Rex), which is ironic because he was only a member for a few months. Still, the few existing John’s Children recordings are undeniable.
I think that I’m genetically predisposed to value “soul” in a band way before technical ability. John’s Children were making records in a radically different music industry. Seeing as they were a British psych pop band in 1966, I can only imagine that they had dreams of striking it big. Poor musicianship could not yet be stamped with a “slacker” label and squeezed into some kind of big money mold. From a manager/producer’s perspective, technical incompetence was not only uncool; it was unacceptable.
And so, Simon Napier-Bell, the group’s slick, big money manager, did everything he could to disguise the band’s musical inability. Their most identifiable song, "Smashed Blocked"-- the title of which allegedly refers to getting high on pills--, was recorded in a studio in LA, by session musicians. Afterward, Andy Ellison overdubbed his shaky amateur lead vocal. The resulting recording is actually really cool. Though it was recorded by fancy LA studio bros, the ramshackle and chaotic John’s Children ethos stuck to the composition. After a tumbling psych-intro, the song just explodes into its righteous, anthemic chorus, before settling into a syrupy ballad.
The ACTUAL band was eventually allowed to enter the studio to record their only LP, ORGASM!, but Napier-Bell was still wary of the group’s ability to produce a quality product. In an attempt to fabricate an artificial live record, he took it upon himself to layer the entire album with fake crowd noise, lifted directly from A Hard Day’s Night. Conceptually, I think the idea is pretty cool, but after about a minute-and-a-half it is super annoying and a total detriment to the record. Shockingly, I have not heard of any efforts to put out a "naked" re-release.
Through the layers of unbalanced shrieking, ORGASM! is still a powerhouse-- a weird relic of what might have been. My personal favorite is "Jagged Time Lapse." Candy-kane “la la la” refrains are traded with tumbling and relentless drum fills and bass runs. This song is a gem, a poppy garage rock anthem whose playcount is steadily rising on my iTunes.
Ian Hicks from Soft Metals says:
When I first started getting into collecting synths and drum machines and learning how to use gear a good friend and past collaborator of mine, Beau Wanzer, recommended that I exlore the music of John Bender. I hunted down some MP3s of the impossibly rare, I Don't Remember Now/I Don't Want To Talk About It record, and I could easily see why he'd recommended it; the music was cold, detached, and experimental in technique, but also had a certain introspective and personal quality. It was almost as though the songs were written for his ears only and you were getting a candid view into the way the man thought about the world and interacted with his machines. Unfortunately, John Bender seems to have no desire what-so-ever to re-release his records, but I was finally able to find a bootleg vinyl version of this amazing album this week at our favorite record store in Portland, Clinton Street Records & Stereo, and am reminded of how much the sound of it inspires me to really push my ideas to their limits and keep experimenting musically.
Lindsay Powell from Ga'an says:
We couldn't help but pick one of our favorite from the Zeuhl realm! "Vilna" is the second track on Weidorje's 1978 self-titled release, a band featuring Bernard Paganotti (an Aquarius, and the bassist on Magma's Üdu Wüdü).
One of our interests as musicans is the place where the spirit meets the mind-- the physicalization of the soul, and the means by which we get there. To me, "Vilna" realizes this place in the most eloquent way. The spiritual and supernatural presence of Magma is still there, but the clinical reality of Paganotti's rehearsed and mathematical attention to detail stands at the forefront. We are presented with Steve Reich-ian polyrhythms played on beautifully-toned Rhodes pianos, tight-knit compositional complexities. Yet despite the technical outfit of Weidorje, this is still perhaps one of the most accessible songs in the entire Zeuhl catalogue. In the Magma track "Hhai" we experience an intentional spirituality, a progressive incantation of epic proportions. In "Vilna," however, we experience the spirit in our own right. We are given an extremely coherent piece of music (mathematical: the mind), and through our own way of listening, we find the visceral swell within our own interpretation of the movement (the voice: the spirit). We haven't been able to get this track off our minds since first listen, and it's an honor and a privilege to share it with those who haven't heard it.
Julia Holter says:
Six years ago, Pandit Pashupati Nath Mishra instilled in me some crazy will to become a singer of songs. He was my guruji on a brief intensive study in Benares, India. I listened to his voice every day for four weeks; very little was said, but very much was sung. Whether or not I "understood" what I was hearing during this time, something fundamentally changed in my musical world. I knew no Hindi, and he knew only a bit of English, yet I left Benares louder than I had ever been. What magic had Pashupati carried out on me, that I suddenly too became a performer? Can we speculate by focused listening to his voice? A CD-R of his brilliant, light-classical recordings quietly handed to me toward the end of my study lost its case somewhere in my travels. Back in Los Angeles, years later, I still listen in awe, with limited information about the pieces.
Here is the first track on the album-- the longest and most haunting, in valambit (very slow) deepchandi taal. Pashupati’s voice flows non-stop for eighteen minutes, like a river over rocks. He travels to a new place at every moment, arriving every time with the confidence of natural speech. He must be singing from a very long text? Or not. Over and over, Pashupati repeats almost exactly the same phrase, with some variation, though to the ear it is a different piece of information every time. Like melismas set to the Kyrie, the song expands a small fragment of text into sound so long and profound that the meaning could be either deeply rooted in place, or almost completely obscured.
A fellow student in India at the time, tabla player/percussionist Dan Piccolo, tells me that this piece is a thumri, a romantic/devotional song. I have come across a well-known text by the medieval poet Lalan that fits the typical thumri theme of separation and seems to be the text sung here. It might be tough for someone who doesn’t speak the language to say so, but I see this situation as one in which the meaning becomes more deeply rooted with every long reiteration of the short text. The text translates, roughly, as follows: “Enough! Now stop playing on your flute, dark lover. This braja girl's heart is aflutter, I ask you, please stop playing.” Here, flute-playing Krishna’s threatening magnetic pull compels the "braja girl" Radha to propose a distance. Pashupati’s melody continuously outlines a major seventh chord. The maddened Radha is the unwieldy major seventh (ni, or Western "ti")-- so far from her magnet fundamental (sa, or Western "do") on one side, yet so dangerously close to it on the other side. If that sounds like a contrived interpretation, add to it that subtleties of the near/far paradox can be found when he throws in an occasional, gorgeous, flattened ni, or ga (Western "mi"). These most dissonant moments Pashupati uses sparingly, to full-effect, and they are dizzying and gorgeous.
Pashupati was all song. While watching a video of a performance of his, I reflect how, when he sings, his body language is explanatory, almost as if he were talking. Interesting to consider the unlikelihood of a young Californian ever fully "understanding" what is communicated in music made in such a different world, even if one has studied it for years. But beyond the sheer beauty of his work, what I do take away most of all from Pashupati’s song is the absolute necessity of the voice.
I discovered this A.T.R.O.X. track buried deep in one of the later volumes of the essential Tribute to Flexipop bootleg series. Clearly kosmiche-inspired, the track stood out from the usual, arpeggiated, minimal cold wave weirdness endemic to these compilations. Not simply a bit of nostalgia, but more like a reworking of the sounds of early Kraftwerk and Cluster using newer, 1980s synth technologies. Try it on repeat.
Look out for Falls Of Time, a 2xCD reissue of this Italian group's complete output on Spittle Records in June