Tuesday, October 25, 2016

October Roundup: "Gone Til November"

Of all of the stresses I have pushed through this year, none have been harder than dealing with the move up to Denton while simultaneously becoming less available to my family due to the demands of helping to reinvent this band program.  The most unfamiliar aspect of the job that is new for me is teaching marching band.  For the majority of my teaching career, I have dodged this bullet, but no longer.  To say that its time consuming is an understatement.  When I was hired, I was warned that October would be particularly grueling.  It did not seem too bad on paper, but I had no idea how rough it would be in practice.

Not only are there late night rehearsals on Tuesdays and a game every Friday, there are also all-day marching festivals every Saturday leading up to UIL at the end of the month. I was looking at a month away from my family with no small amount of dread.  Miraculously, however, we did not have a game on the last Friday in September, so at least there would be a brief respite.

September 30, then, was to be the last day before the big push, and it looked to have some bright sides. In addition to having a “free” evening, the Luke Cage series was premiering on Netflix, and four hotly anticipated new albums were scheduled to arrive in my mailbox. We decided to capitalize on our time and have our first house guests over for dinner. Things were great. Until they weren’t.

Right towards the end of the evening, I started to feel a little achey and tired. I suspected that I was dehydrated, so I upped my fluids and went to bed right after our guests left. The next morning I felt better (not great) so I proceeded to go to our first contest.  It ended up being a long, hot day, and by the end of it I felt terrible. I spent the following two days huddled up in bed sleeping, getting up twice to go to the restroom. Not the most auspicious beginning to what might be the hardest month of the entire year.

In any case, September 30 was also the day I had set to finally change out the albums I have been listening to in the car since June. There were two exceptions, which were albums that I put in rotation right as I was leaving Austin.

Anderson/Stolt - Invention of Knowledge: I have a very pleasant recollection of P’s brave trip to the dentist on the day that this showed up in the mailbox. It was only recently that I started to really appreciate the genius of this collaboration.

Death Grips - Bottomless Pit: I received this album in the mailbox on the very last day before my address change took hold. Although always interesting in terms of their identity and image, Death Grips has been in a musically challenging experimental mode since The Money Store, but there are hints of accessibility on Bottomless Pit that are tempered by these experiments.

There were also a couple of albums that I received after moving to Denton, which should properly start a new chapter.

Thee Oh Sees - Weird Exits: The first proper Denton album I picked up from Mad World Records after officially becoming a resident. Weird Exits is raucous punk-meets-psychedelia in the vein of the early Flaming Lips, although without as much of an emphasis on songwriting.

The Daredevil Christopher Wright - The Nature of Things: This has been sitting on my wish list for a while, and the price of a used copy was just too appealing to pass up. It's a thickly harmonized songwriting excursion that sits somewhere on the spectrum between Grizzly Bear and Seryn, complete with thought-provoking lyrics.

Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2: Got this earlier in the year, but at the time I wasn’t really in the market for hip-hop, no matter how good. My solo commute has opened up some space for non-kid appropriate music, however, so this has really clicked with me recently.

Finally, there are the Sept. 30 releases:

Opeth - Sorceress: I appreciate Opeth’s dark prog direction, but also I admit to missing their crunchier approach. There are some heavier moments on Sorceress, however, that harken back to those days just a little.

Marillion - F.E.A.R.: Although I will defend Marillion, I will also admit that past a certain point in their career their output gets a little spotty. This recent release is pretty dense, so the jury is still out, but I do think that keyboardist Mark Kelly’s role as sound engineer plays a significant role in its most successful moments.

Bon Iver - 22, One Million: Although I was not totally on fire to get this album, all of the preliminary press and ambiguous song titles certainly piqued my curiosity. There are some fantastic moments on the album that I hope will add up after repeated listenings.

S U R V I V E - RR7349: This was the one I was looking forward to most, and it has not disappointed. It is particularly satisfying to have hardcopy, as its predecessor was never released on CD.

Finally, halfway through the month:

Syd Arthur - Apricity:  Late comer this month, but a welcome one.  Been an advocate of Syd Arthur's sparkling prog-pop since their debut came out a few years ago, and initial spins of Apricity indicate that is continues in this tradition.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Looking Backward and Forward to S U R V I V E

In all of the eight years I spent in Austin, I rarely got out to see any music. Chalk it up to parenthood. Even when it came to SXSW, which has now grown into a ridiculous monster way beyond anyone's imagination, I only ever went to free shows, and I am pretty sure that I can count all of them I actually got out to on one hand.

During one particularly rainy SXSW afternoon I ventured out to see a band that, thanks to the recommendation of a friend, had become an unlikely favorite. The synth band S U R V I V E, who supplied the memorable soundtrack to a trip in Tuscon, was setting up a rare informal show at record store and personal browsing spot End of an Ear. Even without hardcopy, MNQ026 had uncharacteristically stood the test of time, clawing its way to classic status in my book, and I did not want to pass up the chance to see them for free up close. I got there a little early, so I had to the chance to talk with one of the members briefly, mainly to ask if it would be cool if I took some pictures of the band’s gear.

“Yes,” he said decisively, “it would be VERY cool.”

The band was clearly proud of their setup, and although I certainly don’t have the insight to make heads or tails of it all, I know enough to appreciate what they have assembled. What became more apparent when they began their performance, however, was the way in which they had total mastery over those instruments. Many of the artists that S U R V I V E call influences were experimenting with the possibilities of these instruments when they were new, but S U R V I V E knows what each instrument is capable of and uses it to compelling effect. It was a great show that was not done justice by the poor videos I took.

That was two years ago. Now, thanks to some of the band’s members being involved in the distinctive soundtrack to a delightfully retro-creepy Netflix series, S U R V I V E are as close to the big time as an experimental synth outfit can hope to get. Coincidentally, and even before their attachment to Stranger Things, they had recorded and set a release date for MNQ026’s follow-up, RR7349.

Of all of my September 30 new releases (and there were several), this was the one that I have anticipated the most.  Its predecessor's compelling mix of texture, timbre, atmosphere, and melody has kept me coming back, and it has been my hope that RR7349 could recapture the magic, so to speak.

The verdict? It seems that it has. RR7349 still sounds as if it is the soundtrack to a long-lost Blade Runner spin-off. It delivers on the nostalgia in terms of sound and structure, which is largely due the array of vintage instruments that the band employs, but is also harbors a nuanced melodic side that exists in a carefully crafted balance with its layered atmospheres. In this regard, it is remarkably consistent. Anyone who was brought up with the darker sides of Jean-Michel Jarre, Tangerine Dream, and other 70s synth pioneers floating around the house will find a whole lot to like on RR7349.

So one of the regrets I have now that Austin is in my rearview mirror is that I am not as locally available for S U R V I V E's increasingly frequent live performances. They do seem to tour more readily, however, so it might be possible to catch them in the metroplex. Probably not in Denton, though. It’s safe to assume that they are too big for all that now. I’d love to be proven wrong on that, though…...