March has been a bit of a lion here in the Upper Midwest, with winter’s grasp still in place despite the slowly warming temps and now lingering dusk light. Snow melts, only to freeze all over again, an endless tease. We’re happily moving forward into mud season, towards the welcome rebirth of Spring in all its green glory and wonder.
Some amazing music has appeared over the past month or so, and in this column, we’ll try to keep track of some of the most exceptional excavations as of late.
John Swanke – From the Muddy Banks of the Nooksack | CS/DL (self-released)
Release date: February 4th, 2022
John Swanke has been working under his own name for years, producing a lovely form of solo orchestral guitar music for ever-expanding horizons. The latest self-released album From the Muddy Banks of the Nooksack is a collection of mostly acoustic guitar works, elegantly formed with field recordings from nature around his local Bellingham, Washington, and complemented by waves of organic drone, blooming into beautiful new shapes.
The formula seems simple, but some of the best recipes have very few ingredients. It’s the high level of playing and sonic choices that Swanke makes that brings the work into sharp focus. We hear sounds of fire and crackling oxygen, these elemental essences help to understand the deepest natural root of the music. In a recording from a recent live performance, the artist states that a specific piece was inspired by intently watching the family of birds currently nesting in the blackberry bushes on his property, while another song is inspired by the recent flooding of the surrounding coastal Washington area. The music carries an intimate connection to the landscape surrounding it, and the air between spaces, bringing a sense of natural harmonic resonance and connection to environment that infinitely resonates.
Links form and gently release. We witness the circular cycle, a timeless transformation. Swanke has recently self-released this lovely work via Bandcamp as a limited edition DIY cassette and digital album. More than a “guitar record”, this music catches you gently, and lightly embeds itself into your subconscious. There are still a few physical copies available as of writing, do yourself a favor directly. Thaw season couldn’t arrive any sooner.
Ted Reichman – Dread Sea | CS/DL (Tripticks Tapes)
Release date: March 11, 2022
Born primarily from mbira and accordion improvisations, this latest work from Ted Reichman was created through an intricate system of electro-acoustic processing, and with it, Reichman has created an ethereal, breathing creature. Dread Sea is a deep aquarian dream. The artist studied avant-garde composition under Alvin Lucier and Anthony Braxton, and served on the faculty of the New England Conservatory for 10+ years, as well as holding the position of Assistant Professor of Film Scoring at Berklee. He currently lives outside Boston, MA where he continues to work on film and music. We’ve included a fascinating quote from the artist regarding the work, which shines some light.
“As I listened back to these multi-layered pieces, I kept thinking about water, especially about traveling on water, like a long day trip on the Amazon River I found myself on in 2006, during which I encountered a heavily drugged juvenile sloth who tried to attack me. It traced a long, slow arc in the air with its claw. A story started to emerge along with the music, a journey from the place in Amazonas where the water of the Rio Negro meets the Rio Branco, to the village in the reeds where I met the sloth, to a frozen lake in Northern Maine some time in the distant past and back.”
Presented in five chapters, the long-form work is about the intersection of these experiences and locations, a metaphysical journey along a slowly moving body of water, and faded memories of a soporific mammal slowly reaching into the unknown. The album is dense and viscous, but not without rhythm. “Inner Horizon” across the front half of the B side especially fragments into sparkling, translucent shapes, a clear reflection rippling into harsh reality, now bent into strange new colors of liquid. The material was initially created live, and improvised in real time, but we may never know how deeply the compositional forms have ultimately shifted in Reichman’s skilled hands. Piano tone disintegrates into hypnotic vapor, ghostly aspects of post-industrial clatter appear, with distant wisps of techno, swirling alien frequencies, and pulsing circuitry, a trip through the heights and depths of tonal shift and textural somnambulism.
The great Tripticks Tapes label of Greenfield, Massachusetts has released this captivating new work as a nice blue pro-cassette in a limited run of 75 copies, with digital download. Physical copies are still available as of writing, floating really is the best way to travel.
Sol Viator – Sol Viator | CD/DL (Ramble Records)
Release date: March 4th, 2022
Self-released independently by the artist on cassette, the great Australian avant-folk label Ramble Records has taken up arms with a lovely new CD and digital home for these soulful vibrations from Sol Viator. This one hits nicely, a work of meditative vignettes created with various medieval reed instruments such as the shawn and chalumeau, designed to explore the higher planes of human consciousness. The project was conceived of by Edmonton, Alberta artist Matt Meeker, who also records with the projects Raga Onagra, and Holy Drone Travelers, and works together here with the beautiful contributions of voice, tabla, and electronic sarangi from Bhuyash Neupane.
There is a tasteful diversity on offer. “Eulogy for a Dream” nicely encapsulates the trajectory and essence of the work, as a peaceful drone is countered by the contemplative voice of Neupane, to eventually expand into a greater field as massive percussion swells and reeds swirl, finally lifting airborne to hypnotize completely. The later track “Serpent Slayer” brings a smooth, circular bass devotion, morphing into a spectral surround of vibrant technicolor. The word Viator can be understood to mean “traveler”, so one might read the name of this project as “Sun Traveler”, or one who follows the path of natural light. The EP moves quickly with only five tracks and a playtime of 23 minutes, but each piece carries the weight of the ancients and elevates the listener beyond the traditional constraints of time and space. Worth many close listens, bringing a welcome focus and shining a soft radiant light into silent shadowed corners.
Ramble has been on a hot streak the last few years, supporting challenging folk and experimental music of all stripes, and releasing high-quality vinyl and CDs from such excellent artists as Shane Parish, The Modern Folk, Dark Leaves, and The Man From Atlantis. Keep up the great work Ramble, and may Sol Viator go on to see many new moons.
The Reverend Fred Lane – From the One That Cut You | LP reissue (Goner Records)
Release date: March 18th, 2022
The fact that this legendary album is finally getting an official vinyl reissue prompted me to literally yell “WOW!” out loud in my otherwise empty home. People shouldn’t need an excuse to talk about Fred Lane, so despite downright classic status, the re-release of this album warrants at least a few words. Props to my pal Greg, long-time proponent of the great Reverend, who first hipped me way back when. My dubbed copy eventually ground itself to smithereens after years of abusive van life and malfunctioning tape decks, but the tunes are permanently ingrained.
Hailing from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Fred Lane has since retired from the music biz and opted to focus instead on kinetic sculpture, but back in the early 70’s he was part of the surrealist street performance/art destruction troupe Raudelunas and worked closely with Craig Nutt aka Ron ‘Pate’s Debonairs who released the incredible and bizarre Raudelunas ‘Pataphysical Revue album in ’75 on Say-Day-Bew. That crew sounds like they are literally dismantling the stage they’re playing on, amazing! There are corresponding photos from that era of gigantic radishes walking down Main street. Fred Lane released two proper solo albums in his time, this one and the later, slightly less dazed Car Radio Jerome, both of which were eventually reissued on Shimmy Disc in the late 80s. Then out of nowhere last year, the mighty Feeding Tube Records announced the surprise release of their own long lost treasure, the Ice Pick to the Moon LP, originally recorded in ’82 and remaining unreleased until now. More please, I say.
Honestly, I’ve listened to From The One That Cut You so many times, I could say a lot about the music without ever hitting play. It’s a massive, cult record, with original pressings crossing hands for pretty good scratch. The lyrics are troubling and radical, embracing the concept of “pataphysics”, or the science of imaginary solutions, and exposing the seedy underbelly of the idyllic American dream. Unceremoniously dealing with subject matter like domestic abuse, alcoholism, and societal racism, the whole schtick is a tongue-in-cheek send-up of how twisted the world really is. The guy performed in a bow tie and boxer shorts with a giant band-aid on his forehead, so some comparisons to “novelty” cocktail music wouldn’t be too far off base, but this is surprisingly dark and musically huge, sounding more like some demented surfer goes sloppy big band? Confusing and remarkable. So far beyond, it’s probably still mostly bouncing off foreheads. Huge thanks and congrats to Goner Records for doing the good work and making this one available again to rub all over myself squealing.
Sun Ark – Prayer Tapes Vol. 1 + 2 | 2CS/DL (Brierfield Flood Press)
Release date: March 7th, 2022
Originally self-released in 2012, this epic collection of explorative works from Cameron Stallones is a lo-fi double whammy of early solo improv and instrumental meditations from the project, now a decade later seeing re-birth onto physical format with this new double album released by the small but mighty Australian imprint Brierfield Flood Press. BFP is home to such great artists as Jordan Ireland and Little Wings, and now the addition of Prayer Tapes brings a whole new geometric dimension to the catalog.
Sun Araw is well known by now, after so many years of cranking out a distinct style of psycho-tropical groove, offering immersive live experiences with a cracking full band lineup, and being recognized for collaborations with high-level legacy artists like Laraaji, as well as operating the Sun Ark imprint. I’ve got a few well-played Sun Araw records on the shelves, probably returning most often to the seminal dub moves like Heavy Deeds and On Patrol. These early Sun Ark recordings differ from what one might expect though, as The Prayer Tapes is crafted with a sparse ethos and a rougher sensibility, using the negative space to be filled by warm magnetic hiss and glowing room tone.
The work is expansive, percussive and loping, a window into the primitive forms birthing the Stallones sound we might now more easily recognize. I thankfully welcome the formative landscapes on offer here. That irresistible bass swing that propelled Sun Araw to NNF stardom and beyond is mostly absent, rather we travel through echoing frog chirp, aching twang, cavernous keyboard nostalgia, church bell warble, and all is well; a hollow resonant chamber, now slowly filling with sand. These recordings have thankfully been recently rescued from OOP obscurity, and gloriously brought back to life as a deluxe double tape set, professionally duplicated and packaged in a swank oversize clamshell case featuring risograph printed artwork by Glom Press. Full digital audio is still streaming through the artist here, but the new edition does include a DL code, so that’s handy for the less analog inclined. All aboard the Ark, get in while you can.
Sub-Sub Strata is a new regular music column for Free Form Freakout
Written monthly by Matthew Himes
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