Meanwhile…Elsewhere Vol. 3: Waver Clamor Bellow, 451 Degrees, Sunken Colony, Magisterial, Soul Ipsum, Ian Gorman Weiland @ Slabtown 4/23/2014
Volume 3 of “Meanwhile…Elsewhere” did not disappoint. It was another great night for experimental music in Portland– six eclectic musical projects showed what this city can do while artist Colin Manning put on an otherwordly projection show. Also in the background was the eerie sound of cassettes being warped through effects pedals, courtesy of show organizers Kevin Fiske and Kieran McKeon. I didn’t have a working camera on me, but fortunately, guest Scott Mayoral was able to share some cool shots he took.
First up was Waver Clamor Bellow, a trio made up of harp, viola, and electric guitar. Maybe it’s the fact that it was a rather miserable, rainy night outside, but this group’s somber, gently wandering sound really hit the spot for me.
Waver Clamor Bellow takes a page or two from both folk music and Western art music with their pared-down, organic format, and in this way might remind many listeners of the glory days of some of the more austere-sounding first wave post-rock groups, like Rachel’s and Dirty Three. Their gentle, mysterious sound is a bit like a voyage into the unknown. Here is their bandcamp, give them a listen.
451 Degrees was up next with some really nice wall noise. Unfortunately I can’t link you to a bandcamp or soundcloud, so hopefully you’ll be sated with a name to look out for and these dramatic photos.
Sunken Colony, a long-standing project by Tony Remple, came on next for a relatively brief set of synth music. Sunken Colony has apparently put out a number of tapes over the years, and it is too bad I have not come in contact with any of them so far. I’ve talked with Tony, and he seems pretty knowledgeable about electronic music in general. Sunken Colony is hard-edged, but elliptical. It is probably a little closer to noise music than ambient music. I look forward to seeing more Sunken Colony in the future. Also, Tony has a radio show on XRay.Fm called Concentric Circles. Check it out on Facebook.
Magisterial’s set of EDM music steered the show into the direction it stayed in for the rest of the night. This duo made some really pleasing psychedelic dance music. Whether intentionally or unintentionally, they reminded me a little bit of some hauntology artists. A while back, they shared some shows with Swahili, another dance band from Portland that I really like. Magisterial is quality EDM with a hazy, psychedelic aesthetic.
Soul Ipsum kept the ball rolling and brought the hazy energy from the last set into a meditative state with his set of warm and atmospheric vaporwave music. This was one point in the night when Manning’s projections and the music on stage went perfectly with each other. Here is Soul Ipsum’s bandcamp.
Last was Ian Gorman Weiland’s set of noisy, exploratory EDM. Nearly the whole crowd got up onstage and danced for what was apparently a mostly improvised set! This is the same Ian Weiland who was in the noise group Suzanne Lizard at the first “Meanwhile…Elsewhere”, and so he obviously has some very eclectic musical roots. This was a great way to end the night.
Happy listening and see you at Slabtown next month!
Photos by Scott Mayoral
From Allister Thompson in Ontario, Canada comes this fine submission, Near North, the new album from his project The Gateless Gate. The album was performed completely by Thompson and his wife, Teri-Lynn Janveau.
The Gateless Gate occasionally journeys into the realm of ambient, but I would perhaps describe Thompson’s project best as pastoral art music that is influenced by ambient, Classical art music, and folk. Thompson has noted Florian Fricke’s Popol Vuh as a major influence, and I would say that their sensibilities are very close. Like Fricke, Thompson seems to move seamlessly between the idioms of psychedelic folk and ambient meditation music. Moreover, as with Popol Vuh, there is a Romantic spirit of nostalgia and reverence for nature underlying The Gateless Gate.
Near North is something of a loose concept album about the wildernesses of Northern Ontario. I was particularly impressed with the subtle mystery and drama of “Misery Bay”– Thompson and Janveau evoke environments seemingly frozen in time, as well as hinting at the emotional history behind these places. For the most part, the album is fundamentally divided between piano pieces played by Janveau and guitar pieces by Thompson. Janveau’s contributions on piano illustrate the sense of lostness and silence of some places, Thompson’s on guitar convey the sense of wonder and quiet majesty to others. In this way, Near North gives a very complete and compelling narrative of its setting. There are so many memorable details on this album: the field recording of a raven’s call on “Ken’s Eagle”, the angelic vocal harmonizing on “Ottawa River”, the mellotron on “Aurora”.
This is very much a musician’s ambient album (and yes, there is such a thing…). Thompson is, after all, not just a musician but also a music buff whose eclectic knowledge is part of what makes his blog Make Your Own Taste such a pleasure for me to drop in on. Check this out when you can. Here is Allister’s bandcamp for The Gateless Gate.
Here’s a submission I received around a week ago, a rather charming bit of homegrown surrealism: Chuckle Change And Also, the second album to date by West Virginia’s The Chewers.
Self-described “freaks from the woods”, The Chewers (Travis Caffrey and Michael Sadler) do a good job of screwing around on the creepy avant-rock wavelength. Disjointed guitar riffs, demented fiddles, and primitive drums stutter in time with monotone monologues of murder and weirdness– it’s hypnotic listening. The Chewers are indeed very charming– perhaps best described as jaunty down-home punk-intellectuals. It’s nice to see a new band taking up the mantle of folks like The Residents, The Holy Modal Rounders, and Sun City Girls, and doing a damn good job at it.
What separates this pair from their artistic forebears is perhaps a tendency to lean towards a Southern Gothic style of country-folk, as one can see on tracks like “Smiling Samuel” and “Tornado of Stasis”. Personally, I think that the gothic country influence in their music is rather brilliant, because while all of these experimental-freak outfits have enjoyed telling stories, I’ve just never heard this Southern influence transplanted into this kind of band (except as a temporary pretense, as I’m sure that Sun City Girls have at some point or another imitated literally every genre of music ever to exist). It’s just another aspect of The Chewers that’s very refreshing, and it gives a special fascination to their music– these strange tales held me in suspense. I smiled a lot while listening to this album– it alternates between droll tales of weird murder and mad-scientist freakouts very gracefully. And The Chewers can be very funny when they go the route of full-on strangeness, particularly on “I’m Afraid” and “Some Folks”. This is indeed music “from the woods”, or as a musician I know once said, “music from the other side of the fence”– primitive and untamed. Their aesthetic is rough and at the same time grows on you easily, calculatedly sounding patched-together and hastily-thrown-in-gear as a way to hook the more discerning listeners. The Chewers make music that purposefully comes from a place of estrangement and fragmentation…I love it! We need more stuff like this out there, particularly because it’s harder to do a good job making it than I’m making it seem.
I can see these two going pretty far with future releases, though this release is itself pretty impressive. Here is their bandcamp, check them out when you can!
Seer, by Portland’s own mainstays Golden Retriever, may be the most interesting electro-acoustic release of the year. A synthesizer (Matt Carlson) and bass clarinet (Jonathan Sielaff ) duo, Golden Retriever are a good example of this interesting wave of experimental artists who play around with the fine line between organic and electronic. Though I guess I might poetically describe them as “minimalist”, their music would be better described as maximalist as there is always something going on in their music and it can get pretty harsh, featuring unexpected extremes in volume. This is largely due to the intensity of Sielaff’s playing as well as his experiments with modulating in tandem with Carlson– with his technical skill and with the help of their equipment, he is able to turn the bass clarinet into something harsh, booming, and very alien yet nonetheless sounding markedly similar to a guitar solo by Robert Fripp.
Though I can already think of two bands in Portland alone (Moongriffin and Grammies) that have this kind of wind instrument/synthesizer duo setup, Golden Retriever’s style is very distinctive. I randomly name-dropped Robert Fripp two sentences ago, and for good reason– in a way, this music is very similar to art rock. Golden Retriever are stately, wrapped in subtle mystery– a bugle call sounding from a seeming abyss. They make electronic music that seems very strongly influenced by jazz and classical Western art music– there is some droning, but the figures that Sielaff plays wander around and get much more complex.
Seer is the fourth album of Golden Retriever’s that I’ve heard to date. For a long time, my opinion of them was sort of just pleasantly neutral, perhaps because I hadn’t looked too much into them; you have to understand that I often feel that music can be good without exciting me that much. When I saw that this album was getting a noticeable amount of critical attention, I became curious and, after having listened to Seer, for this week I think I’ll spend a little time re-visiting them and looking for older albums of theirs I have up to now had on my listening backlog. To say the least, the new album seems as though it’s the best so far, though Light Cones was noticeably good too.
Golden Retriever’s earlier works have alternated between extended pieces of about 15 to 25 minutes, and shorter pieces under the 10 minute mark. Their albums have never been too lengthy, eschewing the “endurance listening” manifesto of so many other experimental groups. Seer is 40 minutes made up of five medium-length pieces, four under the 10-minute mark and one just under the 15. The album is thusly concise and sweet– and what’s more, it’s positively entrancing and has the potential to win many new fans. The album takes you on a journey: it starts out with the droning textures of “Petrichor”, abruptly shifts into the harsh blowing on “Sharp Stones”, swings back into the bubbly “Archipelago”, seems to find a middle ground between woodwind and synth on “Flight Song”, and then concludes very elegantly on the flowing, elliptical “Superposition”. “Flight Song” might be the signature Golden Retriever track– Sielaff’s lovely melody floats casually over the bed of chirping synths. This whole duality between the organic and the digital is exemplified very well by Golden Retriever (though many other groups pursue these ends well) as it is often hard to tell what you are hearing, yet it all bleeds together into their entrancing vision. It’s just a really good record, very well-rounded, and one can tell that they enjoyed making it. Seer is one of the best releases of the year in any genre. For any Portlanders reading my blog, I hope you can see them tonight at Holocene at 8:30!