Thursday, August 31, 2023

SWANS “The Beggar" & US Tour: Sept 2 - Oct 1

After two rescheduled tours due to the extenuated factors of the global pandemic, Michael Gira returns in September with another new iteration of his towering rock band, SWANS. Having led the outfit through numerous manifestations over the decades since its inception, including a brief phase as the folk ensemble The Angels of Light, change and transfiguration have been one of their great constants of Michael Gira's lifelong music endeavor. The cartography of this four decades-spanning terrain was mapped for Exclaim in Dimitri Nasrallah's "Michael Gira: from SWANS Uncompromising Sound to Ethereal Angels of Light", and in greater detail and intimacy by friends, fellow musicians and peers in Nick Soulsby's recently published oral history of the band, "SWANS: Sacrifice and Transcendence". At the end of their previous incarnation, with the grandiose heights scaled in "Soundtracks for the Blind" and "Swans are Dead", they took celestial ascension and physical bombast to literally epic durations and dynamic magnitude. The post-reform precision and (relative) brevity of 2010's "My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope in the Sky", the more variegated and nuanced "The Seer", the extended forays heard on "To Be Kind", and rapturous hypnoticism of 2016's "The Glowing Man" ascend to, and even expand upon similarly Homeric heights. "Michael Gira on ‘Dangling Off the Edge of a Cliff’ for SWANS Epic Final Album" for The Observer maps the musical trajectory's Oroborous-like path back to itself, as SWANS of the 21st Century has birthed a supreme amalgam from its own DNA. One that encapsulates the totality of their 40-plus year trajectory. From brutalist no wave minimalism, to musique concrete and extended tonal and drone compositions, to electric rock, psychedelia, blues, folk and Americana. The Guardian's John Doran postulates how it came to pass that SWANS produced the best work of their career so far. Where so many other bands of a similar vintage have retread familiar ground, revisiting the formula of past successes, Gira and company chose to instead stake everything on a fresh roll of the dice. They took a genuine gamble on creating new art rather than trying to recapture past glories and in doing so, they conjured an, "Enduring Love: Why SWANS are More Vital Now than Ever".

The albums and live performances of this past decade, spanning 2010-2018, were the fruit of an extended, ever-evolving recording process. "A Little Drop of Blood: Michael Gira of SWANS Interviewed" for The Quietus describes the often arduous writing, rehearsal, touring and recording in a dynamic creative systole and diastole. The undertaking of then translating these recorded works to a marathon live experience documented in an interview with Pitchfork of 2014, "Michael Gira Talks about How SWANS Returned without Losing Any Potency". Even more personal and confessional, The Quietus have produced a lengthy interview on the explicitly spiritual, transcendental nature of their live incarnation, "This is My Sermon: Michael Gira of SWANS Speaks". 2018 was to see another of these metamorphosis for the band, as Gira took a second brief hiatus to reconfigure SWANS. Issuing a statement through his Young God Records site, the author and musician has established this period as an interstice between iterations of his dominant musical project. SWANS last return and reformation after a 15 year hiatus, in which they became remanifest in the most powerful and expansive iteration to date, there was no doubt that their return after this much more brief hiatus would be one of renewal, reinvention, and creative metempsychosis. So here we are again, with this newest formation, following on the hypnotic and repetitive krautock-inspired grooves of 2019's "Leaving Meaning.", in which Gira enlisted Australian avant-jazz luminaries, The Necks, organist Anna von Hausswolff, and Icelandic electronics sculptor, Ben Frost, to enhance their tapestries of sound. The tour for that album was disrupted and eventually cancelled altogether, with Gira releasing a statement about the next work in progress and the fruitful recording sessions held in Germany. The album that came from those sessions, "The Beggar" would finally be taken on tour, and enlisted many individuals from the band's previous lineups, including; longtime percussionists Larry Mullins and Phil Puleo, Angels of Light bassist and keyboardist Dana Schechter, Ben Frost again in a more prominent role as "sound manipulator", and mainstays of the band's 21st century incarnation, Kristof Hahn and Christopher Pravdica. Of the sonic topography found on this "Dark and Unsettling, Purifying and Beautiful" album, Gira has said that "My vision changes according to the unfolding of random events found in the music that we play together", and as with each release before it, "SWANS Just Keep Swimming" towards some unknown and distant horizon.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Boris and Melvins “Twins of Evil” US Tour: Aug 24 - Oct 14

Showing no signs of a sedentary codification of their sound, or a deceleration of their recording or touring schedule, Boris sessions for the 2017 album "Dear" for the Sargent House label generated nearly three albums of new material. Following on this prolific period, in rapid succession they then delivered, "LφVE & EVφL" as well as a set of domestic LP reissues for Jack White's Third Man Records in 2019. In the trio of years since, they released the stellar "NO" on their own label, a collaboration with post punk band, Uniform, and the dub-inspired release, "W" both for Sacred Bones. Not satisfied with two albums titled "Heavy Rocks", they then created a third this year for Relapse Records, and this fall, "Boris Announce Tour with Melvins" spanning late August to mid-October. Indeed, from this evidence it's clear that, "For Boris, Heavy is a State of Being". The most recent tour marks a decade of semiannual domestic visits to North America in which they have manifested an ever-mutating mix of doom metal, heavy psych, warped J-pop, willfully dysfunctional indie rock, and even their own thrilling take on dreampop and shoegaze. The latter we first glimpsed on their "Japanese Heavy Rock Hits" 7" series, which was then refined on "Attention Please", from which they then pivoted to the guttural psyche assault of the second "Heavy Rocks". This prolific inundation culminating in the tri-album recording release of late 2011, topped by their upbeat pop-assault of the generically titled, "New Album". Following this deluge was the more atmospheric Metal-oriented tour album "Präparat" and the mainstream riffs of 2014's "Noise", with its pronounced college-rock sensibilities. The band themselves perceive this stylistic shift as just another stage in their assimilation of influences towards an all-inclusive Boris sound, in an interview for The Quietus the feedback-worshiping trio state, "Noise is Japanese Blues': An Interview with Boris". The sonic realm which they have created for themselves was first carved out with 2005's "Pink", and the brand of lyrical guitar squall of collaborator Michio Kurihara heard on the companion album "Rainbow". Typical of the abundant recording sessions which have produced each album, the recent domestic reissue of "Pink" features a previously unreleased companion album of "Forbidden Songs". Comprising overflow from this era that ended up on the cutting room floor, their interview for Invisible Oranges delves into this phase of high production and new inspirations. The March 2016 issue of The Wire recaps the trio's decades-long recording and touring process, which brings them back into contact with legendary noise extremist Merzbow on the 150 minutes of new music appearing on the interchangeable double LP set, "Gensho". Its depths sounded by Masami Akita in his interview for The Quietus, "Razor Blades in the Dark: An Interview with Merzbow", which acts as a preface of sorts for their second studio album collaboration "2R0I2P0", released in 2020 on Relapse.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Alabaster DePlume and Joshua Abram's Natural Information Society at Sunset Tavern & The Neptune Theatre: Sept 6 & 14

Two of the pivotal outfits describing the new jazz sounds of London and Chicago and specifically the artistry of the International Anthem label find themselves at Sunset Tavern and The Neptune Theatre in early September. Gus Fairbairn had his beginnings as Alabaster DePlume in the early 2000s as one of the players around the locus of London's Total Refreshment Centre. The venue enjoyed a recent anthology on the legendary Blue Note, the venerable label capturing "A Complex, Thrilling Moment in a Fast-Expanding Musical Community". The venue and its players are central to the new British jazz scene, as covered in The Guardian's primer to this contemporary body of musicians, "The British Jazz Explosion: Meet the Musicians Rewriting the Rulebook". In the fist of his releases for the International Anthem label, Fairbairn released a gently enveloping suite of instrumentals, "To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol.1". The album stretched over eleven tracks of Fairbairn’s tentative, breathy sax melodies laid over downtempo, atmospheric chord voicings and chamber music compositions. Described in the pages of The Guardian as "The Stress-Busting Jazz of Alabaster DePlume", Fairbairn's latest project, "Gold: Go Forward in the Courage of Your Love", continues and expands upon that emotional ethos and its swooning gently flowing musical surfaces. Recorded over the course of two weeks at Total Refreshment Centre and employing Fairbairn's practice of having different band arrangements playing on each session, the resulting pieces have also been mixed by different producers and employ self-sampling and structural techniques from his prominent label-mate and drummer, Makaya McCraven.

These two artists are among the 21st century body of musicians effectively "Rewriting the Rules of Jazz", who have produced bountiful collaborations on an array of top-notch labels. Most notably releases from Chicago's aforementioned International Anthem, New York's Eremite, and the UK's scene represented again by the Total Refreshment Centre and Gilles Peterson's Brownswood Recordings. Culled from all of these, London's Soul Jazz Records have assembled the most comprehensive overview of this chiaroscuro with their "Kaleidoscope: New Spirits Known & Unknown" compilation, fixating heavily on both the London and Chicago players. Representing a similar locus for the Chicago scene, bassist Joshua Abrams‘ and his large ensemble, Natural Information Society, are joined on his most recent outing "Since Time is Gravity" by Ari Brown, the 80 year old tenor saxophonist and Chicago legend whose work is central to the album. Their release on the Eremite label is the prime meeting of Abrams previous discography of Steve Reich-like trance inducing patterned minimalism and the new addition of a more swooning and fiery saxophone compositions which share a lineage with Charles Mingus' mid-period albums. Touching on these disparate points, "Natural Information Society Discuss the Inspirations Behind 'Since Time is Gravity'", and their amassing a larger ensemble which includes saxophonist Mai Sugimoto, titanic percussionist Hamid Drake, and cornetist Ben LaMar Gay, as "Natural Information Society Celebrates its Idiosyncrasies, Warts and All". A central component to their live incarnation is the environment that they invoke, largely supplied by Abram's wife, artist and musician Lisa Alvarado, and her creations both on and off the stage, "Natural Information Society Make the Stage a Home and Vice Versa".