Crow’s Nest 36: 072422
Damn it’s hot out,
And welcome to issue 36 of Crow’s Nest. Thank you for opening and reading the contents within, I hope you find something within you enjoy.
Not to imply I’m lacking self-awareness, but since the last issue I have started going back to the office a couple times a week for the first time since the pandemic started, which has noticeably impacted my listening habits. I’m mostly listening to my ‘listen through’ Spotify playlist backlog on headphones while there, as opposed to listening to stuff through Bandcamp and my apartment’s speakers. It’s an intriguing contrast, all things considered, and now the pileup of browser tabs in increasing. (As I type I am closing in on first listens to releases from 7/17, and late March stuff on the playlist.) We’ll see how this arrangement holds—already I’m remembering why in-office work blows and considering going permanent full-time remote and getting a gym membership in my neighborhood—and if my 2013 MacBook can withstand this for much longer. Guess we’ll see what that brings on top of everything else.
Pitchfork Music Festival is, historically, not a ‘wet’ music festival: while thunderstorms cut off Björk’s 2013 headlining set and washed out the 5PM music hour for Saturday in 2019, intense heat is the usual bad weather present during the weekend, back in its usual mid-July slot after a pandemic delay. On-off precipitation never got bad enough on Friday and Sunday to cause a cancellation or evacuation, just exasperation at pulling out the poncho or rain jacket yet again after your weather app said it’d be clear. ‘It’s better than being at the office’ seemed the consensus opinion for that. Come to think of it, I went the entire weekend without applying sunscreen either.
If Pitchfork and hipsterdom in general have lost clout to declare what’s cool, the festival itself remains a quality weekend for hanging out, taking in tunes and chilling. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t a healthy amount of surprise to the weekend; despite a below-average level of truly left field bookings this year, there was plenty of stuff I wasn’t expecting that kept me occupied. Camp Cope, who I had dismissed as being too singer-songwriter-y for my tastes, had a well executed emo-indie blend. Tirzah tore through a deconstructed Make It Up early in her set, seemingly to prove having stronger chops than otherwise demonstrated. Dismiss The Linda Lindas as a viral one-off at your peril: replacing Chubby and The Gang, they have a well-executed set and promising future ahead of them. Joshua Abrams and Natural Information Society, replacing Badbadnotgood last-minute (illness), featured Ari Brown on tenor sax—he regularly appeared with Orbert Davis at the jazz showcases my middle school hosted. claire rousay landed the historic first ‘non-cringe reference to Pitchfork’s reviews while playing the fest’ during her ambient DJ set, dropping a gut-bustingly funny voice-to-text recitation of her most recent review on the site over a hyperpop beat. And of course there was The Armed, with half a dozen comically ripped dudes in the band and 3 women in Juggalo face paint. I’m still not sure what parts of their hardcore meets hair metal meets professional wrestling schtick is sincere and what’s parody.
The biggest surprise and one of my favorite sets of the weekend came from Sofia Kourtesis. The first act on the Blue stage on Sunday, I was expecting a tasteful DJ set from the rising producer. Stepping out with a bass/synth player, the 37-year old Berlin-via-Peru producer brought a heart-on-her-sleeve sincerity and an unmatched level of energy to her music: at moments away from her sequencer and drum pads—the latter seemingly left on cue, unfortunately—she danced roughly as hard as everyone in the crowd before her, combined. I can’t recall anyone more deserving of a water bottle dumped on her head than the cheers she got for doing so herself. Moments like her set and their thrilling aliveness are the moments worth living for—I woke up the next day with the beat to her second-to-last song stuck in my head, and not finding the ID is gonna haunt me—a reminder, however cliched, that as much as there is pain in the world, there’s also the healing togetherness music can bring us all.
Closer to Pitchfork’s bread-and-butter semi-conscious forte, other surprising acts of quality occurred throughout the weekend. A friend of a friend I was hanging with asked me if Parquet Courts counted as a legacy act for Friday. After suppressing my horror, it’s an intriguing question, considering this is their 4th appearance at Pitchfork in a decade and how irrelevant much of indie rock can be nowadays. To their credit, much of their set occupied a mutant space between desert rock, krautrock and dance music: Austin Brown spent more time on the keys than guitar, and they should really start crediting their auxiliary percussionist as a touring member, at least. They hardly sounded like the literary punks I first caught in 2013, or even the band I was going in and out of a 200-person pit for at 9:30 Club in 2018. (It also makes me curious what offer the fest no doubt put out for—and was rejected by—Pavement.) Having not heard a note of theirs before their Saturday set, hardcore/jazz group Karate impressed me; if it weren’t for their recent reissues and them looking closer to my dad than me, you wouldn’t have been able to tell it was a reunion tour. Closing out Sunday, The Roots—not exactly anyone’s idea of an exciting headliner even if you can’t bring yourself to dislike them—proved quite capable, not resting on their laurels and continuing to improve on their musicality. Coming at the end of a long weekend when my dominant feeling was ‘I can’t wait to get home and take off my Doc Martens’, they went from ‘I’m gonna finish my drink and get going’ to ‘well if the bar stand is still open I’ll have another’ to ‘you know we should probably stay just in case they bring out George Clinton for a feature, wouldn’t want to miss that’ during their set, a quality endorsement. (Everyone’s favorite landlord Hannibal Burress was the only guest.)
My favorite set of the weekend goes to Spiritualized—crossfaded on my own weed (mostly) this time and an unintentionally large number of palomas from the bar, J. Spaceman and his 9-piece backing group dazzled me again with their perfectly mixed, unpretentiously executed fusion of space rock, gospel and blues. I would have been fine with a repeat of Coachella, but the group had a fully different setlist and the same stately presence. I still have no idea if or how this might be working, financially, for the group and the fests booking them, I’m just thankful it’s here to be experienced. Dry Cleaning did not take the opportunity to tease forthcoming album Stumpwork further, though an appearance from local saxophonist Bruce Lamont, a massive Krautrock buildup on Tony Speaks! and a general growing confidence they exude bodes well for a future not penned in by cursory sentiments gleaned from New Long Leg. Having caught them both at standalone concerts and festival sets twice now, I can say with confidence that Low’s noise-harmonics remain different beasts in both areas, and both worth attending. For all of the eclecticism and aesthetic contrasts that any year’s Pitchfork lineup can yield, the festival’s mix of veterans and up-and-comers remains a highlight of festival season and summer in general, weather be damned.
While the music remains the focus of the fest, there were a few other attractions worth noting. There is the still slightly hallucinogenic presence of the Philadelphia Cream Cheese lounge, whose chief attraction, aside from that free festival food staple, cream cheese, was an aura reading station. (Accordingly to it I am, bodily, Garden Vegetable Cream Cheese and, mentally, Strawberry Cheesecake. I think. Makes sense.) Doordash expanded its DashPass presence beyond an exclusive lounge I should be able to access but didn’t out of laziness/lack of interest, with pop-up supply stands on the festival grounds which you could only purchase from via downloading their app. Aside from the cultural loss of free Clif bars at Pitchfork, the app-ifying distance between you and your rent-a-servants this exhibits remains a troubling feature of modern society. Just shut up and take my money, guys. Free Perrier sparkling water, a (free) Monster Energy booth, $6 7.0% IPAs and a pleasant festival exclusive beer (in partnership with Japanese Breakfast) thankfully prove the festival knows itself well enough not to fully alienate its audience through revenue-generating excess. No CBD/cannabis sponsor though, somewhat surprisingly.
The most intriguing side presence at Pitchfork was its partnership with payment platform Zelle. If the financialization of everything under late-stage capitalism reduces most relationships to fiscal transactions and many peoples’ ambitions to be an intermediary taking a cut of the passed-through revenue on others’ services—hi DoorDash—then it makes sense for there to be a highly visible payment processing sponsor, I guess. For Pitchfork, Zelle’s presence meant some freemium perks to enrolled participants: first come first serve access to free aftershows during/around the fest, and an on-site ~100 capacity ‘purple parlor’ lounge space for DJ sets. Qualifying by Venmoing myself a few bucks back-and-forth between bank accounts, I didn’t attend the 2 aftershows I was assigned: Dreamer Isioma at the Empty Bottle (not familiar) and a DJ set from Questlove at Sleeping Village (Saturday night and my feet hurt). The DJ sets at the parlor helped smooth out some gaps in my schedule, which was a great bonus for me. Moving forward, the more intriguing option would be to expand the space a bit and turn it into a full side stage for experimental music, DJ sets and stand-up comedy. A festival capable of bringing in talent like Veronica Vasicka and Jessy Lanza for sparsely-attended, intimate sets, keeping main stage talent around for next-day bonus stuff, or, you know, trying to make Iceage a thing in the year of our lord 2022 ought to be able to play around more with this sort of stuff on festival grounds. Why not, say, fly in Perila to perform before Stavros Halkias and follow it up with a Beau Wanzer set? One of Pitchfork Music Festival’s greatest strengths is the heterogeneous variety it can pack into a medium-sized festival with an open-minded audience. Expanding the risk-taking and highlighting artists most other festivals may not ever consider would help continue the tradition of consensus destabilization the website that spawned it is best known for.
Hoo boy, where to begin with this one. A seemingly out-of-the-blue drop from Sub Rosa, these are extended pieces of classical-noise by Czech turntablist, dissident artist and more Milan Knížák, feedback played from mangled and destroyed records. I’m reminded of Can’s LP-sidelong freakouts, Aaron Dilloway in a different timeline where he has tenure at Oberlin, Basinski if The Disintegration Loops were only the beginning or a career in creative destruction, this is the sort of record I’ve put on as noise to purge unpleasant feelings from daily annoyances from me. A member of Fluxus, an official Enemy of The State during the Communist era, his Wikipedia page feels like a teaser for an intense biography or meeting of the minds with someone like Krasznahorkai leaves you and the fleeting bullshit of the timeline feeling insignificant. Surely there’s plenty to learn about and from Knížák from what he’s done and yet to do through work like this.
[Reading Wikipedia voice] Space Ghost Coast to Coast is a cult classic 90s adult animated comedy show known for its ties to alternative music and its associated counterculture. Despite being the sort of thing you might imagine I’d be into, and multiple news stories about semi-legal full archival access to the episodes, I’ve never seen it. Consequently, I can’t say whether Attia Taylor’s album-length tribute to the series does it justice or enhances appreciation of either. If it does, that’s fantastic; if it doesn’t, Taylor has still composed a wonderful bedroom psych album worth your time. The primary organ/guitar/drum machine setup works wonders and feels fresh and not aesthetically dated in a bad/vaporwave-y way.
A solid album of gentle psych from local mover and shaker Jake Acosta. Sprawling tracks in an abstracted sense, I’m reminded of some freak folk stuff, ambient in the classic ‘interesting as it is ignorable’ Eno sense, or perhaps Bardo Pond with the heaviness turned down.
Drone auteur Kali Malone, whose 2019 album The Sacrificial Code remains a sort of recent high-water mark for the genre, ambient music writ large, and made her synonymous with the pipe organ, returns with this pair of pieces. Neither uses pipe organ—trombone and bass clarinet are the main acoustic instruments—but it does feature the use of Elaine Radigue’s ARP 2500 synthesizer as composed at the legendary GRM Studios in Paris. Give it a spin and disappear into its sound world.
Recent reading highlights:
-Mariana Timony, writing at Bandcamp Daily, joined L.A. band Dummy on the road for 2 weeks of touring this past spring, chronicling it in 2 parts as ‘How To Make A Watch’. It’s an intriguing, insightful look at a ruthlessly critical band, what it means to be DIY in the current music landscape, and what the economics of a band could or should be in-the-moment as such questions were discussed in the wider discourse. To be clear, I don’t like it as a whole and not just as some Crow’s Nest favorites come across poorly. There’s a fair amount of unresolved, contradictory argumentation, the accounting is more translucent than transparent, the vibes of authenticity singularly promoted as correct feels stuck in the 90s, opinions that supposedly don’t matter are overly scorned for being wrong or focusing on the wrong thing, and there’s no discussion as to the role luck plays in succeeding in independent music, only hard work. Nevertheless it’s a great piece to think to, and some of the bands encountered within are worth visiting.
While reflecting on Timony’s piece, I couldn’t help but think of Darcie Wilder’s piece on Dril and selling out as a great companion to further examine such phenomena.
-Damon Krukowski notes a historic parallel in technology and a changing world in ‘The Last Field Recordists’.
-Ted Gioia brings you the inside story of ‘How My Music Got Featured in 'Better Call Saul’’.
Art that promises to play with language, deconstruct it, disorient meaning etc. can be as dull and boring as a hack prose writer squeezing out an ostentatious metaphor from too insubstantial a work. But enough about me. Mücha’s work here, brought to my attention by Bandcloud’s recent half-year roundup, lives up to its title and, for what it’s worth, is a fairly compelling listen, especially when the main piece coalesces into an experimental, deconstructed beat. Violence can be hard to justify especially to words given the smoke and mirrors bullshit of contemporary debate about so-called ‘censorship’ … but more killing in this vein wold be appreciated.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Australian post-punk group Doe St put out a solid if not too memorable earlier this year, and have followed it up with this pair of live-recorded songs. They sounded pretty solid the couple times I’ve played it, feel free to judge that for yourself.
The so-called concrete-science fiction-riot scene of psychedlically-tinged French music that emerged in the late 60s and early 70s may be doomed to perpetually exist in the shadows of the contemporary scene across the Rhine, but damn if the drip feed of archival material from labels like Born Bad isn’t compelling on its own. All of the different acts on this compilation from Finders Keepers come from one person—Jean-Paul Massiera—with the kind of life story/below the radar genius that begs for better documentation than the occasional aside. I don’t recall the details differentiating each act on here at this time, but I believe you can discern the details from this blurb and the release biography within the link above. To think there’s also nothing on his disco output within either …
There’s being ahead of your time, never getting your due in time, and then there’s telling Steve Albini he’d probably be better off trying his whole bass guitar/drum machine thing as a solo act rather than in your band … in 1981 … not being your most memorable encounter with a famous producer. Such is the saga of Stations, a local post-punk group who recorded an EP with Martin Hannett that is only now about to see the light of day via upstart label No Sé Discos. First single Climate of Violence is out now, and the entirety of the saga as chronicled by Steve Krakow is worth your time.
If SXSW has lost some of its cultural relevance to social media in recent years—did any music outlet even write up a highlights listicle or promising discoveries this year?—there’s value to the spectacle and chance meetings it brings together. Case in point: the Eastern Algonquin pow wow singes Eastern Medicine Singers linked up with guitarist Yonatan Gat at the fest in 2017, had a lightning-in-a-bottle moment, and ultimately spent time crafting this experimental/Native American masterwork. It’s hard to describe such a compelling, unique work as this, and a lot to unpack for someone like me trying to bring attention to something sick I heard a few weeks ago. Ikue Mori, Thor Harris, Laraaji, and jaimie branch, among others, contribute. It’s a dizzying piece well worth more attention than my words have given it.
Portuguese label Lovers & Lollypops is one of my favorites in the country for experimental work, and recently celebrated their 17th anniversary with this back catalog-sampling compilation. Yet another thing I tell myself I should dig into more but alas, there’s only so much time and mental pledges like this feel increasingly empty. Nevertheless, give this a listen through and see what wonders within pique your interest. I have to say I am tempted to spring for one of the jumpsuits commissioned to accompany this release since it’s a 3-paycheck month for me and the label’s left-of-center merch game speaks to me.
Local chillout trio Purelink are building a reputation for contemporary updates on some dated styles: downtempo, ambient, dub techno and other ‘aqueous’ sounds are in the mix here. You’ve got an A-side of originals and B-side of remixes from fellow travelers. The first xphresh remix has a memorable, surprising drop to it that is my immediate highlight, but everything within is worth a whirl or two.
Much of this issue of Crow’s Nest has been and will continue to concern itself, tangentially, about the aesthetic trappings of music and how it impacts our perception of it. That’s about as far into academic theory I feel like wading into at this time so here’s a brief EP of past pop staples reworked into acceptably underground versions that Bandcloud put onto my radar. My favorites are the opening remix of the Spice Girls into an acid techno voyage by Halffish, and Olin’s rework of Sean Paul’s Temperature. These bang and the originals no doubt do too, time to get over yourself if you can’t accept that.
Australian indie alchemists The Goon Sax, whose album Mirror II was one of my favorites last year, have called it quits, cancelling their upcoming shows. I’m naturally bummed about that especially as I eagerly awaiting their one at Sleeping Village next month. Anyway, pour one out, best wishes for future work from them, etc. The deluxe reissue of Mirror II featured this fantastic imo cover of Len’s Steal My Sunshine. Slipped through the cracks to include it earlier, and, yeah.
Is Soulwax good? Is Soulwax bad? Is Soulwax one of those groups I have to code switch my opinion on depending on who I’m talking to? Am I someone who should have an opinion on Soulwax? If I tweet about Soulwax and Wanda Group spends several hours riffing on it, will the bit be tolerable or unbearable? Is Mastercard a queer ally? “McDonald’s grilled chicken mcwrap at 250 calories is both a dollar and pound bargain” true?
Is Wet Leg good? Is Wet Leg bad? Is Wet Leg …
… Anyway, Wet Leg’s self-titled remains on heavy rotation, and Soulwax’s remix of the final track (and a strong song-of-the-year contender for me) is enough of a reason to plop it in here again. The press copy flagrantly lies—the remix’s BPM is obviously lower than the original, do you even know what that means?—and, really, is seemingly only really a remix in that the vocals are sampled to loop over the minimal Belgian New Beat backing. But still since you’re here give the original a spin.
And, well, that’s it for this issue. As always, if you’re reading this, thank you for doing so, I always appreciate it. This summer’s having its ups and downs for me and, well, hopefully something within has helped bring yours up. Until next time, take it easy.