lost Youth

Posted by othiym23 Tue, 18 Mar 2008 04:50:43 GMT

Once upon a time there was Option magazine. It covered a broad – yet oddly narrowly defined – cross-section of music that was too weird for the mainstream, but maybe not all the way underground. Each issue would feature quarter-page ads for ReR and Cuneiform Records, and generally there was one or more ads for The Bevis Frond. It had features of varying quality (one article on Swans featured the memorable observation by Jarboe that working in the studio with Michael Gira was much like what working with Paganini was said to be like: “like standing in vats of boiling oil, lancing each other with razor blades”), but the real draw for the magazine were the 30-40 pages of concise reviews, typeset in 4 columns of agate type. It took a couple days to work through them all, but doing so always left me with a feeling like I had a pretty good idea what was going on. They covered cassette-only DiY industrial releases as much as they did more established stalwarts of new and experimental music (Fred Frith, Eugene Chadborne, Zeena Parkins, John Zorn – the Knitting Factory crowd).

Option crapped out 10 years ago. It had lost its purpose, crowded on one side by the alternative-izing of Spin and Rolling Stone in the wake of the grunge explosion-implosion, and on the other by the explosion of subgenres and new bands that characterized the 90s. It’s impossible to imagine a magazine with Option’s broad remit succeeding today. There’s way too much music to cover, and the print magazines that do survive (in Pitchfork’s shadow) tend to be more narrowly focused and relatively conservative. Even The Wire, the most self-consciously hip’n’edgy music magazine out there, is much more predictable than Option was in the early 90s.

Even so, I did inductively identify an Option sound after reading it for a couple years, a kind of post-college rock / intellectual psychedelia that lived somewhere in the interstices between Galaxie 500, Robyn Hitchcock, Half Japanese and the aforementioned twisted guitar genii Chadborne and Frith. It was like art-hippy weirdoes Henry Cow tamed for a larger audience, or REM with more unpredictability.

I provide you with all this prolog because Damien Youth fits the old Option template perfectly. Having never heard him before, listening to his The Man Who Invented God filled me with a rush of nostalgia for high school, when my friends and I would swap REM and Let’s Active and Big Star tapes. Youth was contemporary with those bands, even though he never had their success, and he was clearly mining the same vein of intellectual, introspective folky psychedelia. The Man Who Invented God has the insular quality I associate with late-80s home studio recordings, and Youth practically ought to be paying Michael Stipe royalties, but there’s a free-flowing ease to the songs that makes the rough edges and stylistic debts less important. There’s also some eyeliner and goth poetry going on, which you can interpret as charming or grating as you see fit.

This is yet another of the trove of old recordings I got from Mutant Sounds, and it’s worth the download time and Rapidshare hassle to check out if you like gothic psychedelia. Youth outlasted Option and is still going, almost 25 years after he started, and he’s got a bewildering array of other projects he’s participated in. I might have to check some of them out.


Posted by othiym23 Tue, 26 Feb 2008 18:40:30 GMT

Whenever I see Jack Johnson’s name, Pussy Galore’s “Dick Johnson” starts to play in the back of my mind. “Dick Johnson” is sort of, well, the name is as ambitious as the song gets, but I still enjoy it about 50,000 times more than I’ve ever enjoyed anything by Jack Johnson. I honestly lack the capacity to understand how or why people would actively seek out his music.

In other news, Radiohead is coming to town.

yay hooray for Mutant Sounds

Posted by othiym23 Sat, 26 Jan 2008 03:19:29 GMT

I take an unseemly amount of pride in the breadth of my eclecticism, as well as my fondness for an inordinate amount of crap that nobody else has heard of. At the same time, I recognize that as music weirdoes go I’m actually pretty middle of the road. For example, I have nothing on the crew behind Mutant Sounds, a group MP3 blog. Of the MP3 blogs I read, they’re the ones I think are least likely to ever run into trouble with the law, because of the total obscurity of the music they post. Every so often they’ll post something I’ve heard of (a Brad Laner (Medicine, Electric Company, Savage Republic) project, the utterly fabulous Haruomi Hosono (Yellow Magic Orchestra) & Tadanori Yokoo record I’m listening to right now, the ill-starred final releases from Hirsche Nicht Aufs Sofa, a Wobbly 3” I could have bought at Aquarius if I’d been on the ball), but for the most part these are releases copied from old private pressings, out-of-print CDs from tiny indies in random corners of the globe, and more than occasionally from cassettes, which were the lingua franca of the international music underground before CD-Rs took over.

The posters are driven by a genuine love of the music they post, and while there’s no way I can keep up with the endless flood of their posts, the quality of the stuff I do recognize or have downloaded is exceptionally high. It can be a little intimidating to be confronted with so much completely unfamiliar stuff, but they’re conscientious about providing enough context to help you figure out if it’s your kind of thing or not, and just blindly downloading is likely to get you something good more often than not. Check them out. They’re not out to rip anyone off and they have amazing taste.

ADA buys Insound

Posted by othiym23 Sun, 13 Jan 2008 00:23:54 GMT

When I was reading Billboard’s article about recent wrangling over publishing deals and digital streaming (an arcane bit of legal business that is far more complicated than it is interesting, unless this stuff is your day job, like it is mine), I also noticed another story about ADA – the Alternative Distribution Alliance – purchasing quasi-independent online record store turned quasi-independent download store Insound (here’s a Tiny Mixtapes summary of the subscription-only Billboard story). The ironies compound faster than I can explain them (starting with ADA’s very name), but the aspect of this deal I bring to your attention is the way the line between label, distributor and store is growing more scribbly and smudged by the day. Amoeba Music recently started its own label. Aquarius (last mention of them today, I promise) basically is a distributor, given the number of things it sells that are so scarce and self-released that they basically don’t exist (not to mention how much of their stock they get through direct deals with various tiny-label owners).

“Independent” distributors (almost all of whom are now owned by the four major labels) still play a vital – and largely unseen – role in mainstream music distribution. They’re how much-hyped indie bands like, say, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah or Wooden Shjips have any chance of getting into Best Buy or Amazon, which is where most people buy their music today. It’ll be interesting to see how they decide to move into the digital sales business themselves, and how that will affect the ever-shifting balance of power between the labels, Apple, subscription music services, and retailers.