Each Tuesday, FADER editor Matthew Schnipper highlights an underappreciated release he thinks we need to know about. This week it’s kinda nothing but it’s Ranga's album "False Flag." Listen to "Waldorf Hysteria" and buy the album here and read Schnipper’s thoughts after the jump.
Many moons ago, I saw Ranga's drummer Chris Corsano play a show in a living room on a townhouse. The show was opened by a possibly purposefully boring experimental group, dudes hunched over gizmos playing tedious noise. It sucked and was boring. Then Chris Corsano played in his duo with Paul Flaherty a big white beard sax player with a heavy terror shriek. He was pretty cool but if he looked like Leo Decaprio and not Santa Claus he wouldn’t have the same feral connotations. Digress, sorry. Chris Corsano is maybe the best musician I have ever seen. I have seen a lot. Not all of them, but enough to know the difference between rat steak and filet mignon. Chris Corsano makes Mario Batali take off his Crocks and put on some real shoes so he can go to a fancy restaurant taste the flavor. Dude is a monster. And we were in a living room. Watching him play is like you have never seen anyone play drums before, no, like you have never heard of drums and the idea of a drum kit is maybe even a little scary on your initial seeing of it. And then some young looking guy with a bald head comes in all gently and sits at his tiny throne and wonderfully dismantles what you previously understood as the concept of sound. So he is playing in a living room and we are on the floor having our jaws dropped watching and listening to him implode a snare or whatever and occasionally he turns around to tap these tin cymbals. They are on the couch. Literally he is turning around with one hand while playing the entire drum kit with the other and blasting tin cymbals on some guy’s ugly couch in a living room in Washington, DC. It sounds like music magic conjured from the bottom of Einstein’s special cauldron of expansive thoughts. It makes sense that no everyone plays with his same skill or depth, but it doesn’t make sense that they don’t try to apply that crazy wilderness to their playing. Playing fast and crazy doesn’t have to mean playing good, please do not get me wrong. Corsano plays slow and measured, too. But to watch him extract new ideas from an old deck of cards easier than walking and chewing gum makes you think. After he is finished, the boring guys from before say to him, “Great set. Those things behind you on the couch—are those gamelan gongs?” They are referring to the traditional percussive music of Indonesia, cool guys who want to be cool with the cool guy. Corsano says, “No, they’re pot lids.” All of music clicked key in lock right then, a portrait of the artist as a young man painted by the artist as a young man. Some crude critics were telling me the painting meant something it didn’t, deep things and blunt thoughts. It meant beautiful stuff make you feel good. Right?
Turns out, duh, Chris Corsano really did like gamelan. Or at least he had a quiver of love for Indonesia culture. Rangda is his new group with two other talented people, Ben Chasny and Richard Bishop. Rangda is—and here I am just going to quote from Wikipedia, okay?— "Rangda is the demon queen of the leyaks in Bali, according to traditional Balinese mythology. Terrifying to behold, the child-eating Rangda leads an army of evil witches against the leader of the forces of good, Barong. Rangda is important in Balinese culture, and performances depicting her struggles with Barong or with Airlangga in that tale are popular tourist attractions as well as tradition. She is depicted as a mostly nude old woman, with long and unkempt hair, pendulous breasts, and claws. Her face is traditionally a horrifying fanged and goggle-eyed mask, with a long, protruding tongue.” Basiscally Rangda is totally scary looking with a waggy long tongue and fucked up eyes and freaky person fingernails. Basically awesome and scary like the more National Geographic version of a haunted house. Unless you are an Indonesian kid in which case you are fucked and are going to be scared forever. To me, to these guys: awesome! So they named their instrumental power trio after her. Richard Bishop, sometimes known as Sir Richard Bishop, was involved in Sun City Girls who put out ten million albums of whirling dervish punk, guitar spirals burrowed into the desert. Rangda on bumpy downers. He plays by himself now, too, gentle man skittering across the guitar strings in updated ragtime, folk for those who ride bicycles and still smoke grass. Or those will someday will. Not for SUVs or people who like to walk while they read (seriously, not cool). Between National Public Radio and TV Party. Ben Chasny was/is in Comets on Fire who were stoner guitar gods but never blasted me to space like I wanted. Then he did Six Organs of Admittance which is sad times guitar solo. I saw him play in the same living room as Corsano, but in a chair in the corner. He was drunk as shit. Not sure what that means six years or however many years later. Anyway, Rangda.
I sent this video of them playing their “single,” “Bull Lore” to my friend who didn’t really like it. But he did say “I like that that guy is just solo-ing the entire time.” He did not mention the dude’s Borbetomagus T-shirt. Special bonus to all of you actually laughing. Also you are loser dorks like me. If any of you are a woman I would like to introduce to a couple of my friends who are very nice and would treat you very well. And anyway indeed the entire song is one giant guitar shred. That could be gaudy but it’s backed up. One guitar, mild plod beat keeper, other guitar, unlimited wilding. Rangda is a powerful rock band. Sometimes with speed, sometimes with a delicate etiquette, grumpy grandpa’s expert touch. The Robert De Niro of this shit. What’s it like to be a maniac and know you’re playing against a bunch of people who only read half the DSM’s Cliff’s Notes. But you know what, the raging numbers aren’t as good as the close talkers. “Sarcophagi” is gentle. Corsano is breathing on the cymbal. Bishop making the song cry. Maybe it is a Bob Marley cover. He would have liked Rangda, players hard at work.
But what I meant with the gamelan gongs/pot lids is that that hard at work isn’t hard. Weird music guys (from the beginning of the column, remember?) were not beasting out and playing flailing crazy songs. They were “making tones,” disguising stillness as expansive creativity. JK, it was just BS! Rangda is hard but not for them. If you have gamelan gongs before you’ve got potlids, try again. Unless you are in Indonesia. But they use pots there, too. Think different! Haha.