Each Tuesday, FADER editor Matthew Schnipper highlights an underappreciated release he thinks we need to know about. Starting this week and lasting through the end of 2010, he’ll be highlighting music exclusively from 2010. This week it’s Mt. Eerie's Song Islands Pt. 2 LP and Tonetta's 777 LP along with the continuation of a list of digital-only tracks. Read Schnipper’s thoughts after the jump.
Mt Eerie, Song Islands Pt. 2
Phil Elverum does not seem like a neurotic guy, but his output works like he is, same excited, freaked jumble of genre that comes from an obsessive, unavoidable level of output and an insatiability for new directions all stirring the pot in one man’s unavoidably overworked brain. Though I’ve not been to the Pacific Northwest, it appears to be definitively mellow, cheaper and slower, emphatically creative in the infinitely dewy air. The region’s legacy of independent music from quirky musicians of the last 25 years is strong, and in the past ten or so, Elverum, a local hero to his tight knit Olympia scene, has becoming nationally beloved as a guy who seems pretty curious and probably nice, plus, when he wants to, knows how to play lots of instruments real well. In 2001, he (as The Microphones) released The Glow Pt. 2, a crazy amalgam of folk, jazz, rock and noise. It’s a sublime album, seamless and exciting, going from wholly tiny love ballads and large, pained points with careening drums. Glow was widely praised (Pitchfork named it the number one album of the year) and it marked a high high in Elverum’s decade of musical production. To say that his collection of music (under both the Microphones and Mt. Eerie monikers) has been varied is like saying the ocean is big. But then you could also say the universe is big. Both are true, right? Is the fractured work of one man, however unalike, really ever that different? The search for a center in the sea is ultimately a futile one, but its always fun to root around in the water.
I’ve been a strong Glow Pt. 2 devotee since its release, and have been variously struck by other of Elverum’s releases, most notably his 2008 album with Julie Doiron, Lost Wisdom. Its title is lifted from a song by Burzum, the one-man black metal group of convicted murderer and church burner Varg Vikernes. “Lost Wisdom” the song is slow and bitter electric riffs and vocals that sound like a dying bird. Lost Wisdom the album is totally heartbreaking, mainly acoustic and melancholy in its confusion about love and life. It could be performed at coffee shops, soundtrack student films. Again, Vikernes burned churches. But the connection between the two is more textural, an interest in harshness that Burzum delivers with a scary pummeling and which Elverum translates through a heavy sparseness, his emptiness and drone filling in for literal weight. The following year, though, he took a stab at black metal himself with Wind’s Poem, which included a reworking of the song “Lost Wisdom.” About the song, Elvrum wrote in The Believer: “Driving through northeast Oregon and Idaho alone in the middle of the night, thinking about what that Burzum song title could mean, without really even knowing the Burzum song at all. Thinking about how depressing it is that all we learn in our lives is lost and misunderstood by posterity no matter what. Also how even within our lives we quickly forget important lessons learned. Obliviousness v. clarity, repeatedly. I wrote it while driving in the dark, and the pages in my notebook were mostly illegible the next morning.” On the Wind’s Poem version, a piano plays the guitar’s original rhythm, sad goth plinks murmuring in the background. In some ways, all of his songs are the same song, remodeled for whatever mood he needs then. A saxophone says a very different thing than a tambourine, even if they’re playing the same rhythm. Or: same shit, different day, if that shit is just the basic force of an adventurous life.
I’m skimming over most of Elvrum’s fruitful career, but in some ways that catalog dabbling is the point. Expanding outside music, Elverum began to release books, to release collections of photographs, to make letter-pressed works on paper. Everything under the sun can be swept into his spectrum and separating one ray from the others is a thankless task. This is why I like the big buffet that is Song Islands Pt. 2 so much even if some of the songs are lesser than others. For that completist breakdown, I recommend Paul Thompson’s review of the record at Pitchfork, which calls to task the sequencing its puzzling lack of inclusion of some great Mt. Eerie ephemera, its insistence on meandering. All of his points are very apt and in fact made me a little down on the album. But then, because this is sometimes what I do when I think about thinking about things, I started to think about Sam Sifton, much debated restaurant critic for the New York Times. I interviewed him earlier this year and asked him why a specific review mentioned food only briefly. “Well, half of what we go to restaurants for is not even about food,” he said. “Restaurants are theater, restaurants are tribal, restaurants are about theme, restaurants are about experience, and at their best, they’re about all those things at once. At Grenouille, they’re all of those things at once. What I like about that restaurant is that it is like a short story. You walk in the door and there are prostitutes there, there are priests there, there are rich people there, there are somewhat less than rich people there. There are no poor people there, I presume it’s too expensive. But that’s okay, I’ll hit the poor people later, I’ll go to their restaurant later.” And it its an exact corollary for Song Islands Pt. 2. Ok, sure, it is a record and less utilitarian and multifarious than a restaurant, but it is both more than the sum of its parts and something which is filled with many parts. A compilation of music from the past ten or so years, it’s quite a collage of tones and styles, alternate versions and weird lyrics packaged in a double LP with both records on white vinyl and a gatefold of photos of triangular piles of things covered with a bright red band. Don’t get me wrong, it is songs and those songs’ primary purpose is to be listened to and that experience is something that can be duly judged, but a critical listen to the music feels like going to a baseball game and missing out on catching a fly ball because you were too busy writing down very specific stats. Enjoy it, it’s weird, it’s warm.
My friends Daniel and Leyna have spent the last week sleeping on my floor. They just moved to New York from San Francisco and their company and California pleasantries have been nice. Last night they sat around in their long johns with golden Aztec patterns and ate spaghetti and we listened to this record while Leyna sent overdue emails and Daniel and I talked about hopes for the future and I hung up shirts from my floor while he drank beer cross legged on the beautiful rug my grandmother brought over from Turkey sometime probably in the ’40s. In the background, Phil Elvrum said Get off the internet and I read the books, I learned the histories, I sang the songs and other swaths we caught or didn’t and it’s hard to judge an experience like that except for to say nothing is more everyday and we should all be so lucky have our days so filled with glorious detail, good or bad.
The details Tonetta is spending his days with are where to buy weirder masks and how to cover up his dick just enough so that YouTube won’t flag his video. A man my father’s age from Toronto, Tonetta is a longtime musician, though a more recent director, making home videos of the songs that make up the bulk of work of the one-band-band he’s been chugging away at for the page 20 or so years. The site of a retirement-age man in a blonde wig, shirtless with leather underwear lip-syncing and playing guitar against a crudely psychedelic backdrop is many striking things, but it is primarily the introductory piece to a surprisingly complex puzzle: Why is this happening? My imagination did not run particularly far to: real gay + lots of drugs. Turns out, not really. Or at least, not quite. Tonetta says he is straight and that the drugs he sings about are his dislike for other people’s drugs. I interviewed him for an issue a few months ago and he told me, basically, his life story, which includes an unhappy marriage, a falling out with his son, tranny prostitutes, general gay pride gawking and a longstanding love of rock ’n’ roll. See, that’s the thing about Tonetta: he’s a musician. All of his extras, the bizzaro presentation, is certainly eye-catching, but it would be worthless exhibitionism if he didn’t kick out the jams.
Like Song Islands Pt. 2, 777 is a compilation of Tonetta tracks recorded since he began making music at home, sloppy pop guitar and an unchanging drum machine chugging along. “Metal Man,” is a favorite of mine, and the guitar is unholy, warped into the softest riff, Tonetta panting, He’s the man, the metal man. There is a striking resemblance between his incongruous rhythm and the junky pop of Ariel Pink, the potentially god-awful project of fringe folks made publicly appealing because of its undeniable goodness. Sometimes you root for the underdog, sometimes you root for the villain, its just a matter of familiarity. No artist is more open than Tonetta, and though it might be an uncomfortable realm to step into, you’re welcome there with loving arms. Just don’t expect them to be connected to a body wearing any clothes.
ASSORTED YOUTUBE AND MP3 ONLY JAMS
Katy B, "Louder" + "On a Mission"
Honestly, I really just love British shit. I haven't watched a bunch of Skins yet but I imagine the entire thing to basically be the TV version of singer Katy B's (really popular in the UK and mostly unknown in the US) music. But this exists basically as YouTube shit here, some merger of UK funky, pop and whatever music Monica makes. Radio R&B, let's say. Basically, this is candy.
Jai Paul, "BTSTU"
This dude signed to XL, so expect him to exist very really in the tangible world. "BTSTU" is like really shy, schizophrenic pop project made by a kid who loves both video games and the history of percussion equally.
The XX, "Islands (Falty DL Remix)"
My favorite of all The XX remixes to emerge this year and last, Falty DL's is so loose it's dreamy. Not that The XX had much problem being ethereal before, but this is some other planet warmth.