It’s increasingly harder to figure out what belongs in this column and what doesn’t, to comb through releases week after week with no real concept of what’ll make it out of the world that Freak Scene covers and breaking through to a wider audience that might not normally be into “weird” music. In the past week alone, I’ve listened to a whole host of really great records that are pretty out there, but in appealing ways. It wouldn’t be possible to write about all of them in one column, but here’s three of note.
Weed, Deserve (out September 10th via Couple Skate)
Considering this column is called Freak Scene, which is also the name of a Dinosaur Jr. song, it seems fitting to write about a band that owes at least a little bit to the masters of laconic fuzz jams. Weed are a Vancouver-based band that cloaks everything they do in layers of feedback and a heavy dose of sludge. The trick, though, is that there are actual choruses here—really huge ones that are just barely intelligible. The Dinosaur Jr. comparisons don’t hold up too well beyond the surface, because where that band made not giving a shit heartbreaking to the point that you realized that they actually kinda gave a shit, Weed sound like the music they’re making is their entire lives. The riff on “Set Me Back” alone feels like an instant classic, and “Silent Partner” is a pounding, colossal breakup jam. I think? It could also be about unrequited love, or not being noticed. Or neither of those things. It doesn’t matter, because Weed manage to coax melancholy moments from the most imposing sounds. Insert your own meaning.
Various Artists, I Am The Center: Private Issue New Age in America, 1950-1990 (out October 29th via Light in the Attic)
This compilation is basically the roots of this entire column. It’s an essential document if you still think of new age music as just corny bird samples with, like, Enya singing over the top. Which is not to say there aren’t corny moments on here! That’s what happens when you document 40 years of crystal-obsessed weirdos making music that’s pretty much meant to calm you down. I can’t say I’m going to be returning to Joanna Brouk’s “Lifting Off” too often, which is heavy on fluttering flute, but in general this is a great overview of some of the big new age names—Laraaji, Iasos—as well as some supremely forward-thinking stuff from lesser-known characters. There’s no Ray Lynch on here (his Deep Breakfast album is worth a listen if you’re at all interested in this stuff), but he doesn’t need to be here. Constance Demby’s proto-Julianna Barwick “Om Mani Padme Hum” is so warm it feels like you could melt inside it, while Aeoliah’s “Tien Fu: Heaven’s Gate” is full of completely fried guitar solos over piercing whistles. It’s still pretty relaxing though. It never occurred to me that a new age compilation was something I needed in my life in 2013, but I’m not sure what I’d do without it now that I have it.
Chris Forsyth, Solar Motel (out October 29th via Paradise of Bachelors)
So far this week I have written about a double album that features multiple songs with actual waterfalls making prominent appearances and also a band called Weed. Just Weed. Nothing else. Clearly, this is a heady edition of Freak Scene, so it seemed appropriate to bring up Chris Forsyth’s Solar Motel, which is a four-song collection of heavy psychedelic stuff from Forsyth, backed by a few former members of War on Drugs and Spacin’. It’s a robust album, prone to multiple minutes of knotted guitars, stumbling over each other to disorienting effect. The highlight is “Solar Motel Part III,” which, after over 20 minutes of sunburned heaviness, offers some respite. It’s a calm, almost pastoral track that builds into a tense stomp that doesn’t pay off until the last two minutes. The freewheeling, wild moments of the earlier songs are great, but when Forsyth zooms in on a couple ideas at a time, instead of all of them at once, it’s close to transcendent.