January 20, 2006

Can you feel it? Coming in the air? Um, tonight? Yes! We are putting on a show. It's not quite Our Town or Guys And Dolls, but it should be a blast. FADER favorites R. Stevie Moore and Odawas are performing tonight at Tonic. After the jump become better acquainted with the amazing Odawas by reading our GEN F article in F32, written by our resident two-fisted poet, Will Welch. And then, just when you thought it was safe, peep game on Mr. Moore with our Field Note from F30 by the fearless Alex Wagner. You must learn!

Odawas doesn't bother

In theory anyway, any great song has a hook—a chorus; a refrain; a “theme” if it’s classical music or a “head” if it’s jazz; whatever…the part that everyone remembers and wants to hear over and over again. The whole point of a hook is not just that you want it again, but also that you’ll get it—usually at least three times over. But on “The Golden Fog”, the fourth song on a record called The Aether Eater by a band from Bloomington, Indiana called Odawas, you can’t have what you want. There’s guitar picking with so much reverb that it’s hard to tell which notes were actually picked, and there’s a fragile voice singing a pretty almost-melody, and there are post-production effects that pan across the speakers, but it’s all spooky and elusive until WHAM—all the loose ends suddenly braid together when Michael Tapscott sings, “But then we all started dancing around/ Making up rules and constructing a crown.” The words are belted out by what seems like hundreds of layers of that once-fragile voice and the melody is ecstatic and the singer is thrilling in a swollen, subversive, triumphant freedom. In other words, it’s a strange and beautiful setup and a monstrous hook, but—sorry—Odawas doesn’t double back. The band continues to push the linear trajectory of the song upwards and onwards, so the synths wash and the gleams gleam and then woosh…it all falls apart into a violent crash of static. The music tells you what you want, then indifferently gives you noise instead.

Pleasuring in the wonders of The Aether Eater isn’t just masochistic, though—there’s an unself-conscious beauty in music that treats a song as something greater than a Fedex box in which a catchy hook can be packaged and delivered. Not that Odawas is precious. At a recent gig in a weird Brooklyn club, equipment malfunctions and a soundman who took a little too many liberties with the effects basically ruined the show. But Tapscott walked around the rest of the night barefoot, pushing his blond hair around his forehead and shrugging. Keys player Isaac Edwards joked that everyone in the crowd was from Bloomington anyway. And new drummer Brad Cash tried to fix his broken glasses (the previous drummer had declared Tapscott and Edwards “Satanists” and holed himself up in a church for two days in want of exorcism).
Later, the three of them all laughed and shrugged some more, then packed their gear up and headed for West Virginia, where they would camp out en route to finishing the tour. In a week or so, they’d be back in Bloomington and back in the studio, proceeding onwards and upwards, presumably not doubling back for anything.

R Stevie Moore is not just a footnote

Bloomfield, New Jersey has a low skyline of aluminum siding and suburban disrepair that is punctuated by the tower of a neo-Tudor castle, home to an exiled prince named R Stevie Moore. Lately namechecked by Ariel Pink, who cited RSM as a great influencer that the rest of humanity happened to be sleeping on, Moore gigged with Pink wearing two hats and a muu muu, while talking into a pack of cigarettes as if it was a cell phone—perhaps the kind of performance Moore has in mind when he says “my life and music is about a juxtaposition of incongruities.”
These days the maestro is burrowed away in the castle’s ground floor apartment, working as the full time manager, producer, and top-selling artist of RSM Records, a bedroom label selling the back catalogue of his 400 albums. The son of famed Nashville session musician Bob Moore (Roy Orbison, Elvis) bucked his country roots and began sifting through the musical explosion of the ’60s and ’70s, pasting together a sound that culled equally from the Shags, Rundgren, Zappa, Bad Finger, XTC and above all else, the Beatles, though his favorite group of all time is Killing Joke, and Bacharach and Brian Wilson were also highly influential. Sigh. What you really need to know is this: “My favorite stuff,” Moore says, “is the stuff you find in the garbage can, like a tape a little girl made at her birthday party.”
His sound reflects this: innumerable self-produced home recordings that find acid Chipmunks vocals and noisy industria at home with genuine pop harmonies—these aren’t albums, but diaries of sound that are in constant, fluid production. “The album’s done when the CD runs out,” says Moore.
In the late ’70s, his uncle, Harry Palmer saw the flame in the embers and released Moore’s albums Phonography and Delicate Tension; in the mid-eighties, French label New Rose produced vinyl of his cassette tape compilations. Press followed, but little—except for a couple hundred more recordings—came afterwards. Moore credits (or discredits) himself: He didn’t wait for “that Magic Phone Call,” he refused to harass people, “I am not a social animal. I am not outdoorsy,” and he avoided the club circuit “I’m an acquired taste, very directionless and without focus.”
Maybe that last part held water in the era of Conway Twitty or mid-career Madonna, but cut to the present day and see our Redwood in the forest of lo-fi beardo saplings: sure Ariel Pink is linked to Moore’s magic, but what about Animal Collective? “I e-mailed Paw Tracks and they never got back to me.” Devendra Banheart? “Who’s that?”
Oh, something seems so wrong here—buried amongst stacks of vintage vinyl, a forgotten bag of Cheez Doodles, an inbox filled with internet orders and a lifetime of conflicting interests. Moore says, “I want to make music that matters—but I’m always looking for some bit of celebrity. Or at least enough money to pay the bills.” R Stevie Moore still tells people “Steal my music!” Think better: go buy it.

Posted: January 20, 2006