Freak Scene #15

October 08, 2007

Freak Scene steams ahead into Fall this week with four selections from Karen Dalton, Caen, Shining Path and Wooden Shjips that sound gloomy as all Helloween but fascinating nonetheless.

Karen Dalton sang the blues better than any white person before or since. Adored by everyone from Bob Dylan to Nick Cave, Dalton’s pathos was so profound that a new generation of fans have discovered her two late '60s LPs and adopted them as their own, much like the sudden cult of Nick Drake. Also like Drake, Dalton sang the blues but unlike his gentle malaise, she belted it out with an astounding conviction. And now, almost similar to Drake’s home-recorded Tanworth in Arden 67/68 recordings, fans of Dalton now have their own holy grail of lo-fi, intimate recordings with Cotton Eyed Joe, featuring live recordings from a 1962 Boulder, Colorado folk club. Here Dalton runs through her own takes on Ray Charles, Woody Guthrie, even Jelly Roll Morton among others to remarkable effect. These recordings show Dalton’s voice to be room-shakingly heavy. All tracks are performed with either a 12-string guitar or banjo, both Dalton utilized with equal skill. This two CD set comes with fantastic liner notes from Joe Loop who recorded the tapes and a handsome package courtesy of the Delmore Recordings label. Maybe Dalton never really got her just due because she never wrote original material but in my mind the world just wasn’t ready for such a severe dose of heartache. Maybe its still not but with the rediscovery of everyone from Vashti Bunyon to Linda Perhacs, Dalton is perhaps the finest we’ll find. Here’s hoping more Dalton tapes emerge someday.

On another side of heavy melancholy comes a new cassette on the Monorail Trespass label by Caen entitled The History of Your Immediate Surroundings. Caen is the ambient drone work of West Coast noise screecher Oscillating Innards. Here we have dark, minimal mood pieces of shifting tones, just atmosphere and a hint of existentialism. Caen moves in similar movements as Holy Family Parish and Omei (both of which have excellent recordings floating around). While the movements are slight and sparing, there is development and fantastic use of space and texture. The feeling is that something bad has happened and in the aftermath there is a calm mixed with dread. Over the course of this twenty-minute cassette there is little more than mood but its effect match its intent of delivering a slight chill and perhaps apprehensive nostalgia. Caen provides perfect soundtrack music for looking into the oblivion when the rope starts to get short. There seems to be a distinct flavor of California despair also found on label head Jon Borges’ Everyday Loneliness cassette which makes me wonder what’s really going on beyond the lights of the dream factories.

A real treat I got in the mail is this new cassette on Brooklyn’s T.B.T.D label by the Shining Path entitled Take You So Low So You Can Fly So High which is a scorching blend of vintage space rock from aggressive Kraut rock keyboards, No Wave noise breaks and Spacemen 3 drug swagger. The band consists of Preston Swirnoff and Ilya Monosov and these two freaks lay it on with a kind of death wish squall that reminds me why I did LSD in the first place. The Shining Path go straight to the center of the earth rather than into the sun, seeing all the dirt and garbage along the way. Hats off to the T.B.T.D label for the great cardboard fold over package, this being one of the most unique and original cassettes I’ve seen in the last few years. Makes you really feel like you have an artifact in your hands. Shining Path have a full length out as well on Holy Mountain, although I haven’t heard it, I will most likely seek it out now. If you come across this tape, grab it. Looking forward to what this label puts out next.

Speaking of Holy Mountain, they recently put out the self-titled debut record from Wooden Shjips, one of West Coasts most talked about new psych bands. Rather than a full blown attack the Shjips go for a vintage sound, that’s equal parts Stooges and ? and the Mysterians via Haight Ashbury. There’s an easy pace that’s more 60s rock that say Comets On Fire ultra shred. In fact the whole thing is pretty clean and a nice easy trip through the hallucinogenic worlds. The highlight here, as with many psych bands is the tremelo guitar leads that stretch over the constant rhythms. This brings us back to Moby Grape and Quicksilver Messenger Service, the real West Coast sound and it’s nice to have a laid back record to put on and space out to without falling comatose. Wooden Shjips ride that happy medium of ease and intrigue to make a hell of a debut. Looking forward to the next time I’m on the highway with this one.


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Posted: October 08, 2007
Freak Scene #15