Freak Scene #45: New Records, Old Memories

October 19, 2009

In this week's Freak Scene, Jamie Johns takes on three new records that have captured her attention—slabs by Drunkdriver, perennial Freak Scene favorites Emeralds and Li Jianhong.

Drunkdriver and Mattin – A List of Profound Insecurities 12-inch (Badmaster/Suicide Tax)

The prospect of Mattin and Drunkdriver joining together, two groups with decidedly divisive live experiences, made me almost uncomfortably giddy. Park Slope parents probably felt the same amount of glee when they heard Pavement was getting back together. A List of Profound Insecurities is far from being a feel good record but I must admit that it felt incredibly good putting this record on and having it be so loud. That a vinyl record can be mixed so loudly bodes well for the future of this world and I do not think this record would be as successful as it is if it didn’t abuse and blow out your speakers the way it does. The volume is as essential as the music. Side A, where the vitriol really flows, is as harsh and caustic (and good) as any “noise” recording I have heard this year. Kristy Greene’s guitar playing mixes in with whatever it is Mattin is doing here to create a heavy wall of noise din, which is at times almost physically overwhelming. How Jeremy Villalobos played this fast will remain a mystery in my mind. Drunkdriver singer Michael Berdan retches out words, if they can be called that. The cover is adorned with what we can assume are the list of profound insecurities mentioned in the title. These range from the typical – death of parents, addiction – to the startling – true autonomy, reliance on the hope of a complete social/economic collapse as reason to not do anything of real substance. This adds a whole layer of discomfort to an already intense listening experience. For some, including myself, the uncomfortable music experience is the most rewarding and this record lives up to that. I am sure someone somewhere is playing this to annoy their neighbors.

Drunkdriver almost caused me physical harm at WFMU Fest and lead singer Michael Berdan’s microphone was cut off, while Mattin, also in Billy Bao, berated the audience at No Fun Fest for their sexism, racism, and white nerdism. You can purchase A List of Profound Insecurities from Badmaster Recordshere. They are playing with Pissed Jeans on October 30th at Le Pouisson Rouge. I hope someone flips over one of those fancy tables.

Emeralds – Emeralds (Wagon / Gneiss Things)
My copy of this record is lost somewhere in the abyss of either the US Postal Service or the Columbia University Mail Center. I asked a friend to borrow their copy to satisfy my personal curiosity about this, the official follow up to last year’s Solar Bridge, and to make yet another excuse to sing the praises of Emeralds on Freak Scene. It makes sense that this generous friend immediately demanded that I return the record because it is, guess what, incredibly good and destined to not leave the turntables of those who purchase it any time soon. Emeralds are not new age; they are too down to earth to talk about chakras and taking you higher. I can not speak for them but I assume that they are not (only) thinking of crystals and space music while they do their thing. Emeralds are not a group of dudes making poorly recorded sounds in their bedrooms; each aspect of Emeralds is handled with such aplomb that there is no way that it was hazily thrown together on a boombox. Plus, the production is spot on and the record sounds clear and vibrant, absolutely no murk to be found on these tracks. On middle tracks “Geode” and “Diotima,” the ease with which the group can combine fragile and strong, transcendent and material (synthesizer and guitar?) elements becomes clear. Nothing is overwrought, it works together seamlessly. Guitarist Mark McGuire’s playing is visionary—he’s somewhere that the rest of us haven’t gotten to yet. The music is not merely obtuse or abstract. There is a strong emotional current that you can tap into throughout the whole album that will appeal to those who often find themselves feeling uncomfortable towards lyricless music. The incorporation of field recordings on the final track, “Passing Away,” is particularly fitting. I listened to Emeralds during my train rides through China and hearing new music by the group reminds me of the unharnessed yet bleak landscape I saw. Highly recommended, I can not wait for my own copy to arrive.

Order it from Hanson Records here. Each copy comes on swirled vinyl.

I interviewed them in Freak Scene #34, revisit that here.

Li Jianhong – Lovers with Cloisonne Bracelet LP (Tipped Bowler)
In Freak Scene #42, I wrote about Chinese guitar improv master Li Jianhong. It is difficult to find his releases in the US or on vinyl, which is why I have to celebrate the release of this excellent new LP on Tipped Bowler. Two sides, one titled “Lover in Misery” and the other “Time in the Mirror,” of strong, thoughtful guitar noise and feedback. Unlike other examples of guitar-based avant records, this never gets tedious or boring. There is nothing wanky or unnecessary about what is on the record, just cascades of immensely fulfilling guitar riffs and fluctuations. This is not necessarily noise, although there is plenty of feedback. The label’s Hototogisu reference is apt because the first thing that came to mind when I started listening was Zaimph, Hototogisu member Marcia Bassett’s guitar drone moniker. This record explores the same kind of open expanse of sound and feedback as Zaimph does. If it was easier to access Li’s music, he probably would have been embraced by blogs and drone lovers of the world long ago.

You can purchase the record from Tipped Bowler here.

Please send your records/cassettes/lathes/cds to:

Jamie Johns

4304 Lerner Hall

2920 Broadway

New York, NY 10027


From The Collection:

Freak Scene
Posted: October 19, 2009
Freak Scene #45: New Records, Old Memories