Each Tuesday, FADER editor Matthew Schnipper highlights an underappreciated recent release he thinks we need to know about. This week it’s Black to Comm's Alphabet 1968 album. Listen to the entire album, buy it and read Schnipper’s thoughts after the jump.
My friend Simon’s favorite piece of music is a solo piano album played by an Ethiopian nun recorded at a seminary in Germany. He told me he’s going to take that record to his grave with him and I believe it, my little Jewish/Mexican friend buried with his best China, some great shoes and his nun friend, tapping the keys beside him on their way to whatever heaven is loving enough for them both.
I met Simon on an internet message board about records. This is not something I am proud of but it is true. He knew everything about everything, didn’t like when you didn’t know anything about anything. When he got an opportunity to buy a collection of Japanese punk and hardcore records from the mid-’80s—something he didn’t know about but something I did—he wrote me and asked for my mild expertise. I told him to buy the records, which he did. He made a lot of money. Shortly after that I moved to New York and Simon and I would listen to records. Mostly he would play them for me because he doesn’t like to come to Brooklyn, which worked well because he had all the goods and I didn’t have to feel pressured to produce. I am unsure how much of his money Simon spends on records, but it must be a lot. I could make elaborate use of bizarre names and instruments, small African countries and crucial decades from years before he was born to illustrate the unnecessary depth of his collection and the fervency with which he quests, but it’s simpler and less gaudy to simply imagine. Everything he has ever played me has been gorgeous and bizarre, unknown and infinitely underestimated. When he recently got into Fleetwood Mac, it was like he unlocked a mystery into himself and of their music, as though all the millions of regular listeners have listened to something completely different. It’s not a matter of not listening hard enough or thorough enough, but simply with an open ear ready for bliss. I often think of photographers as having different eyes than regular people. The idea that someone could look at the same scene you or I see and create what they create means that it just does not look the same. Maybe they have sharper pupils or curvier irises, a physical change producing a literally better visual comprehension and relation. That must be how his ears are, piqued and ready. But they’re also as equally and easily disgusted, as though something not falling within his bright spectrum of joy bringing music must sound like aggressive tinnitus. I don’t think he talked to me for a month when I told him I really like Vampire Weekend.
But we’ve evened out. My main music is no longer kin to Ethiopian nuns and their disciples, but longhairs from California, technoheads from Europe, nerds of all kinds from all places. While I’ve learned to absorb and sift newness into a golden pile of goodies, he’s traveled to Guinea to record blind musicians who live in the forest. We’ve seen equal light in each other’s taste and equally benefited. He really likes Atlas Sound now and I am proud to have reached across our widely margined personal ethers.
Two weeks ago, Simon sent me a link to a stream of Black to Comm’s album. I knew nothing about it, aside from that it was on Type, a label that had released one of my most beloved albums of last year, Grouper’s Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill. I could not tell you anything about any other release on the label, however. I know because I looked. I listened close to Black to Comm as I listen to most things Simon sends me, plays for me, and I told him I liked it but that I would not ever buy it. The next day, in need of something with texture but without much domination of my innards, I listened to Black to Comm. Then I wrote a blog post about it, some extended metaphor about the mild consciousness and accompanying bewildered excitement that comes from being a baby, purity of vision not because you’ve whittled away what you need, desire and love, but because everything is pure—there’s no other way to absorb than without prejudice. If you can believe me, Black to Comm funhouse mirrors, time warps, Lion Witch and the Wardrobes, whatevers back to a base plain of engulfed amusement. Though it runs contrary to the tenets of ambient instrumental composition, Alphabet 1968’s top quality is that it is enjoyable. Listening to the album on my headphones on the subway, I ran into my friend, Jeremiah. I see him on the subway many mornings, same commute. He’s much peppier than I am in the AM. I’m not a morning person or a night person, just moderately tempered mostly (feel free to disagree), but my trip to work is prime time for mellow zoning. I like running into Jeremiah, certainly, his jovialness is just something that I am always encountering for the first time of the day and it takes a jarring acclimation. The other morning, unready to break from a Black to Comm caul, I gave him the headphones while “Musik Für Alle” played, steady, grim piano for three minutes. He listened for a few moments and then said it sounded like Danny Elfman. It doesn’t sound like Danny Elfman. I felt funny, but at least he listened. The rest of the ride was nice, I shut off the music and we chatted.
My coworker speaks German, so I asked him what “Musik Für Alle” translates to. “Music for everyone,” he said. Well, clearly not. But that’s the draw of music like Black to Comm, a desire for common geniality. Alphabet 1968 has the sounds of sirens, creaks, amateur strings. It sounds like sound, what you hear all the time outside and inside, like someone writing a sentence with music. I went to Simon’s house this weekend and we listened to Atlas Sound, Felt, some very old blues. It was dark in his house but the ceilings are high. It was warm so we opened the window. I was tired, so was he. I’d ordered Alphabet 1968 but not yet received it. I asked him if I could look at his copy. He passed it to me and I looked it but we didn’t listen. What’s special about this specifically? Nothing? Everything? There is so much from everywhere. Simon’s given me the supporting details. But to be for everyone you have to try to be from nowhere.