Music Review: Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt – Brace Up!

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Chris Corsano & Bill Orcutt

Brace Up!

[Palilalia; 2018]

Rating: 4/5

It’s obviously getting late. So don’t be reluctant to call this whatever you want. Call it all day. Call it work. Call it a stress test. Call it a call of the wild, wild western value pak, sent pak, pak it in while you still can, braced for impak. Call it thick walls splitting deep seams and big sleeps under a collapse-ceiling duvet. Call it maelstrom. Call it hatch battening. Call it calm in a time of folksy animal abuse analogies on the progressive side of debate. Call its name through a glad din, glad you’re drowned out in red hot spite of yourself. Call it horseshit thru the wrong side of the glue factory exhaust fan. Call it just to hear the sound of its voice. Call it in for the night. Call it in for that endless fucking night. Call it sinister love. Call it one song or a dozen. Call it tight-rolled, close-knit quilted quicker picker-upper. Call it crying. Call it flailing. Call it desperate. Call it on the line. Call it calling out, pleading to whoever’ll listen.

Rough and ready, raw and replenishing, Corsano and Orcutt. The answer to any call worth making and a round repudiation of ordering principles and prescribed prerequisite. They shake out in the middle of the room (your head) like heedless sopping dogs, spraying out some wholesome greenslime smoothie upon all in its muggy circumference. Their sound is stirring in ways both contagious and confrontational. It is the fresh sting we didn’t know we wanted needed. The memetic diagram gracing Brace Up!’s cover is a beautifully succinct summation of what’s inside: human turbine Corsano is the whirling skyward anchor, Orcutt the fearless lunge, and this album the total world destruction they (and we all) precariously orbit.

The former Harry Pussy guitarist, having provided one of the highlights of last year with his self-titled solo album, sounds more p&v primed for the times than ever. He shreds on Corsano’s always awe-inspiring cascades with a grinding rock spirit that seems more 2018 essential than any pedestrian or ironically tender protest song, incidental mumblesing and all. If there are good words for what is happening to us, they’ve all been used and then some. Even those with the sly advantage of being professionally tasked to extol exasperation over the redundancy of everyone else are inescapably stumbling into what they #loathe. The restless exclamations hurled about on this record are onomatopoeias that have yet to acquire their own block letter comic book bubble homes. They are peals of unobservably vast revelations that one can only tilt at like a trepidatious Terry Gilliam fan, looking to see where The Man Who Killed Don Quixote isn’t screening. That there are curious, often funny (“He do The Police in Different Voices” is a fave) titles doesn’t change this. We are all expert mad-libbers now, yes. But — and of course this is a small, small thing — even the most arbitrary of titles beats none at all.

These two still out there doing what they do — with or without the cavalcade of amazing folk (Joe McPhee, Richard Bishop, Paul Flaherty, Okkyung Lee, Nate Wooley, Michael Morley, Mick Flower, Mette Rasmussen, and Tashi Dorji, to name a few) they do it with — is a big, big thing. Hearing them is truly being present when all else is endlessly angling toward some lucrative advantage, most often falling out of frame in mid-pitch. Of course, we’ve all been falling, naturally falling faster as we go. And none can catch or even break this fall when the taken-for-solid ground itself is falling along with us. Best to gasp when there’s no grasp. Incoherent, blurted last words have their charm. The leviathan smiles. The mess says, “well ain’t you cute,” plum plummeting with implausible aplomb. Nice knowing us? Well, that dep….

The title of the debut studio album from Chris Corsano and Bill Orcutt is a warning for your currently symmetrical face

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Chris Corsano and Bill Orcutt are a dangerous duo. Word is, the last group of people to see them perform live totally had their faces melted off by sheer, wild, DNA-altering musicianship. And now, the duo are set to release their debut studio album Brace Up! on November 2 via Palilalia. A live album is one thing — those are generally for devotees who know what they’re getting into. But a studio album? People are going to see “Brace Up!” on a list of new releases, get curious, and then, BOOM: it’s Thanksgiving and little Timmy doesn’t have a face.

Fortunately, the album is called Brace Up!, so maybe people will see that title and think, “You know what maybe I better be careful here, take the necessary precautions lest something tragic happen to my face.”

Then again…maybe Corsano and Orcutt aren’t monsters. Maybe they’re just insane technical masters who make unreal polyrhythmic improv magic together. MAYBE their work together sounds like pure chaos, but in reality it’s two dudes who are completely in control, working with and bouncing off of each other, knowing what they want to achieve together, and exactly how to do it.

If you want, check out the artwork and track listing for Brace Up! down below. You can also pre-order the album here, if you’re feeling truly brave.

(UPDATE: Ah! You know what, I talked myself into it. This is just two musicians at the top of their game making their art the only way they know how. I’m sure all that face melting stuff is just a rumor. Let’s take a listen to the song “Paranoid Time,” what could happen?)

Oops, I mean…

Brace Up! tracklisting:

01. Brace Up!
02. Amp vs Drum
03. Double Bind
04. She Punched a Hole in the Moon For Me
05. Poundland Frenzy
06. Clapton’s Complaint
07. Bargain Sounds
08. Paranoid Time
09. The Secret Engine of History
10. Love and Ope Windows
11. He Do the Police in Different Voices
12. Paris Spleen

Music Review: Bill Orcutt – Bill Orcutt

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Bill Orcutt

Bill Orcutt

[Palilalia; 2017]

Rating: 4/5

It has become increasingly difficult to consider Bill Orcutt’s playing beyond the (self-)problematized framing and paratextual acrobatics within which it is embedded. Orcutt delivers his performances with provocation (his 2015 release Colonial Donuts featured something like a Google Image array of Bob Marley tattoos etched into white skin). He puts immense attention into his titling and curation of repertoire to deliver precise postmodernist collisions (2013’s A History of Every One took its name from Gertrude Stein and sat blues laments next to the hokey “feel good” themes representative of traditional, white America). Additionally, his output via his own Palilalia and Fake Estates labels constantly dare fetishistic collector-completists to keep up (this includes the 13×7” box set Twenty Five Songs — an edition of 70 — and the just-released computer music album An Account of the Crimes of Peter Thiel and His Subsequent Arrest, Trial, and Execution in an edition of 100). Beyond these strata, it is indeed easy to forget what brought us here: Orcutt’s innovative, peculiar, unique, and wholly enjoyable playing. Bill Orcutt seeks to remind us of this, a gesture that, laughably, can hardly be taken at face value.

Bill Orcutt is a mid-career eponymous release. This is a familiar signifier of artistic reinvention. Recently, Slowdive and Dirty Projectors partook in this cue to highlight reunion and breakup, respectively. From a marketing standpoint, the mid-career self-titled release can also demonstrate the creative director’s intent to introduce the artist to formerly unfamiliar audiences. Last year, this was deployed sardonically by Karl Blau for his 40th-ish record Introducing Karl Blau, a studio pop-country album. I get the sense that there was a similar smirk in the room when Bill Orcutt received its title and cover. Nonetheless, the titling is functional in signifying Orcutt’s first studio full-length fixed upon solo electric guitar. It lifts the album up from a labyrinthian discography. It is a plaque alerting onlookers to a significant milestone in a narrative that might otherwise be lost or irrelevant.

Bill Orcutt can be viewed as the follow-up to A History of Every One. It resolves the dissonance built up through those first three solo records (2009’s A New Way To Pay Old Debts, 2011’s How The Thing Sings, and 2013’s A History of Every One), taking familiar repertoire and delivering it casually, digestibly, and, most significantly, apolitically. Orcutt returns to the more idealistic, Christian, and puritanical selections worked between A History of Every One and Twenty Five Songs, and mixes them in with two original works (“The World Without Me” and “O Platitudes!”) and an explosive yet true-to-form rendition of Ornette Coleman’s crowd-pleaser “Lonely Woman.” Bill Orcutt is overwhelmingly polite.

This is especially so, as Orcutt turns to the electric guitar, which, at this outing, begs less aggressive attack and rounder, fuller phrases from Orcutt’s hands than does his acoustic. Additionally, listeners are no longer threatened by Orcutt’s intense moan, which has persisted through the majority of his recordings to date. His idiosyncratic virtuosity is neither diminished nor over-indulged; instead, his harsher edges are tastefully subdued, delivering a version of himself that is uncharacteristically presentable.

Comparing the version of “Star Spangled Banner,” which closes Bill Orcutt, with the acoustic 2012 video take (something I’ve found to be a great introduction to those who hadn’t heard his work), I find the delivery to be now less antagonistic toward the anthem it dissects. In the video, each note is approached with a wildly violent pluck, threatening the guitar itself and asserting that the song may become undone at any given moment (although it does not). 2017’s version takes that step and pulls the composition apart, presenting a portrait of America with its components in place but one that forgoes the nationalist patriot’s imaginary vision of what America stands for. In the place of this missing fiction sits the expression of Orcutt’s musical voice. As wild as this voice is, it is nonetheless convincing of Orcutt as his inimitable and individual self, a foundational myth of its own. As such, Orcutt’s bombastic flourishes ironically align himself with the countless singers who decorate the anthem with endless melisma’s before sports fans every night. They also maintain the anthem’s legibility but inject the patriotic tune with their own individualistic spin, reminding Americans that their anthem and their nation permeate through all of us, transcending difference.

As Orcutt delivers a particularly curatorial product (with decisive packaging, sequencing, inclusions, and exclusions), he toys at the techniques of branding as they intersect with musical identity and neoliberal selfhood. Orcutt’s position has generally been to intervene and complicate. In the October 2011 issue of The Wire, he states:

A lot of the 60s blues guys and people today treat it in an uncomplicated way. […] So I always try to just complicate it a little or at least indicate visually that there’s a discontinuity between what I’m doing and my position in connection with this music and its origins. I can’t justify it ultimately. My connection to the blues comes from buying the records. I saw Muddy Waters play once. I have no authenticity in connection to the blues.

Orcutt now importantly turns that problematizing trick in on itself and creates a collection of takes that is at once a full-fledged expression of renewed musical identity (a novel twist on Orcutt’s familiar set of compositions, techniques, and vocabulary) and a mockery of the mechanisms of selfhood that carry it. It is important to both note and problematize how such a position has been constructed through the privileged exploration of a meticulous artistic voice and narrative. It is also worth considering contemporaries who make similar challenges without engendering the process that is the subject of their critique. Nonetheless, Bill Orcutt serves as a useful object lesson in the nuanced workings behind flexible narratives of the neoliberal self as they relate to the artists we follow. Its musical value (its enjoyable restatement and development upon Orcutt’s past work) is unscathed by the embedded critique of the process which birthed it. This “return to form” finds the artist “in a new direction” with results that feel “right at home.”

Bill Orcutt destandardizes the standards on forthcoming self-titled solo electric album, premieres video for “The World Without Me”

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Far be it from me to complain about the uncomplainable (no, I’m not talking about meth), but when did bombardment-by-abhorrent-cover-version become standard practice in supermarkets? Nickelback doing Queen, Nickelback doing Metallica, Nickelback doing Nickelback…it’s enough to make one pine for the freewheeling harum-scarum days when Muzak ruled the grocery aisles with breezy renditions of “Ebony and Ivory” and “Joy to the World.”

Of course, for every piss artist taking liberties, there is another taking new arrangements of classics into endlessly interesting sound vistas. Ex-Harry Pussy fuckologist-turned-guitariffic minstrel Bill Orcutt — who already knows a thing or two about impeccably-rendered cover versions — is about to issue his first solo electric studio album of historically-significant songbook-fuckology on June 30.

The self-titled Bill Orcutt will see release on his regular outlet, Palilalia, and consists of ten tracks including choice covers (Ornette Coleman’s “Lonely Woman”), little known nuggets (“When You Wish Upon a Star,” “White Christmas,” “Star Spangled Banner”), and even a few original numbers (“The World Without Me,” “O Platitudes!”)

Orcutt has been indulging his love of modern standards for a while now, but today, TMT is proud to premiere one of the album’s thoughtful, self-penned compositions. Take a gander and cock an ear at this gorgeous greyscale video for “The World Without Me” below. While you’re at it, pre-order the album (on CD and limited-to-750 LP) here, and then feast your eyes on the cover art and full-album tracklist.

Bill Orcutt tracklisting:

01. Lonely Woman
02. When You Wish Upon a Star
03. Ol Man River
04. Nearer My God To Thee
05. The World Without Me
06. White Christmas
07. O Platitudes!
08. Christmas on Earth
09. Over the Rainbow
10. Star Spangled Banner

Bill Orcutt and Chris Corsano re-melt faces with re-release of live records

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In addition to being the most bad-ass acoustic guitar slinger in the universe and creating open source music programmes, Bill Orcutt has been known to take to the road with like-minded percussive foil Chris Corsano to simultaneously deconstruct rhythm, pattern, and the fabric of the spacetime continuum.

In the past, Orcutt’s Palilalia label has released cassette compilations of the highlights from these Orcutt/Corsano shows in depressingly scarce numbers. Two such albums are Various Live and Live at Various, both of which sold out before most people even knew they existed.

Thankfully, Palilalia will be re-releasing a limited run of Various Live and Live at Various as a double vinyl on October 28. You can pre-order now or be an idiot and wait like you did when these bad-boys were released the first time around.

Bill Orcutt & Okkyung Lee announce joint tour of stringed European destruction

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Imagine the cliché scenario in which you’re still living with your parents, and either your mom or dad suddenly yells at you to “turn down that infernal racket!” The fact that you weren’t doing anything rambunctious at that point in time is probably an indication that you live in (or close to) one of the six cities in which perennially noisy musicians Bill Orcutt and Okkyung Lee are scheduled to jointly visit next month. Their abrasive adventures on guitar and cello, respectively, are well-known to anyone who reads TMT, but what warnings can we offer the townsfolk who clearly won’t know what to think when the creaks of door openings are no longer remedied by liberal oil applications? Like tinnitus after a plug-less concert, we assume Lee and Orcutt’s noisy infiltration of objects within a 30-mile radius will gradually fade.

The upcoming short tour follows semi-recent collaborative releases from both artists. Orcutt explored themes of a reggae legend with percussionist Jacob Felix Heule last year, and a couple of years before that, it’s worth mentioning Lee’s severely underrated joint release with C. Spencer Yeh and Lasse Marhaug, Wake Up Awesome. Her dissonant bows were arguably the centerpiece of an experimental pleasuredome. Let’s hope Orcutt and Lee are mutually inclined to take things stateside at some point.


09.24.16 – Copenhagen, Denmark – Jazzhouse
09.25.16 – Rotterdam, Netherlands – Koffie & Ambacht
09.26.16 – Brussels, Belgium – Les Ateliers Claus
09.27.16 – Paris, France – Instants Chavirés
09.28.16 – London, UK – Cafe Oto
09.29.16 – Glasgow, UK – Glad Cafe