Music Review: CAVE – Allways

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[Drag City; 2018]

Rating: 4/5

The video for “San’ Yago” from CAVE’s new album Allways is a montage of hot dog eateries from around the band’s hometown of Chicago shot in gauzy 16mm. It’s subtly bold, a flag cast high for the Midwest, the restaurants acting as a stand-in for a complicated but acute brand of civic pride that comes from living in a place like Chicago. For locals (or expats, like myself), it becomes a game to see how many you’ve eaten at. Guitar and bass riff rhythmically on a single note, while a keyboard lays out a two-chord progression that slowly develops until the band breaks into a unison vocal line, wordless but buoyant. Drums bounce playfully but steadily, foregrounded in the mix. It’s a perfect distillation of CAVE — their mellow intensity and the context from which they emerge.

CAVE exist within a rich, diverse, and perpetually blooming underground Chicago music community, guided by a spirit of exploration and genre-agnosticism that’s rarely such an ingrained part of a city’s musical character. Over the past decade, the band has emerged as a unifying presence in Chicago’s musical ecosystem, thanks to both the band’s elastic definition of what a rock band does and its phenomenal live shows, which showcase the group’s ability to play precise music with a looseness that belies its intricacy. Guitarist/keyboardist Cooper Crain, also of drift perfectionists Bitchin Bajas, has further helped define the city’s sound by engineering or mixing scores of records from Chicago musicians, including Ryley Walker, Circuit des Yeux, Matchess, Mind Over Mirrors, ADT, Joshua Abrams, and Running.

Allways is CAVE’s fourth full-length and arrives five years after Thrace, which showed the band restraining its more overt psychedelic tendencies and adding Bajas windman Rob Frye. That quintet returns here, and the band’s focus on extended groove remains the foundation of the music. Change happens incrementally for CAVE, in the large and small scale. Their songs develop linearly, often driven by subtle rhythmic complications over purely melodic ones. Those progressions are informed more by minimalism and the percussion traditions of Africa and Latin America than conventional rock structures, while still retaining the energy and constituent elements of rock music.

Opener “The Juan” moves through several distinct sections that evolve as developing motifs lock into place at just the right moment. After a short intro of muted guitar and syncopated drum hits, the music stops before bursting forth with a melodic bass riff that carries the tune under bright pads of synth. As the guitars establish interlocking riffs, Frye’s flute floats above, darting around before suddenly snapping together into a descending melody. Elsewhere, the grooves become a backdrop for both spontaneous explorations and straight-up jams. The 10-minute slow-burn “Beaux” leans most overtly toward a more established Krautrock template, giving Crain an opportunity to indulge in fuzzy leads. “Dusty” seems poised to explode into a wah-fueled free-for-all, but is expertly reigned in. Throughout, drummer Rex McMurry establishes and maintains the mood of each song, giving the other instrumentalists the space to build on the basic template he lays down.

With the exception of the increased usage of their own voices, there are few surprises on Allways. But with an approach so pliable and unique, a band like CAVE doesn’t need to reinvent itself on each record, because the core of what it does is already so innovative. Allways, then, is simply a welcome return from one of Chicago’s most consistent artists, reaffirming their primacy among contemporary exploratory rock bands.

Music Review: Papa M – A Broke Moon Rises

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Papa M

A Broke Moon Rises

[Drag City; 2018]

Rating: 3/5

Then as now, Dave Pajo has always displayed a quietly distinct grace, with sonic ingredients on the bleeding edge of spare/blank. Originally released as a single (with his perfect cover of The Misfits’ “Last Caress” on the B-side), “Vivea” betrayed a still, delicate, patient, and infinitely tender soul, smoothly poured into the skeleton of sad folk progression. The lack of vocals also rendered the material more essential, even in the full swing of that trend in the mid 90s-mid 00s. There is a casual, conversational approach to most of Pajo’s Papa/Aerial M output. Even when vocals emerged (“Lay” is an early highlight of this), the recordings still had that room’s-width intimacy, both cluttered and carefully arranged. As illustrated by winning Papa M 2004 comp A Hole of Burning Alms, the charm of these meditative figures lies in their raw, almost incidental-seeming presentation. This homespun feel has only added to their staying power and mystique, not unlike Robert Pollard or Kim Deal at their best.

Of course, going home again is a bad idea. This has been empirically proven and re-proven, and many of us are working on the post-re-prove re-proving at this moment. However, judgments on what constitutes the phenomenon have been overzealously superlative. Sometimes an old sound is just a sound. A confluence of vision and technique that dies hard. That maybe wasn’t meant to die at all. This anxious wonder-imbued sound never really ended. It nestled in a beloved, dependable pocket of its own design and has now reemerged in 2018 with a classic 5-track, album rock format and that sneakily palpable emotional resonance intact. The only vocal present is Pajo going “fuckin’ hell” in muted exasperation at the end of seven-minute workout “A Lighthouse Reverie.” It’s unclear why, as there are no glaring mistakes apparent. Maybe it’s because the progression gave him too much of that “guy who was in Slint” (an ad-libbed vocal he used when I saw him back on the Whatever, Mortal tour) feeling?

A Broke Moon Rises by Papa M

His first newer release (2016’s Highway Songs) had shades of that old charm, but this one feels much more like a properly realized record, immersively adrift from its brittle start to its impossibly fragile Arvo Pärt-covering finish. In the folds of these careworn minor minuets, one can conjure gentle waves lapping the shore or experience it as healing. Their sadness doesn’t accost you like a bellowing Warren Ellis (nothing wrong with that, for the record) and it doesn’t glaze one over either, like your garden variety cold grey post-rock wet noodle. The minimalist stakes ratchet at every turn, unabashed melodic beauty always beaded with the sweat of intent focus and feel, grappling for balance.

It should go without saying, but it perhaps bears mentioning that it is a fine and reassuring notion to have Dave Pajo still with us making the world so much more worth being in. A Broke Moon Rises isn’t pastoral like Bon Iver, and it doesn’t trade in the woe, guts, and glory of an Explosions in the Sky. It’s folk rock as an aging human in all its requisite fallibility and disgrace, pushing through torrents of doubt and disillusionment to a place where their essential spirit can take wing. Not to be “above,” but among. For the basic, perfect, and evergreen thrill of glancing back while flowing forward.

CAVE will Allways be with u, if you purchase their upcoming album on Drag City

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CAVE as masters of groovy repetition reminiscent of krautrock in its purest form? Something has apparently changed since the band from Chicago released Psychic Summer in 2009, because that album prides itself on a kind of overt psychedelia that isn’t necessarily gleaned from hours and hours of a single rhythm sending your mind into a hypnotic tailspin. Keyboardist Rotten Milk did leave the band prior to the recording and release of Threace in 2013, and it’s hard to deny the fact that his prior contributions added a degree a variation to the music, which possibly offended those who wanted to ride a single, deceptively intricate wave off into the purple sunset. There’s seemingly less in the way of variation now, but to paraphrase my colleague and ecstatic spelunker, Mukqs, his review, holy shit, there’s jelly in this otherwise-normal-looking doughnut!

Either way, the current pastry news is this: CAVE are releasing a new album called Allways on October 19, and the Drag City label is glad to be sponsoring the assured quintet’s first full-length in five years. You can listen to the track “San’ Yago” below, and if I didn’t know any better, I’d say we’ve entered another stage of CAVE evolution. The time spent recording in Chile clearly had an influence, despite the video’s predominantly Chicago-based highlights. It’s all very exotic and confusing at the same time! The music of CAVE assumes anything and everything!

Oh yeah, and you can of course pre-order Allways ALL THE WAYS right here.

Allways tracklisting:

01. The Juan
02. San’ Yago
03. Aharaha
04. Dusty
05. Beaux
06. ShaSha

Bill Callahan announces tour dates in The Land of No Smog (Canada), plus two in Smogland (California)

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Adulthood has its downsides (increases in taxes, strange new sags, and hours devoted to canning), so it’s not surprising that we long for those bittersweet feelings for all things nostalgic. It feels good to be reminded of your tastes when you were a kid. And especially when it comes to music, the artists we embraced during those complex years spent battling identity/role confusion and intimacy/isolation in young-to-middle adulthood tend to suit our present-day, tax-paying palates nicely.

But while some of us may be only just now crawling into our first “adult” phase of life, Drag City’s main melodist Bill Callahan is a timeless entertainer, appealing to life-long fans and good-eared young’uns alike as he continues to pen robust song-stories with his trademark silver tongue intact and in cheek. His peculiar brand of folk-gone-berserk is especially beguiling in a live setting; so when he announces tour dates anywhere, everyone, from young squirts to old farts, should take notice.

Callahan will play at the inaugural A Ship in the Woods Music and Arts Festival in Escondido, CA on June 17 (THIS Sunday), after which he’ll take some time to rest up to play to US allies enemies north of the 49th parallel in September, with shows in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, and Montréal. The sole US date announced for the fall is in Long Beach on September 30. But if you know Bill, you can bet there will be plenty of chances to see him live in the future. Look for tickets here.

Life moves fast, so in case you have forgotten how utterly enchanting Callahan is, here’s his NPR Tiny Desk Concert.

Bill Callahan live:

06.17.18 – Escondido, CA – Felicita County Park, A Ship in the Woods Music and Arts Festival
09.25.18 – Vancouver, BC – The Vogue Theatre
09.26.18 – Calgary, AB – Bella Concert Hall
09.27.18 – Toronto, ON – Trinity St. Paul’s United Church
09.28.18 – Montréal, QC – Rialto Theater
09.30.18 – Long Beach, CA – Music Tastes Good

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy to conquer solo tour, lecture tour, full-band tour, the world!

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As long as I’ve lived — growing up in Will Oldham’s hometown of Louisville — I’ve never heard anyone actually call the guy “Prince.” But that nom de plume/nickname is starting to make more sense in 2018, as the artist Will Oldham (master of light and darkness, deliverer of curious feelings, known to some as Bonnie, others as Billy, and still others as Palace Music) is finally bent on global domination.

Oldham is hitting the road and he’s hitting it hard. Starting off the Summer with a handful of live solo shows, he will later this season be delivering a series of lectures at Duke University before starting his longer full-band tour with The Wandering All-Stars & Motor Royalty. (Duke? Really? And to think he wouldn’t even speak at my high school graduation…)

What’s more, at every one of these shows (which begin THIS WEEKEND!!!), you’ll also be able to purchase the upcoming book Songs of Love and Horror, a definitive collection of Oldham’s lyrics with explanatory annotations galore.

Also, you may have noticed this tour directly follows the slow-but-steady stream of Oldham’s albums that have been added, chronologically, to streaming services each week this Summer (earlier this year, Oldham’s label-home of Drag City finally gave up the goat and digitizing the whole royal lot of them after years of decrying the medium). Surely, then, this man is now poised to take over the Earth, spreading his reign far and wide so that the sun will never set on the Empire of Billy.

If you aren’t lucky enough to live in the beautiful bluegrass state, this may very well be the first time in years you’ve had the opportunity to see the ‘Prince’ in all his unplugged glory. And soon, he’ll be too preoccupied with his duties of divine right to take part in such peasant activities such as “concerts” and “lectures,” so you might want to grab this opportunity while you can.

Long live the king! Oops… I mean, Prince!

The royal procession:

06.09.18 – Boston, MA – Wilbur Theatre*
06.10.18 – Peterborough, NH – The Thing in the Spring*
06.11.18 – Burlington, VT – Arts Riot Studio*
09.26.18 – Durham, NC – Duke University^
09.27.18 – Durham, NC – Duke University^
09.28.18 – Durham, NC – Baldwin Auditorium
10.07.18 – Chicago, IL – Art Institute of Chicago
10.08.18 – Nelsonville, OH – Stuart’s Opera House
10.09.18 – Alexandria, VA – Birchmere Music Hall
10.11.18 – Brooklyn, NY – Murmrr Theatre
10.13.18 – North Adams, MA – Mass MOCA
10.14.18 – Portland, ME – One Longfellow Square

* Solo
^ Lecture

David Pajo uses all eight of his hands to play four guitars on new Papa M album

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Please, do not come up in here with music that only features one guitar. To be frank, uhh, yeah, IT’S BEEN DONE. What about two guitars, you ask? Two guitars, eh? Like The Beatles!? Puh-lease; we’ve heard it all before. Don’t even get me started on three guitars.

Four guitars though? Ahhhhh, four guitars…now that’s the sweet spot! If only there was some sort of album coming out that featured four guitars — ideally acoustic — all playing parts that weaved in and out, accompanied by minimal drums, adding layers to a cohesive, compelling whole…

Ah well. Anyway, David Pajo has a new album coming out as Papa M, his first since reviving the moniker for 2016’s Highway Songs. Entitled A Broke Moon Rises, it features four guitars — acoustic actually — playing parts that weave in and out, accompanied by minimal drums, adding layers to a cohesive, compelling whole.

After the cathartic Highway Songs, Pajo sought to get back to just having fun playing guitar in a practice space, seeing what directions he could flex his technique in. A Broke Moon Rises then has a much more meditative, hypnotic quality to it; a factor that can be immediately heard on lead single “Walt’s.”

You can listen to the four guitars magic of “Walt’s” and check out the artwork and full tracklisting for A Broke Moon Rises down below. A Broke Moon Rises is out August 17 via Drag City, and can be pre-ordered here.

A Broke Moon Rises by Papa M

A Broke Moon Rises tracklisting:

01. The Upright Path
02. Walt’s
03. A Lighthouse Reverie
04. Shimmers
05. Spiegel im Spiegel

David Grubbs releasing new record this summer with Portuguese guitarist Manuel Mota

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Hold onto your overall straps, fellow Midwesterners, it’s time for a new release from none other than our collective father David “Squirrel Daddy” Grubbs — this time alongside Portuguese guitarist Manuel Mota for Mota’s FIRST EVER U.S. RELEASE! Ope!

Out June 22 on Blue Chopsticks (a precocious child to Grubbs’s parent label Drag City), Lacrau is the first the world has heard from this particular duet of longtime friends. Recorded in real time on a warm, Lisboan afternoon, Lacrau explores Mota’s balmy, microscopic soundworlds alongside Grubbs’s signature jazz-referential finger-fretting. It takes its title from an antiquated Portuguese word for “scorpion,” as well as from the name of a cheap good-eats spot in Mota’s hometown of Ericeira. A multiplicity of meanings to represent the record’s multiplicity of feelings!

Those who don’t know Grubbs from his membership in Gastr Del Sol or Squirrel Bait may know him from his long list of collaborations — Will Oldham, Matmos, and Royal Trux, to name just a few. (Those who still don’t know Grubbs may want to READ TINY MIX TAPES ONCE IN A WHILE.)

Anyway: crack open an ice-cold pop, cook yourself up some dry-rub BBQ, and let this new record spirit you away to the coast of Portugal. Well, that is, if you go buy it first.

LACRAU tracklisting:

01. EIRA

Music Review: DRINKS – Hippo Lite

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Hippo Lite

[Drag City; 2018]

Rating: 4/5

DRINKS is the collaborative side project of Cate Le Bon and Tim Presley, truly a psychedelic crossover event for the ages. Le Bon is known for making arresting psych-rock, characterized by mercurial guitar work and her distinctive, Nico-lost-in-the-woods vocals. Presley mostly records under the name White Fence and has a reputation for erratic garage-pop couched in consciously lo-fi production values. Their last record under the DRINKS name was 2015’s Hermits on Holiday, a gamble of irregular post-punk experimentation; less ripping it up and starting again, more just ripping it up for confetti.

Despite sounding like a short-lived soft drink, Hippo Lite takes its name from Saint Hippolyte-du-Fort, a sleepy town in the south of France where the pair retreated to record. Artists withdrawing to relatively peaceful surroundings to fuel creativity can often seem hackneyed, a well-worn trope of the press release, but in this case, it’s something of a crucial detail. The album is saturated with a sense of place; many tracks are littered with unassuming field recordings of the French countryside, croaking frogs and all. Part of its exploratory nuance lies in a conscious evocation of rural, Mediterranean tranquility; surroundings don’t so much inspire the tracks as dissolve into them. Le Bon and Presley flout conventional album architectonics in the name of producing something profoundly, unashamedly weird.

What’s made DRINKS a compelling project thus far is the surprisingly fluid synthesis of the pair’s idiosyncrasies. Many of Le Bon’s motifs are here — erratic chord mutations, that craggy guitar tone — as is the scratchy eccentricity of Presley’s White Fence output. The first few listens of Hippo Lite are baffling — frustrating, even — declaring a nomadic kind of creativity. Ideas emerge and evaporate without ever seeming to really develop. It can seem completely arbitrary in its movements, like a dog who’s just been let out into the sun and doesn’t know what to do with itself first.

Listless opener “Blue From the Dark” is like a lullaby — nothing but sedate guitar and wispy vocals, with the dim presence of a fussing child on the fringes. “In the Night Kitchen” features little more than a lithe guitar and nature’s ambient squawk. The two musicians stretch the dynamics of “atmosphere” to a point of quiet fracture, yet the record has a cumulative effect that’s oddly intoxicating. With multiple listens, you’re gradually absorbed into the pair’s bizarre compositional logic; what’s slowly revealed is a short (30-ish minutes) series of sketches, more humble than glib, evoking surreptitious soundcheck smiles.

“Real Outside” seems fashioned from the silt of Le Bon’s outstanding 2016 album Crab Day, all guitar ricochet and bobbing piano keys. The spidery fingerpicking and processual vocals of “Greasing Up” are reminiscent of the more batshit work of The Incredible String Band, sounding like the pair’s attempt at a foley-ish recreation of a Renaissance fair. Such a jumbled track-to-track progression ends up having the incongruous charm of a charity shop browse. There are Beefheart-esque flights from structural orthodoxy; the avant-pop of “Corner Shops” has Presley’s spectral backing vocals singing of “temporary living conditions,” while guitar fragments are woven into wayward piano. The pair rightly conceive of the avant-garde as something transformative but still fundamentally a sort of game. Otherworldly string arrangements constantly simmer and buzz, recalling the oblique appendages of The Raincoats’ Vicky Aspinall, like on closer “You Could Be Better,” where angular strings act as a strangely grounding influence.

It’s fun to imagine the two sequestered away, recording this album, wrestling with the essential impenetrability of the banal — something like a more interesting, less puritanical Walden. On “Pink Or Die,” Le Bon delivers the inscrutable line “I am the color of here” — at times, the record is just classically Surreal, a bucolic unheimlich provoking a fleeting confrontation with the unconscious. What remains most alluring about this experiment’s broken logic is the sense that you’re furtively occupying someone else’s dream.

Ty Segall announces break from releasing new albums to release new album with White Fence

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How well do you remember 2012?

Well enough to recall that was the year that Ty Segall and White Fence (a.k.a. Tim Presley) first joined forces for to create a two-headed psych-folk masterbeast called Hair? Or is that just some distant yet fond memory now nestled among the countless Ty Segall releases (the dude appears to have no off-switch) and the White Fence/Presley killers like his recent DRINKS record with Cate Le Bon?

Okay, now stop scratching into your pot-holed memories, because all that is in the past and you have a very bright and expansive future ahead of you in which Segall and White Fence have re-united for another record. This time it’s called Joy, and it’ll be released via Drag City on July 20.

You needn’t worry whether Joy will be some wild departure towards conga-infused, spoken word pieces, either; because the lead single “Good Boy” — conveniently embedded below — suggests that it contains another solid 15 tracks’ worth of burning-garage-flecked psychedelia.

Pre-order the album here and catch the lads live this fall when they hit the road to prove they aren’t holograms (because let’s face it: the wildest of rumors are always the hardest to shake).

Joy by Ty Segall & White Fence

Joy tracklisting:

01. Beginning
02. Please Don’t Leave This Town
03. Room Connector
04. Body Behavior
05. Good Boy
06. Hey Joel, Where You Going With That?
07. Rock Flute
08. A Nod
09. Grin Without Smile
10. Other Way
11. Prettiest Dog
12. Do Your Hair
13. She Is Gold
14. Tommy’s Place
15. My Friend

JOY to (the following select cities of) the world:

10.06.18 – Revolution Hall, Portland, OR
10.07.18 – Rickshaw Theatre, Vancouver, BC
10.08.18 – Neumos, Seattle, WA
10.10.18 – Harlow’s, Sacramento, CA
10.11.18 – Gundlach Bundschu, Sonoma, CA
10.10-10.14 – Desert Daze Festival in Moreno Valley, CA

Drag City artist David Grubbs is releasing a new book — and I’m excited about it, but I’m playing it very cool

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Damn. Ok. I’m here to tell you about a new David Grubbs book, and I kinda gotta gather my shit, cuz the editors around here have told me I’m only allowed one “boy howdy” per post going forward on account of it “ruins the vibe” or whatever — and to be totally honest, this feels like a four to five “boy howdys” kind of post if you ask me. So here we go…I guess.

Anyway: David Grubbs. You know him. You love him. He’s played with all the cool bands; he’s released solo works; he’s written a book about John Cage. He’s really the whole package.

Well, Grubbs wasn’t content to rest on his laurels evidently, because I’ve just heard tell of a brand new book he’s got coming out via Duke University Press on April 13. Entitled Now that the Audience is Assembled, it’s a book-length prose poem that traces the tale of a “phantasmagorical all-night concert.” Boy h… No, wait, I’m saving it. But! That sounds sick, right?

In honor of the book’s publication, BOMB magazine just posted a neat little convo betwixt and between Grubbs and John Sparagana, the artist who created the book’s cover art as well as some collage work included within the book. The book is available for pre-order now, and there’s even a 30% discount on offer if you use the code E18NOW.

And…BOY HOWDY, that’s not all: turns out Grubbs is also planning a short little tour (with more dates coming soon) featuring readings from the book in conjunction with solo guitar performances. Peep the book’s cover down below, and get at it, y’all.

tour dates:

04.13.18 – Chicago, IL – Seminary Co-op Bookstore
04.14.18 – Chicago, IL – Corbett vs. Dempsey
04.18.18 – Washington, DC – Rhizome DC
04.19.18 – Baltimore, MD – The Red Room
04.26.18 – New York, NY – Printed Matter *
06.02.18 – Louisville, KY – KMAC

*Reading and discussion with Mónica de la Torre