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August 2 2023
Today is all treats, no paywall. If you like what you see and want to read the essays and interviews and other treat-based writing, consider chipping in.
The new Läuten der Seele album, Ertrunken Im Seichtesten Gewässer, is two 20-minute wafers pulled from the depths of your grandma’s bag. Have they been in there since 1973? Possibly. Organs and violins and instruments free from the binds of electricity take turns on a swing while memory glitches in the softest key.
The first episode of the ABC “psychedelic sketch show” from 1969, Turn-On, is now on YouTube, as is the second. Neither will be up for long. I don’t expect you want to watch two half-hour episodes of anything but these are worth it. They’re like long chains of tweets, micro-sketches styled a bit like Laugh-In, presented with the dramatic conceit that they are being programmed by a computer. This feels like television therapy, fears and fantasies being put into the cold air for the purpose of catharsis. You will have a reaction and we both probably want to know more.
I know the songs Jane Birkin recorded with Serge Gainsbourg, a little bit. I remember Birkin’s reign on Tumblr and some expensive French pressings on record store walls. What I really know of Birkin, though, comes from one movie released in 1988: Jane B. par Agnès V., which Varda calls “variations on a variable and varied woman.” Birkin wrote to Varda after seeing Vagabond, setting off what seemed like a genuine friendship. Varda’s portrait of Birkin is also a portrait of Varda, her way of verifying that two artists can talk to each other through their work. Varda’s pace is conversational, even when she is talking to herself, which is always. The Varda conversation pan? Is that a thing? I think it is.
Neither artist has anything to prove. Agnès and Jane make a bunch of imaginary movie sketches because they want to. (That said, one bloomed into an actual feature, Kung Fu Master, which isn’t necessarily better than the sketch it came from.) It’s fun to see Birkin playing Olympia but I prefer the way she talks about her taste for decaying flowers. Start with the TV interview Varda and Birkin did after the film came out.
There is a new Water Damage live recording: pay what you want, as usual. This 33-minute piece is one riff containing a dozen worlds, recorded only a few weeks ago in July of 2023. There are six or seven people in this band and half of them are drummers. As far as I can tell, there are one or two guitar players as well as a bass player (confirmed) and maybe someone playing synth. The riff is a megalodon who rubs against your boathouse until she cries out in frustration that she can’t just eat the boat. And then she eats the boat.
PJ Dorsey does business as Tarotplane and he has just released zikzak 9: ambient techno 1991-1996, a five-hour mix of what we did back in the olden days (1994) when we didn’t know whether or not we wanted to dance or sit down. (The new Tarotplane EP, Murmuration, sounds great also.) The ten volume Peace Pipe tape series from All Night Flight Records mines the same territory, and I am trying to figure out why this stuff all hits so well right now. I can tell you I listen to it more often than you might expect, and I hope to have more to say than “yes” soon. The “yes” is firm—that I know. PJ’s notes in the Substack post give some crucial context; I cannot imagine someone ever coming across these tracks in the same way.
I feel a little odd recommending the 2022 film, The Stranger, currently on Netflix. I don’t like art that involves children being hurt and that’s the engine here. None of that harm is shown, though. This film is unbearably tense and violence-free. The acting and editing do the work, and it all benefits from music that is smart as the mise-en-scène. I can recommend Oliver Coates’ score without crossing any lines. His music lands right between filmwork by his buddy Mica Levi and Bobby Krlic.
Singer and guitarist Rick Froberg of Drive Like Jehu recently passed away. To give you a sense of the band, I recommend this 1992 live set, performed and recorded when they were quite young. Ui played with them (see below) the following year. They were leopards on stage: absolutely ferocious. It was the first time I saw a drummer playing with a set attached to a cage! (You may or may not know Mark Trombino’s drumming but you are likely familiar with at least one of the records he went on to produce [Blink-182, etc].)
For some phenomenal devotional music, try Alemu Aga’s The Harp of King David. (Thank you to Herb Reichert for the tip.) Aga mumbles and intones while he plays the begena, a ten-string harp, as if he doesn’t want to wake you up or offend the god he prays to. I can’t think of another recording where the vocalist sounds like he is trying to be quiet but also heard. Maybe Al Johnson of US Maple? According to Aga in this piece, the music has only two messages:
“One is that life in this world is useless; of course from a religious point of view. [...] The other thing outside the religious thing is that the messages are sent by words that have double meanings. You want to say one thing but you don’t want to say it directly so you use words that have double meanings. [...] If you have any complaints to say to god or officials, you use those kind of words.”
Do you know about my brief commitment to writing a book about Michael Jackson, 12 years ago? Ecco/NewsCorp/HarperCollins even designed a cover for Pop Is King, which a Goodreads commenter claims to have read. This is quite an achievement for a book that does not exist. I was ultimately glad the project did not happen, for the obvious reasons. The book was killed because NewsCorp wanted it out within a year of Jackson’s death, a result I could not deliver. The estate also refused to confirm even the most innocent details.
What Leon Neyfakh and Jay Smooth pulled off for the Think Twice podcast is remarkable without context, on its own merits. Considering how difficult many of the involved parties can be, though, I am so impressed that it exists. Like all of Neyfakh’s podcasts (early Slow Burn, all of Fiasco), Think Twice works because the pace slows down to match the branching creep of the truth, and the research uncovers so many people and events that others have left out.
Here is a jazz/funk creamsicle from 1988 I’d never heard and, at the other end of the spectrum, a song released by Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim) and Idris Elba in 2015. The movie it’s appended to, The Take, is only acceptable if you have watched every single Jason Statham movie already. The song is not acceptable! Hold out for an Idris DJ set.
This Michael J Blood and Sockethead album feels like being in a chip shop at 2 AM and listening to someone finish making their dance masterpiece on their phone instead of making your food. I love it so much.