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Bummer Camp learn(s) to "Laugh All Day"

A lot of times when I'm writing these reviews or rants or whatever they are exactly it's sometimes difficult to decide if a band’s name should be followed by a singular or a plural verb. Like most people would say “The Doors were on tour in Miami when Jim Morrison was arrested for indecent exposure” because to say “The Doors was on tour when Jimbo etc etc penis etc etc” just sounds weird. But to say “Duran Duran is a band known for their sometimes risqué music videos” versus "are a band known for..." isn’t so weird at all even though there’s at least two “Durans” in the group. It’s all darn confusing sometimes.

What’s also darn confusing sometimes, and just about as common these days, is the question of whether a “band” who’s really just a single dude or dudette or charcoal briquette (whatever!) should be treated as a singular entity or a collective identity. And to complicate/simplify matters further it’s not unusual for individuals to refer to themselves as “they” these days. So hey, why not use the plural form of verbs for these individuals-cum-bands like for instance: “St. Vincent are known for being romantically linked to Kristen Stewart” which isn't bad actually because this makes it so much easier to have sex with entire bands at once and to describe such encounters in grammatically precise terms. 

Anyway what I’m really driving at here is that Bummer Camp is/are one of those “one-man bands” that gives verb-tense fixated music blog editors headaches (and don't even get me started on one-woman bands!) but for the rest of humanity Bummer Camp is/are simply purveyors of good head music, that is, if you’re chill enough for it because Mr. Bummer has a way with entrancing songs built around looping repetitions and layer-by-layer wall-of-sound constructions like a DIY musical paper mâché project made up of Rick Rubinesque Def Jam-era drum loops, bedrock bass riffs, and circling, swirling layers of guitar (plus the occasional synth natch) pasting scraps of melody-upon-melody and texture-upon-texture but while never losing the minimalist feel of each basic building block either. And by any given song's end you may feel like you huffed a little too much Elmer's glue

Bummer Camp's latest single “Laugh All Day”—his/their third single in the preceding five months—provides a good case-in-point for the points above. The song also fits his/their social-media self description to a tee, i.e., “gothy folk pop from Queens” and lyrically it's either “about my life, my friends, my family, my job, [or] my car and the inadequacy it feels because it only has one headlight" because that's what Bummer Camp songs are about.

"Laugh All Day" opens with a chugging chord progression that would do Paul Westerberg proud with its restrained “aging punk rocker aging gracefully” raggedy folksy vibe but accompanied by a primitive drum machine and catchy as hell to boot. Then about half a minute in there’s a lead part that enters with this distinctive mid-tempo-contemplative-melodic-goth feel to it where you just know that if Molly Ringwald were in detention she'd go up onto the library's stairwell landing and do her preppie anarchy dance, a mood that's intensified further by the swampy echo on the vocals sung with a Richard Butler-esque sunglasses-at-night insouciance. Ergo, gothy folk pop from Queens. 

“Laugh All Day” bops along contentedly but it also keeps slipping in these subtly spectral moments too—like how the guitar line mimics the vocal melody at first but then starts to detach until it spins off into its own curlicue melodic figures finally reaching escape velocity about halfway through the song, and then dissolving into a shimmering halo of sound, and then a plucky palm-muted surf’s up section, and then a rhythmic drop and a cascading guitar line soaring over the top, and then a wordless vocal croon soaring over the top of the soaring guitar line, with the end effect something like a chorus of cicadas on a still summer night. 

So with these recent single releases who knows if Bummer Camp is building up to full EP or an LP or a fold-out-gatefold-triple-album concept record that'll come with a full set of van decal stickers illustrated by Roger Dean. But wherever it all ends up I'd say it’s a safe to say this one-man band will keep us oscillating wildly (or oscillating mellowly) until we reach the end of the ride. (Jason Lee)





Guerilla Toss delivers cannibalist manifesto on latest single

Guerilla Toss is a band that specializes in dance-punk-acid-house-party-rock anthems that sound like they’ve been beamed to this planet straight from the Big Red Spot of Jupiter because much like that celestial “beauty mark” (actually a raging centuries-old storm bigger than the entire planet Earth) their music is a swirling sonic vortex that pulls in all manner of sonic space junk from the surrounding atmosphere which gets all mashed up and mutated in the eye of the storm re-emerging as a molten musical liquid metal that gets shot back into space via electromagnetic waves audible through this planet’s primitive stereo receivers and equalizers and discontinued iPods

Granted, this may sound like a crackpot analogy but it’s supported by the band’s own lyrical exegesis on songs like “Meteorological” (from 2018’s Twisted Crystal), “Can I Get the Real Stuff” (from 2017’s GT Ultra), and “367 Equalizer” (from 2014’s Infinity Cat Series). And you can hear the interplanetary vibes with your own ears just by putting on Guerilla Toss’s latest single “Cannibal Capital” (music video directed by Lisa Schatz) from their upcoming Sub Pop debut full-length Famously Alive due out on 3/25, a song that seems to mix and mutate the various stages of the band’s own musical history—from the noisy experimentalism of their early releases to the mutant funk of their more recent DFA releases—a song that by their own account “makes everything sensory.”

The song opens with a sound-collage intro that appears to incorporate the sounds of a Merzbow cassette being eaten by malfunctioning tape deck, a leaky toilet, an air rifle, and a cat suffering from intestinal distress—all in the first 15 seconds or so. It just goes to show how much Guerilla Toss takes making everything sensory very seriously indeed. 

Meanwhile a twitchy-tail-shaking-percolating-mid-tempo groove emerges from the sonic murk and while it seems to vanquish it at first the sonic murk keeps seeping back in around the edges with squelching synths and blasts of power chords and so forth thus setting up a disintegration/reintegration dialectic that fits perfectly with the song’s opening lyric (“you need help / melt in every dimension”) and it’s not the only case of lyrical/musical synchronicity either like later where vocalist Kassie Carlson poses the question “can I escape gracefully?” and the vocals veer out of time on cue escaping the rhythm of the tightly wound groove for a few moments.

Closing arguments: On “Cannibal Capital” Guerilla Toss have proven once again that pop will eat itself and and that there's a cultural capital to cannibals just as Brazilian poet Oswald de Andrade observed back in 1928 when he wrote the Cannibalist Manifesto which advocated the notion that “Brazil’s history of cannibalizing other cultures was its greatest strength and had been the nation’s way of asserting independence over European colonial culture” a notion that went on to inspire the late ‘60s art and music movement movement called Tropicália—whose best-known proponents were Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Gal Costa, Tom Zé, and Os Mutantes which literally means The Mutants—likewise frooted in a collage aesthetic where the "sacred enemy" is disgested and transformed, and with all this in mind I'd say it’s fair to say that Guerilla Toss are our modern-day tropicalistas, i.e. modern primitives, likely transplanted from outer space no less, or Boston, one or the other, sent to Earth/NYC to absorb our musical traditions "body snatchers style" and spit 'em back out in capitvatingly mutated form. (Jason Lee)





Melanie Charles remixes the remix on soulful tribute to female jazz greats

photo by: Kevin W. Condon

Since it’s founding in 1956, Verve Records has amassed the world’s deepest catalogue of jazz with classic recordings by the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone, Hugh Masekela, Stan Getz/João Gilberto, and Sarah Vaughan (not to mention a number of legendary avant-garde rock ’n’ rollers like Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention and the Velvet Underground). Late in 2021, Melanie Charles put out Y’all Don’t (Really) Care About Black Women on the label, released as part of the longstanding “Verve Remixed” series (est. 2002) where contemporary DJs and producers remix classic recordings from the label’s extensive jazz catalogue. 

Notably, this is the first album in the series entrusted to the vision of a single artist rather than a grab bag of divergent DJs/producers compiled onto a single disc, and Melanie Charles takes "the vision thing" seriously by not only remixing a set of jazz recordings, but by also remixing the very notion of “Verve Remixed” itself—combining digital remix techniques with the addition of completely new instrumental parts (flute, harp, sax, etc.) and vocal parts, weaving her own voice into the mix (quite literally) by singing in harmony, counterpoint, or call-and-response with the original vocals at various points.

The end result isn't an album made for modern EDM dancefloors or after-hours lounges, as heard on other Verve Remixed albums, but instead a record that takes its source material and enhances it (digitally and otherwise) with everything from Tropicalia-style psychedelia/stylistic eclecticism to Alice Coltrane-adjacent spirituality to Sun Ra-adjacent Afrofuturism with detours into early '00s R&B and twerk-ready Haitian pop/trap kompas grooves for good measure. 



If this sounds a little bit all over the map don’t worry, because Melanie Charles has re-imagined these tracks in a way where everything flows together rather seamlessly and organically—after all, it’s Charles’ stated mission to “make jazz trill again” so she’s not looking to get too willfully esoteric—resulting in a sonic college that doesn’t come across as a collage which is a neat trick. 

This works most likely because Ms. Charles isn’t only an electronic music producer/beatmaker/remixer, but also a formally-trained jazz flautist, plus a singer-songwriter conversant in styles ranging from soul and R&B to trip hop and acid jazz (and oh yeah she almost became an opera singer). To hear how Melanie combines these various elements in her own music it’s recommended you check out her 2017 full-length The Girl With The Green Shoes, or her "Trill Suite No. 1 (Daydreaming/Skylark)", or look up some clips of her rocking a sampler or a flute live.



This album may also be "a little extra" because a little extra is routinely expected from Black women, or more like a lot extra, just to receive half the respect and recognition as their peers. This is where white supremacy and patriarchy have brought us and ergo the album’s title. Y’all Don’t (Really) Care About Black Women works to redress this imbalance by paying tribute to Black women in jazz, artists who may be “canonized” today but who always had to struggle mightily—Billie Holiday serving as an obvious case in point—no matter how much their greatness becomes taken for granted later. To survive or better yet to flourish under such conditions no doubt requires a good deal of improvisation, finding ways to "remix" the limitations imposed by a hostile environment to one's own advantage somehow.

And so it's fitting that jazz was the original “art of the remix”—rooted in improvisation and born out of the creative remixing of a rich stew of influences including field hollers, work songs, hymns and spirituals, brass bands, dance music, banjo tunes, opera and concert music, and blues and ragtime. It’s also a form of music where it’s routine to remix familiar tunes from different realms and eras, for instance, taking bubbly Broadway ditties and turning them into rhapsodic tone poems like on John Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” or Betty Carter’s “Surrey with the Fringe On Top.”



Speaking of Betty Carter, who's been called “the most adventurous female jazz singer of all time," Melanie Charles’ pays to Carter by reworking her version of “Jazz (Ain’t Nothin’ But Soul)," a song that speaks directly to the links between jazz and transformation, especially re: the "remixing" of imposed social realities. Written and first recorded by Norman Mapp, its lyrics position jazz as the art of “getting by” and “making do” despite the odds, much like soul food has been called the art of making magic from scraps (lyrics: “Jazz is makin’ do with ‘taters and grits / standing up each time you get hit”) but also depicts jazz as the art of “getting over” and taking charge despite those very odds (“jazz is living high off nickels and dime / telling folks ‘bout what’s on your mind”). As a famous jazz musician once said, "in jazz you don’t play what’s there. You play what’s not there."


 

Mapp’s original version of “Jazz (Ain’t Nothin’ But Soul)” has a distinctly cool jazz vibe with the vocals lagging behind the beat, whereas Betty Carter’s rendition accelerated the tempo while adding rhythmic drive and melodic counterpoint. And instead of fading the song out at the end, like on Mapp’s version, Carter slides into the upper register and sings the line “jazz ain’t nothing but SOOOOUL” over a new four-note melodic line. This brief but striking alteration lays the foundation for Melanie Charles’ version of Betty Carter’s version in taking this seconds-long fragment and looping it while singing the song's other lyrics as melodic counterpoint.

These time-space-continuum manipulations seemingly pull the the song into a new dimension, breaking down to almost nothing and then building back up into a completely different version of the song, one with a loping laid-back funky Indie.Arie-style beat. Near the end, the sampled loop of Betty's vocals reemerges sounding like a broken-up broadcast from a satellite but one with a Fender Rhodes skittering up and down its surface. So if you wanna talk about “the art of the remix” here it is and bear in mind I've left out plenty of other alterations and production touches—because this is a digitally enhanced remix that gets right at the beating analog heart of the original version.

Likewise most of the other works remixed and reimagined on Y’all Don’t (Really) Care About Black Women seem to be about "overcoming" in some sense, rejecting bad odds for Black women whether relating to life “in the ghetto," or relationship woes with a “man child,” or achieving “civil” rights in a country that’s anything but civil. For another example, the album opens with an interpolation of Lady Day’s classic “God Bless the Child,” another jazz composition that could be considered a “bracing mixture of hard-scrabble practicality and hope," with lyrics drawing on a religious parable to impart a secular message about the power of self-determination and the enduring power of structural inequality. 

In the opening lines Charles slyly alters Holiday’s lyrics, moving from “so the Bible says” to “so the Devil says,” which brings to the fore the critique of religious hypocrisy some have read into the song. But what’s maybe more relevant along these lines is that Ms. Charles is a student of Haitian vodou, drawing inspiration from her Haitian culture roots, with her mother having immigrated from Haiti to Brooklyn before she was born, finding relevant inspiration in a religion that “remixes” Catholicism by way of African cosmologies and deities—where the gods (lwa) and their divine healing powers are lured into the physical realm via overlapping drum rhythms mixed together in just the right manner. And that seems like a perfect note to end on here. (Jason Lee)

 





Dreamer Isioma "Dreamer"

Dreamer Isioma has released the first four chapters of film that appears to be building to the release their debut full-length album.

The series of truly inventive videos finds Dreamer co-staring with HateSonny with appearances from array of other characters including NombreKARI.





2021 In Review: Been Stellar's "Kids 1995" is like a lucid dream

Been Stellar dropped “Kids 1995” in late November 2020 and it’s a pretty rockin' song, but with a strong undertow of melancholy too, not unlike a lot of the best alt-rock songs released in actual 1995—songs that make you wanna head-nod along, and hold your head in your hands, if both were possible at the same time.

This impression is only heightened when it comes to the hook (when the time is right / you just have to take it... / …with you, Jesus Christ / it’s like time is naked / and you feel all right / I’m not feeling too good myself) because for one thing it’s unclear whether “you just have to take it” is intended as positive-incentive or punishment or something else. And it's set to a propulsive rhythmic chug and a soul-laid-bare melodic hook that only heightens the "lucid dream" quality of this twisty four-and-a-half-minute song, all fuzzy around the edges but yearning for...something...it's difficult to say what exactly when dreams and realities get all blurred together in a lucid dream state.

And as it turns out "Kids 1995" is about a dream in reality so there ya go. More precisely, it's about a dream that's loosely related to the movie Kids (I watched the movie Kids / and then had a dream about you and me / but things are different / you’re holding a camera and yelling ‘Cut’), the notorious 1995 flick that opens and closes with Lou Barlow-penned songs (credited to Deluxx Folk Implosion and Sebadoh, respectively) and one of these songs is even name-checked in Been Stellar's lyrics (and then the credits rolled / ‘Spoiled’ Sebadoh) which is fitting since "Kids 1995" is Lou Barlow-level on the emotional resonance-o-meter.

And although the song's not 'about' Kids, the movie does echo through some of the lyrics (how did you get to this place / how many hits did you take; or; he died of old age / in the prime of his youth) and either way there’s a "fall from innocence" theme happening for sure. What’s more, singer/lyricist Sam Slocum says the friend with the camera in the opening lines basically acts as "a foil" of the song narrator’s own internal struggles and uncertainties. And in the same interview where I stole this tidbit from, he also reveals that "Kids 1995" was originally written a couple of years ago and even though the song has evolved “it almost feels like I’m watching a movie of my past self” in releasing it recently.

So let's see if I've got this right? Been Stellar have written a song about a dream inspired in part by a movie, but also about a guy shooting a movie, but the guy in question is a projection of the dreamer in part at least, a song about a dream which to one of its creators feels like watching a movie of his own past life. Cool. I'm digging the whole Hall of Mirrors thing going on here—fragments of dreams, realities, memories, fantasies all reflecting back against each other ad infinitum—which only heightens the lucid dream impression I'm already feeling from the music.

Plus I'd say Larry Clark’s Kids is a perfect reference point for capturing this vibe because it's about as lucid as movies get (maybe a little too real at times) but equally dreamlike too (the handheld camera and 'total immersion' aesthetic make it feel like you're on as many drugs as the kids) plus when it comes to "loss of innocence" what movie could be more fitting which is probably why when it was originally unleashed into theaters some reviewers deemed Kids an instant masterpiece (or later, an enduring masterpiece) while others deemed it “nihilistic pornography.” Likewise, the fates of the actual kids cast in the movie (a motley crew of skate kids, street kids, and scenesters, not a single professional actor among them) diverged widely with two of the kids becoming cinematic critical darlings and superstars (including the 19-year old screenwriter) while a couple of the kids sadly ended up dying tragically young which is the kind of life's crossroads that "Kids 1995" is about...so full circle!



The other big selling point for watching Kids today is how it functions as a lurid love letter to pre-gentrification New York City, and Manhattan in particular, having been filmed just before the borough was transformed forever by the Giuliani administration which is more than mere nostalgia for anyone who’s lived in NYC long enough, past or present, likely to identify with the eternal struggle against the corporate merchants of conformity. 

And Been Stellar appear to side with the iconoclasts in valuing the vital energy of 'New York Gritty' and in doing their part to capture and preserve the city's energy in song and also in music visual form—with Kids-reminiscent shaky, handheld camcorder footage as witnessed across their video output.

The band even maintain this vital energy when they slow things down a bit as on the "Kids 1995" B-side “Optimistic”—a shimmering deceptively mellow tune that builds to an emotional peak about 2/3 of the way through before receding back to a more contemplative vibe but giving notice that "now you must decide / does this mean we speak our truth / or are we just getting by?" thus distilling down what I'd consider (rightly or wrongly!) the core question behind the A-side's lucid dreaming plus much of their other output so far. (Jason Lee)

Band photo by @drake_lcl

 

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