Photo courtesy kathuw56 on Flickr. I don’t know, it came up when I searched for ’51’ and I fell in love. Let’s presume he’s listening to some long songs on those headphones.
With apologies for the relatively short notice, I wanted to make sure I publicly announced our call for submissions for Ball of Wax 51: Long songs!
I love (and sometimes make) long-form music, but when I get a lot of great submissions for any particular volume, such tracks often tend to get the first cut, just due to space considerations. So I’ve decided to have one volume that is not an audio CD, devote it to long works, and make it however damn long I please! (We’ll either do a data disc of MP3s with full-quality download, or just the usual packaging with only a download code; I welcome your feedback/ideas.)
What does “long” mean? Let’s say 10-30 minutes per track. (Oh lord, what am I getting myself into?)
Oh, and when I say “songs,” I don’t really mean just songs. We’re quite open to/expecting droney/minimalistic/experimental/improv, what have you, as well as long rambling ballads or stoner-rock anthems. Music! (However you define that.) Long! That’s it.
On first hearing “Plains,” I was reminded of pleasant nights when some locals here used to put on something called the Cumulus Festival. If only that festival still existed. Cumulus Festival, for me, was a chance to hang out in someone’s daydream. That also is the effect of Pearo’s track. The guitars are choice, the drums assist in building to a natural crescendo. It is low-key orchestral jazz as interpreted using the tools of, well, rock.
I’ve long been curious about what grown-ups can make with the tools of rock n roll, and this track is nothing to take lightly. Like a lot of Levi Fuller’s curated tracks, this song grabs the subconscious but also appeals to the intellect. Here’s hoping Tom Pearo relaunches the Cumulus movement.
Leave it to the author of the previously drooled over “Night Shift” to present a somewhat optimal set-closer. You can follow a lot about James Kelly Pitts in the recent issues of BoW. He’s been building expressive seemingly DIY tracks depicting, as Mattie said about “Night Shift,” the feeling of life in the 21st Century.
History aside, “I Knew Those Words” brings it home, especially as he introduces gentle counter-melodies toward the end, almost suggestive a French horn. A good tune, suggestive of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and especially fascinating set against the other recent tunes submitted by Mr. Pitts.
Beth Fleenor – aka Crystal Beth – is an undeniable, unstoppable musical force, and one of Seattle’s treasures. She uses her voice and clarinet – not to mention the deep connections she forms with her collaborators – to channel strange, disturbing, and beautiful sounds into existence from beyond most of our imaginings. “Battle Cry” has no words that would be recognized in any language, but words would be needless ornament here. The band’s joyful, stomping skronk and Beth’s chants and shrieks bypass the language centers of the brain and drill directly into the deepest, primal folds, beckoning you to surrender to sound, to find peace and clarity through a modicum of musical insanity.
Brooklyn’s Elisa Flynn is a newcomer to Ball of Wax, though her gritty, wired music evokes a lot of the touchstones (PJ Harvey, Infinity Girl, Lync) that many of us old-timers grew up absorbing. “Sugar” is the kind of sweaty buzzsaw guitar workout you’d expect to hear in a basement show or at a club whose bathroom you hope to never have to use (what up, old Comet?). The song starts with a huge drum beat that gives way to an edgy minor-key melody sung over a two-chord arpeggiated guitar part. At the chorus, a fuzz-filled guitar sweeps in as Flynn’s vocals take a more dramatic turn. This is beefy punk rock and a welcome change-up for ye olde Ball o’ Wax.
“ITB” is a perfect piece of ’80s-style punky girl pop. If you ever want to run around the streets with a ton of Aquanet in your pink-streaked hair, wearing a big lacy skirt, dancing with a pack of your best girl friends, this Razor Clam song has to be on your playlist. While they are nostalgic, however, the song’s well-deployed synths, guitar, bass and drums feel authentic and modern, not at all costumey. Lead singer Aya Mara’s agile voice is by turns breathy and forceful, cute and yelpy, just the right vehicle for the lyrics, which deal with a struggle many modern women are faced with: a boyfriend* who wants anal sex when she really doesn’t.
One of the fun things about feminism and the sexual revolution is that it’s become more and more acceptable for women to enjoy sex and to try lots of different kinds of sex with lots of different people. One of the less fun aspects of that shift is the feeling that a woman must have all the kinds of sex or she’s not going to be considered cool, and the way the supreme importance of a man’s pleasure in bed hasn’t lessened for some people over the years. So a girl finds herself in bed with some guy she likes a lot and he want to put it in her butt, and this is her song. It has the least decorative use of the exclamation “ow!” I’ve ever heard in pop music. It’s fun and cheeky and kind of hilarious, but it’s haunted by the unease of wanting to be chill and fun while navigating the feelings of a guy who is not quite taking no for an answer. Honestly, this is a brilliant song about butt sex and modern romance, a real gift to us all.
*I don’t want to be heterosexist in assuming the song is about a man who’s doing the pressuring, so please feel free to sound off in the comments about women who have pressured you for butt stuff.
We last heard from drummer/multi-instrumentalist Mike O’Doherty almost exactly a year ago, as half of Stereo Sons. With his Modo72 project, he has branched out to create his own music: instrumental, driving, percussive, with a satisfying blend of live and virtual instruments. The propulsive electronic beat that kicks off “Ritual” contrasts with the laid-back feel of the guitars and keys, with drums building to a frenzy until everything drops into a slow half-time groove, which gradually builds back up, the drums coming back in to drive everything back home again before one final slow slide to the finish. Not unlike the music of Stereo Sons, “Ritual” has the feel of some of my favorite bedroom electronica from the early ’00s – which seems way too recent to already be a source of nostalgia, but it turns out it we’re 17 years into this millennium, so hey, bring it on!
I’ve been writing about music in some form another for about 20 years now, and I’ve never before had the occasion to use the phrase “psychedelic electro-funk,” but here we are. Seattle’s super inventive and fun Screens‘ “Delridge” (recorded at this year’s Northwest Psych Fest at the Sunset) is over eight minutes of heady psychedelic electro-funk. It’s at times proggy, then soaring like arena rock, then deeply funky like a band playing a Psych festival would rarely (almost never?) be. The parts are jammy but still tight, following a certain logic or shared vibe that keeps it all together. This is really ambitious and really fun and enjoyable – bravo Screens! Be sure to check them out at the Ball of Wax volume 50 release show on December 15 at the Lo Fi.
Saxophonist Kate Olson has been a fixture in Seattle’s multi-faceted jazz/improv/weird music scene for the past several years. As jazz musicians and improvisors tend to be, she’s an inveterate collaborator: I first heard her playing in the Syrinx Effect, her collaboration with trombonist Naomi Siegel, and she also has her own ensemble and has played with too many other groups around town to list here. But when she can, she sits down with her horn, her voice, and a looper and makes music as KO SOLO. “Sunslip” is from the new KO SOLO ep, Dreamer Too. As someone who dabbles in loop-based music, I can tell you that it’s very easy to make music with a looper, but pretty hard to make something compelling, a piece of music that draws the listener in and tells a story. Kate makes it look easy, though. She’s obviously put in her hours, both with her horn and her looper, and here spins out a gorgeous, thoughtful piece of music that came to life exactly as it was recorded. It starts with a simple beat and some tweedly, looped and layered melodic fragments that remind me of some of my favorite Lounge Lizards tunes; then come a series of whole notes, bringing some structure and shifting modes, and providing support for her lyrical, conversational melody, which comes in about halfway through. After the melody completes makes its closing argument, the loops start folding back in on each other and breaking down, before collapsing completely with a few beats of delay. I could listen to this all day.
I’ve been going through a real electronic pop sort of phase lately, and the lush, meditative beauty of “So Be It” by the team of Jenni Potts and OKADA really suited my mood. It’s perfect for walking around in the fog in your warm winter jacket, with its glacial synths and gorgeous vocals.
I didn’t pay too much attention to the words the first few times I listened, instead just absorbing the sound. A couple of the lyrics about love and anger made me assume that the song, like so many songs, was about the end of a relationship, and one that might have verged on abusive, which really bummed me out. There’s been too much romanticizing of that sort of thing in the history of music and well, everything. I finally realized what should have been obvious all along, from the name of the song (which is the English translation of “amen”) to the opening lyrics “whoever believeth in Him should not perish” and so on. It’s not about a romance between people, but about the rejection of a long relationship with God. The singer is more than fair to God and the role he played in her life, but is thoroughly done with him and the cage of his love.
Jenni Potts’s vocals are perfect for this work, tender and aching, occasionally soaring with pain. The music undergirds the the vocals with choral effects and low, insistent drumming, creating the space and structure for the singer to make her argument and to walk away from God forever and ever, amen.