I’m sorry to report that winter is coming. On the bright side, though, with it will come the Winter 2015 edition of Ball of Wax Audio Quarterly – the 39th (!) such installment to be released to the world. But before that happens, some music needs to come, which is where you come in.
Volume 39 will have no theme. It will just be a bunch of great new music. Music from people like you and/or music-makers of your acquaintance. Music that might not have been recorded – or even written – yet!
Please send songs in by the first day of winter – December 21st – but earlier is always great too, of course. More info on how to submit over here.
As always, please spread the word to musical friends far and wide. I look forward to hearing what you’ve got!
This has been a long time coming, but I am at long last making my way through the many volumes of Ball of Wax released before the Bandcamp era, acquiring permission from the artists, and uploading the music, art, and liner notes to that nifty platform (more material, you might complain, than I include with current releases. To which I say “You want liner notes? Buy the CD!”). We’ll be trickling them out over the coming months (years?), but today we are starting at the beginning with Volume 1, released way back in the Summer of 2005.
There’s a lot of great stuff to get acquainted (or reacquainted) with here, including early efforts by BoW mainstays and some favorites we haven’t heard from in way too long, such as Pufferfish, Amateur Radio Operator, Darryl Blood, Wesafari, and Seth Howard; and tantalizing pieces from projects that I wish we could have heard much more from, like Henry Hanks and geob0t.
You can download Volume 1 for free (or pay as much as you like), or you can always just give it a listen right here:
Levi Fuller and the Library – The Wonders That There Are
The Wonders That There Are is the first LP Levi Fuller has made with his new-ish band the Library and his fourth overall. Like last year’s Social Music EP, The Wonders That There Are (mostly) presents Levi’s musical ideas in a fully-formed rock band setting, a rumbling departure from the sparseness and solitude of his earlier work. The Library brings looseness and a sense of musical heft to the 11 songs that make up the album, many of which have appeared in earlier forms on various Ball of Waxes (or Balls of Wax?). Opener “With Age Wisdom,” a slow-burning ponderer of a song punctuated by guest Librarian Alex Guy’s minor key violin motifs, traces the shifting worldview one throughout their life and introduces the album title in a lyric from the get go. The first half of the second song, “They Like You,” also musically situates itself in old-school Levi folk territory before crashing drums and distorted bass introduces the slightly sludge rock sensibilities of the Library. Songs like “Free Men” and “Feet of an Oracle” play more with familiar Americana elements, while “Hide and Seek,” “Helium Balloon,” and “Freedom is Slavery” bring more Librarian rocking.
Sebastian Temple – The Universe Is Singing (12 Songs In The Spirit Of Teilhard De Chardin)
Less a concept album than a lecture series, this is novel religious music, in the style of American folk and country and with a unique and purposed message. Released on the christian label GIA in 1960-something, it’s neither a feel-good community band as the Temple moniker might suggest, nor is it a guilt and brimstone soapbox, but somewhere in between. Sebastian Temple is a songwriter and scholar, and this album is an exposition. South African born and Catholic convert later in life, on this album Sebastian Temple offers a biography of the french Jesuit philosopher Teilhard De Chardin and a breakdown of his ecstatic universalist ideas, revolutionary ideas in the Catholic church. In a mostly country western style, shuffling guitar-driven melodies pick up and are accompanied by hand drums. A few selections dip into a quieter, more introspective vibe, moments of peace in the presence of the holy (“Some of us call it art and other call it God”). What attracts me to novel religious music like this is the earnestness and mission of the production, and some of these tracks are just damn catchy. Continue reading →
It’s very exciting be invited to contribute to Ball of Wax. Thanks to Levi for the opportunity, and I’m looking forward to a dialogue with the readership. This will be my first post here, and I hope you dig it! I see digging as an anthropological endeavor, unearthing unique people and moments in history. The music I want to share here will be under that theme, if otherwise disparate. Novel religious movements, outsider folk, cross-cultural projects and bedroom experimentalists, all these play in to what gets me excited, with probably the odd song about cats or spaceships. Without further ado . . .
Raymond Daniel Platt – Fields of View (Paradise Boutique, 1986)
Released on Paradise Boutique Records out of northern California in 1986, Fields of View is a sort of electro-acoustic music that really sounds great on cassette; saturated layers of singing synthesizers, sampled and live percussion with a sort of workshop feel. Walking the line between new age and some sort of digital jazz, this densely produced album ages well, despite the programmed “brass” sounds that play the fanfare of the opening track. Chirps and vespers cast a warm glow that bears the Californian new age origin, and there is some truly creative tape sampling on a few selections. If you’re willing to listen past just a little smoothed out sax (no solos, I promise) there is a lot on offer in this artifact. Continue reading →
Scott Pinkmountain makes his Ball of Wax debut, backed by up by the muscular Golden Bolts rhythm section, with this beautifully discordant and dissociative tune. The performance is blistering, keening, heart-piercing: Scott’s voice and guitar scream and cry in counterpoint, and the bass and drums plod along with him slowly, methodically, like a dying thunderstorm, as he sings lyrics composed mostly of mundane first-world slices of life: “I bought a new pair of shoes today . . . they’re cut in the modern style. . . . I ran into an old friend / he said his mortgage payments ache . . .” The title and musical setting let the listener in on the fact that this song isn’t about his shoes, or his friend’s mortgage, of course, and once in a while the specter of what he’s not singing about – what most of us aren’t thinking about – hovers in the periphery with lines like “I know there’s something in the back of my mind / I’m really busy though, I haven’t got the time to find” before the chorus brings us back to blissful unawareness: “Anyway, it’s a beautiful day / Where did I . . . what was I starting to say?” It’s not so much a protest against whichever war in Iraq we might happen to be fighting at any given time, it’s a protest against the apathy and solipsism that most of us are guilty of much of the time, and which makes things like perpetual war (and anything else we might choose to protest) possible, if not inevitable.
Or maybe it’s just a killer rock tune, and a great way to close out this particular compilation. Anyway, it’s such a beautiful day . . .
Levi and his Library declare “I Won’t Go to Mexico,” a song set in the Mexican-American War and told from the perspective of a defiant potential conscript who decries “I have no wish to participate / in such glorious butcheries” and “As long as I can work, beg, or go to the poorhouse / I won’t go to Mexico.” As with much of Levi and the Library’s recent music, “I Won’t Go to Mexico” starts off with gentle, looping strumming then builds to a rumbling rock snowball in the style of Dinosaur Jr. or Built to Spill.
Levi locates a seemingly modern perspective on unjust war and colonialism in the conscience of a young man in Massachusetts who, over 160 years ago, wrote an anonymous letter to the newspaper in Cambridge that’s carefully mined for the lyrics to “I Won’t Go to Mexico.” That young man also wrote “Human butchery has had its day. . . . And the time is rapidly approaching when the professional soldier will be placed on the same level as a bandit, the Bedouin, and the Thug.” While an admirable sentiment, one can imagine the horror he felt at the bloodshed of the US Civil War and, for his sake, hope that he never lived to see the mechanical menace and death delivered by the Twentieth Century in the first World War. With “I Won’t Go to Mexico,” Levi taps deep into the vein of American pacifism to craft a protest song that really stands out in his lengthy body of work.
Veteran Ball of Wax contributor Emory Liu offers up “Plastic Future” for volume 38, a song protesting how mass commercialization alienates and anesthetizes people. The song opens with the lines “this plastic future / a fixture of vultures / keeping your head in the sand” and “opinions are bottled / to sell you some product” and continues along that line of social critique. Arranged in the style of intricate, turn of the century indie rock a la Pinback, Strictly Ballroom, and young Modest Mouse at their most contemplative, “Plastic Future” balances distorted guitar flare-ups and quieter passages marked by strings atop some pretty darn astonishing drumming. If you’re looking for where your yearning for social protest intersects with your love for brainy indie rock, look no further than “Plastic Future.”
Jon Rooney of Virgin of the Birds (and also, it must be said, of this here blog) strips down to his one-man low-fi roots for this tune, with a languid bed of guitar, bass, keys, and tambourine backing up a historical tour of protest and conflict told in Rooney’s signature “nasal baritone” (to use a phrase from one of his other songs). We begin, as the title suggests, in Philadelphia in 1970 with Frank Rizzo and the Black Panthers and end, somewhat surprisingly, in 417 with the beef between Augustine of Hippo and Pelagius on free will vs. predestination (yes, I had to look it up). The second verse, still in Philadelphia, provides one of the more poignant moments I can remember from a Virgin of the Birds song: young Jon Rooney in his school uniform witnessing the aftermath of the 1985 conflict between MOVE and the Philadelphia police (yes, I had to look that one up too). I always love to get a little slice of how Jon sees the world, and this tune provides a heaping helping of his unique brand of perception and juxtaposition.
Robert Deeble‘s “Not on Your Team” is a stately, elegant pop song in protest of the Mars Hill church, an emo evangelist institution that’senjoyed more than it’s shareof bad press. As a Papist transcendentalist myself, I find it hard to understand either the theological basis or the popular appeal of Rollins-esque Bible bros, but then again my people are still adjusting to the Jungian modernity of the acoustic guitar Mass unleashed in the wake of Vatican II. Nevertheless, Deeble does a beautiful job with “Not on Your Team,” which takes apart the Mars Hill facade with the quiet, secure disobedience of lines like “I am not as you seem / I am not on your team.” The song takes the perspective of a believer turning away from the hypocrisy and arrogance of Mars Hill, abandoning the institution while maintaining faith. Musically, the song sits in that pretty, serene place of mid-period Wilco’s best ballads, proving that protest songs can calmly use a scalpel as effectively (or more so) than an explosion.