My first thought on hearing The Luna Moth‘s “Paean” was “oh hey this is live.” You can practially hear the room, maybe even the rain outside, the dark. It starts with a Sabbath-like riff, on a guitar or maybe a bass, I can’t tell. The riff itself describes a phrase, the phrase sounds simple but it’s not, it varies precisely across multiple measures, and repeats at intervals beyond the buffer of my brain’s ability to track it.
There must be some math involved.
There is a musical break from the riff somewhere in the middle, an introduction of chords that says “there was a first half and now it’s done.” The second half is a mirror of the first, relentless, driving.
My inability to track the seemingly simple riff, and the variations of dynamics with drums and another guitar (or bass?), the presence or absence of fuzz — all conspire to make this song keep my attention across what would otherwise be an absurd amount of time (for the attention-span-challenged) of over 10 minutes.
The mood, it’s made for this time of year, this place. This kind of song can inspire a fleet of Northwest basements. I want to be in one.
It’s been a while since I gushed about local guitar hero Bill Horist, and even longer since he graced a volume of Ball of Wax with his guitarical prowess, so I’m excited that both are happening again right now! I’ve seen and heard (and loved) Bill in many different settings over the years, from solo prepared-guitar shredding sessions to full-band skronkfests with the likes of Ghidra and Nervewheel, to his gorgeous acoustic ensemble album CovalentLodge, but his Nachthexen project represents something new. I believe this is somewhat of a one-man multi-tracked sketch for a project to be deployed with a full band of the sort of brilliant instrumentalists Bill pals around with on a regular basis, but even in this rough-ish format, it is a thing of majesty, an epic and triumphant piece that’s not quite stoner rock, not quite jazz, not quite prog, but all of those and much more. And he even sings on it! Beautifully! I could not be more honored that Bill entrusted this diamond in the rough to Ball of Wax, or more thrilled at the prospect of this project seeing proper fruition. Somebody give this man a pile of money to make this record, stat!
The Lonely Children‘s contribution to Ball of Wax 51, “Turnaround Phase,” is almost 13 minutes of slinky, spaced out electric guitar – like Ry Cooder sitting in with Luna. There are prominent lead lines and a pedal steel part that poke through the mix and sit in front, though the overall soupy feel holds through much of the beginning of song. Approaching the five minute mark, an overdriven lead part gets downright assertive and kind of takes over until the last few minutes. There’s more of a shape to “Turnaround Phase” than a lot of the more ambient pieces on Volume 51, and the guitar parts are more traditionally expressive and dynamic.
Maybe it’s the Ry Cooder association, but I feel like there’s something cinematic about this song, like it could provide the backdrop for a car chase or gun fight that slowly unfolds before getting out of hand. The playing on the track is outstanding and, while the blips and delay pedal shimmers play a complimentary part in the composition, the arrangement is really compelling. All in all, an excellent contribution from an imaginative group.
We last heard from Seattle producer James Whetzelback in volume 48, [he was also on volume 49; he’s a busy guy -ed.] and he returns to this volume of long songs with “Slow Waves.” With a wash of reverberating guitars and a minimum of harmonic movement, “Slow Waves” is dreamy minimalism at its most welcoming and appealing. There’s not real percussion to force order to the swaying electric guitar parts nor dynamics to differentiate one section from the other, it’s just a kind of hip, blissful drift. This could be chill-out music or on the soundtrack of a cool film about cave diving or space travel. I had it on a loop so its 10 plus minutes spread to the better part of an hour and it ended up being a really nice hour. Nicely done, James.
Ball of Wax 51 is going to be quite a long ride, so I thought it would be nice to get off to a mellow start. If you’ve been to a Ball of Wax show in the past few years you’ve probably seen Paul Beaudry in one group or another. He is or has been a Foghorn, a Virgin of the Bird, a Caleb or a Walter (I guess he’s Walter? Not sure how that works), a member of Double or Muffin (more on them later), and probably a million other things. He’s a ludicrously talented and omnipresent multi-instrumentalist and singer, and somehow it never occurred to me that he probably squirrels himself away in his down time (ha ha!) and creates beautiful electronic music by sampling things he finds in his garage. And yet here we are, with “Belzinbox,” from his solo project autOaudiO (which, if you check out that Bandcamp page, you will discover has been active forever and produced an enormous pile of albums).
You probably wouldn’t know from listening to it that “Belzinbox” was created from the sounds of tools and other found objects, but it is a really lovely assemblage of electronic pings and booms and drones that, if you’re me anyway, totally puts you in the mood to sit down and listen to 7 more hours of long-form music. My computer tells me it’s over 14 minutes long, but every time I sit down to listen to it, it’s over too fast. Before I would just skip back to the beginning, but now I seem to have some Bandcamp digging to do . . .
Volume 51 will be, by far, the longest volume of Ball of Wax Audio Quarterly to date. For the first time, I’ve decided to go download-only to enable the theme of Long Songs. And I do mean long; each track is from 10 to 30 minutes in length, and the full running time is about 7 hours, an expanse of expansive work from a broad swath of artists, from weirdo rockers like Freeway Park and Double or Muffin to experimental icons like Doug Haire and Bill Horist, and much, much, much, much more – even a couple songwriters, like me, who just wrote really long songs.
We’re celebrating the release on March 9th at Substation. Everyone in the door gets the usual Ball of Wax handmade packaging with liner notes and a handy-dandy download code. (For Bandcamp purchasers and subscribers, we will have the option of a custom- or randomly-selected CD-R of 70-80 minutes of music.)
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.