Jack Shriner (Another Wisconsin boy! What did I tell you?) has been a friend of Ball of Wax for quite some time, but his contributions have been few and far between (the most recent was his excellent submission to the “dance party” volume under the inspired name Bertolt Breast). It’s a pleasure to share a brand new song from Jack’s new album The Fluid Ounce, due out any day now. “January Dream” continues the head-bobbing groove that opens this volume, started by Amina and Fen Wik Ren, nicely blending some African-inspired rhythms and guitar lines with indie rock breakdowns and Jack’s subdued, straight-ahead vocals. And then at the end it all flows perfectly naturally into this Sufjan Stevens-ish 6/8 wind-and-strings coda. The whole thing is propelled forward by an unceasing, insistent shaker, which helps tie these seemingly disparate musical elements together and keep you grooving.
Fen Wik Ren is the latest musical moniker of now-Portland-based R. Ren (known to some of us as Ryan) Barrett, who not too long ago led the well-regarded Seattle-based band The Pica Beats. “Witch in the Grass” is a throbbing, psych-leaning song soaked in reverb and phaser. It has a nervous, galloping beat that’s almost dance-ey and mysterious lyrics (when I can make them out through the heavy delay) along the lines of “there are things I would do for love / there are things I would do for hate” and “everybody hopes that you lost your mind / just a little bit.” It’s more melodic and vocal-based than a lot of the psych-revival stuff going around but laced with a bit too much D&D foreboding (I definitely made out the phrase “the demon’s feet”) to classify as straight ahead indie pop. Fans of Barrett’s early work or the late period Sunset Rubdown will find a lot to like about “Witch in the Grass.”
Maybe it’s the fact that my dad’s from Green Bay, or perhaps there’s some kind of Boston/Seattle/Wisconsin triangle of compatibility that makes us all instantly dig each other, but whatever the reason, I keep finding myself surrounded by (and loving music by) Wisconsin expats. The newest case in point is Amina, the project of a dude named Ethan who moved here from Madison last year and released the very satisfying EP Cannibalize, from which comes our opening track, “Spice.” If I were a better music critic I would have a pocket full of bands and genres to reference here, but I’ll just say that something about this particular blend of head-nod-inducing beats, hyper-syncopated bass, weird bloopy noises, and meandering vocal melodies totally hits a sweet spot for me. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the live Amina experience is like (I’ve been assured much looping is involved). Find out with me at the BoW 43 release show February 27th at Conor Byrne!
Hey, we’re putting out a new Ball of Wax! It’s got a ton of great music on it, by the above-listed fine artists, whose lovely sounds you can experience in person at Conor Byrne on February 27th, and by 11 more friends new and old, from The Foghorns and Darryl Blood to Thad Wenatchee and The Vardaman Ensemble.
As always, we are looking for new music. Specifically, we are looking for music of all sorts to become Ball of Wax Volume 43, the first volume of 2016. There’s no specific theme, so just send us what you got – or take a weekend and crank out something new. Are you about to release a new record? Writing some new songs you don’t know what to do with? Trying to figure out what to do with that weird track you recorded earlier this year? Send ’em our way!
Seattle songwriter Aaron Semer describes his debut Love Amidst Collapse as “a campfire at the end of time.” The songs on Love Amidst Collapse are both familiarly rustic and oddly unnerving, a strange brew of acoustic jams and vaguely hippie-flavored visions of hellfire and damnation. Opener “Son of the Morning Star” sounds like an occult Crosby, Stills & Nash, all acoustic guitar and soaring folk melodies laced with a general air of otherworldly dread. “Marriage” opens with the line “They got married on a dare / so they still had sex with other people” and wanders off from there, wavering between parable, broken narrative and weird visions (as with the first part of Gravity’s Rainbow, an octopus plays a minor part). “Bored is the King of Israel” asserts “Job would be ashamed to hear you complain that there’s nothing on TV” and “Bathsheba would to tell you to make love / like it was your last day on Earth.”
“Pasts Like Circles” sounds like polished alt country – something early-Son Volt-ish complete with handclaps, a brief harmonica solo and a rock-solid melody. Despite grim lyrics like “We send our kids to die / long before their time / the cause is lost, families torn / and bodies sent home to mourn,” it’s bouncy and catchy, probably the most immediately satisfying song on the record.
Featuring the dazzling guitar work of Michael Wohl and recorded at Colin J Nelson’s Her Car studio, Love Amidst Collapse is a warm, accomplished folk record steeped in a strain of apocalyptic fever traceable in America at least back to the first Great Awakening. Semer’s critiques of commercialism and other trappings of modern civilization work better as lyrical allusions than sermons, though the focus on End Times provides a useful thematic anchor for the record. Semer definitely has ideas and some well-honed musical sensibilities, making him an artist to watch around Seattle.
Love Amidst Collapse is out on Knick Knack Records and Semer is playing a release show at Conor Byrne on December 10th with Coyote and Michael Wohl.
3844 is, in fact, Mr. Christopher Hydinger, whose songs as the Music of Grayface have appeared on Ball of Waxes going back years. As I’ve written elsewhere, the Music of Grayface’s “Averybriefstory” was the highlight of an extremely strong Volume 5 for me, which was the first volume I both contributed to and heard in its entirety. Hydinger’s musical persona is pretty obscure and his contributions are far too few, which made the appearance of his 3844 project (why 3844? maybe it’s a reference to a certain Lego set? or the Greek number in Strong’s Concordance which refers to the word para – meaning from, besides or near? maybe, like many people view life, a random, insignificant occurrence?) a welcome surprise this round. Which brings us to Hydinger’s contribution to Volume 42 – his “meaning of life” is 42 seconds of silence.
LEGEND OF SKELL’s take on the meaning of life is the most metal thing I can remember hearing on any Ball of Wax; it’s eight-plus minutes of thundering awesomeness – a welcome breath of molten air. First, who – or what – is LEGEND OF SKELL? LEGEND OF SKELL is yet another music project of Seattle-based guitar hero (seriously, he’s amazing) Jason Goessl, one that shows off his prowess in very righteous, epic ways. Goessl’s a tremendously versatile musician, able to deftly go from Jazz standards with Sundae and Mr. Goessl to stylized rock noir with Prom Queen to brain-melting prog in Trimtab. As for Skell’s “The Meaning of Life”? Imagine the tritone opening to Black Sabbath’s “Black Sabbath” (from Black Sabbath) stretched over 8 minutes like a Kyuss mushroom trip. No vocals, no lyrics, no melody – just the tectonic shifting of a massive riff overlaid with insane, Steve Vai-esque lead guitar.
Longtime Ball of Wax listeners should be familiar with the work of Mr. Kelly Minnis, formerly of Seattle but now well established in College Station, Texas. Kelly first showed up way back on Volume 1 with his long-running solo electronic project Great Unwashed Luminaries, and has shared music from a variety of projects with us over the years (most recently his punk/shoegaze band Ex-Optimists, whose “Let’s Go to Sleep and Dream” appeared on last year’s Love Songs edition).
For “The Meaning of Life,” Kelly comes to us under the Invasion Boys moniker, which usually includes his brother, but here is just Kelly. Anyway, this is another entry in the “dad song” category for this volume, and it’s a very sweet bit of guitar-driven college rock addressed to his sons. Having recently experienced the conversion of dadhood myself, it’s nice to see that the wonder of being with a person for whom you’re completely responsible, yet who is his own self with his own perceptions and feelings, never really wears off. It occurs to me in listening to this song that the idea of finding “the meaning of life” is actually pretty childlike, but seeing the world and imagining meanings through the eyes of a child can be a pretty rewarding experience.
Lest you fear Ball of Wax 42 had surrendered entirely to the introspective and the mellow after its rump-shaking kickoff, KAPtN AtAK (aka Kelly Dale of Strong Like Woman) is here to bring the party back – the Meaning of Life party. While not, strictly speaking, an instrumental, the only words sung here are “Meaning of Life,” the rest of the song being given over to a totally bumpin’ party jam reminiscent of some of the best ’80s dance rock, full of scattershot electronic drums and some super sweet guitar hooks. Why worry about the meaning of life when you can dance your ass off – or better yet, do both at the same time?