From the opening lines, slicnaton’s “Storch” sounds like menace slowly being poured over a smoldering fire. I imagine that scene from Apocalypse Now where a sweat-drenched and terrified Martin Sheen makes his way into the jungle temple to slay his mortal foe, only to find the gruesome reality of human nature fully on display. No, Marty! Don’t go in there! . . . The horror! The fuckin’ horror, man.
Nicholas Slaton uses analog instruments married with digital manipulation to create vast soundscapes both terrifying and full of intrigue. Melodies fall into each other and disintegrate into sound artifact. Each layer creaks along with the anticipation of something truly terrible lurking around the corner. Hints of jazz linger from well-captured woodwinds before being washed away. Sometimes you can’t even tell what it is you are hearing but that only adds to this experience.
Even for someone who is not an avid fan of drone music, this track has something to offer an audiophile looking for inspiration for creativity or perhaps the darkness within themselves.
A squirrel. A concertina. This is not a pair that should make for 11-plus minutes of captivating music – even if you figure in the fact that we’re talking about our native Pine Squirrel in general, and not one particular squirrel. And yet here we are. Steven Arntson has taken these two simple elements and woven together something beautiful and delightful – a doubtless exhausting, painstaking task that reveals not a bit of effort or strife in its final execution.
“The Squirrel” starts off slowly, tentatively. You might be a bit skeptical at first. “Is this it? This wheezy little squeezebox?” And then, perhaps like finding yourself in a Pacific Northwest wood, watching a little native creature in its natural habitat, digging up nuts, scampering over leaves and up and down trees, you can find yourself zoning out and getting lost in the moment, and then focusing in with laser clarity on specific movements or phrases. And then before you know it you’ve lost all track of time, it’s dark, you have no food, and the only thing to lead you home is the sweet sound of a concertina drifting over the hills. Or maybe that’s just me. Suffice it to say, Steven Arntson has achieved something remarkable with this intimately minimalist, charming piece of music. Repeated listens will be rewarding, I promise you.
It’s a semi-sunny sunday Seattle afternoon in February and the piano slowly plays its themes in the background. There are celestial keyboard-sounding chords fading in and out. I’m half conscious, like the music that plays. I’m reflective. It’s as if we were in that movie Interstellar that came out a few years back now, and we are in some weird new time-space dimension looking out onto the world that only knows itself in three dimensions. Everything is bright and still. I could be shouting but it would not matter because I would not be heard by myself or others. Never would I have thought Matthew McConaughey and Virgin of the Birds share so much in common. But seriously, Jon Rooney shows great restraint and patience in “Laura and Jennifer, Bright in Some Soft Sky.” The ebb and flow is not rushed. It goes at a natural pace. You can sip your coffee or tea and let your mind wander throughout this meditation. And then the xylophone will smack you like a zen moment. The listener is rewarded for venturing into the depths of this part of the song. The lightness carries you away. Trepidation, resolution.
And now we pare it down to just the guitar. Longtime Ball of Wax friend Andrew Weathers beamed in this transmission, recorded live at Stanford’s mighty KZSU, from his newish home in Littlefield, Texas. Iit builds slowly, as longer works often do, with a repeated arpeggio played on a twangy electric guitar, slowly bringing in lower notes, a pulsing chord, then moving up and down the fretboard a little to toy with some melodic ideas before drawing back, giving us room to breathe, and then launching again into arrhythmic runs, arpeggios, and occasional bursts of dissonance – maybe a little Fahey, a little Ribot, but all Weathers.
Maybe it’s just me, but these 10-minute songs are starting to go by in a flash. Before we know it, Andrew and his guitar are tumbling down a hill together toward the end and I don’t know what it means, but it sounds a lot like “walk backwards a lightning, rattle down the sky.”
From the sound of “Sunspace Quasar,” one might think he smashed all his keyboards and beep-boop machines (maybe holding onto one key of one synthesizer for drone purposes) and holed himself up in a cabin or basement somewhere with an electric guitar for the past six years, crafting beautiful, melodic soundscapes and watching spaghetti westerns. Or maybe he just really wanted to meld his interests in longform drone-based music and badass electric guitar. Whatever the inspiration, “Sunspace Quasar” is a happy-making 10 minutes of just that. It’s a new turn for great unwashed luminaries, but not a surprising move from a man with a long track record of making fine music in many forms.
Freeway Park make their long-anticipated Ball of Wax debut with “Paintings of Famous Satanists,” an expansive, extra-dirgey version of their brand of noisy, dissonant rock woven together with the prose-based (but never prosaic) verbal arts of vocalist Graham Isaac. The text recounts, in the present-tense, a visit to a bar (adorned with the title portraits). Nothing particularly ground-breaking occurs, but our narrator tells us what he sees and hears, and the thoughts that the settings inspire (Kind of like a post-Grunge Seattle Karl Ove Knausgård, if you will). The awkward intimacy of seeing a stranger’s bra strap is touched upon. Read on their own, there’s very little drama or intensity in the words, but the way they are delivered adds a level of energy and emotion that needs to be heard. The way he hollers “I’m not even using my loud voice. If I shouted, I could clear this fuckin’ room” puts a smile on my face every single time. Unlike your usual singy rock bands, there’s no direct rhythmic or melodic correlation between Graham’s vocals and what the band is doing, but it all works together, and the ten-plus minute running time just blazes by.
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.