Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Jason Lescalleet - Songs About Nothing (Erstwhile)

First things first. As has been the case with previous Erstwhile releases by Lescalleet with Graham Lambkin, the disc packaging and, to some degree, the content therein refers to specific recordings by others. Here, the referent is Big Black's "Songs About Fucking", a 1987 Steve Albini-led trio. Not only are the album cover and typography the same (though sans the perspiring lady presumably in the throes of the aforementioned activity) but the thirteen tracks that make up the first of two discs here, so I'm told, duplicate the durations of the original LP to a t. Additionally, Lescalleet's titles for the tracks are variations of those found on the Big Black record.

Now, I have never heard "Songs About Fucking". I take it that it's important--historically, nostalgically, whatever--to Lescalleet but as I don't share that history, I'll just state the above and move on. Well, wait, I see that the entire LP (only about 31 minutes) is on You Tube, so I'll give a listen on the laptop....ok, done. While there's something distinctly 80s about it to these ears, I can see the attraction. Not really my cuppa, but...

Each disc bears a title, the first being "Trophy Tape", containing those thirteen tracks. It's in interestingly tough listen, tough not so much as far as the individual tracks are concerned, but more in mentally soldering them together as a suite (they do pretty much bleed into one another). The approach is quite varied and includes, I'm presuming, numerous (manipulated) samples though I can't identify a one of them. I actually find the trainspotting-ish notion something of a distraction and prefer to listen to it as abstract music which is where the difficulty sets in, but also the fascination. It opens with a cochlear disintegrator that plants us firmly in the world of the Lescalleet we know and love, piercing shards, momentarily descending into a foam of electronics, quickly rising for another assault--primo stuff. And then, abruptly, lurches into the most fuzz-drenched dub-metal march you'll ever hear (cribbed from somewhere? I'd guess so, but no clue, really); even this quickly loses the gristle, settles into an almost jaunty rhythm, trucks for a while. A snatch of shakily recorded piano, classical sounding, skid off into a higher-pitched variant on the initial sounds, that masked by juicy drones (altered strings, I think) and finally a quick snatch of guitar and voice that sounds vaguely Morricone-ish (or, thinking on it, a tiny sliver from Scott Johnson's "John Somebody" for which, if true, I should get a prize); a really odd track stuck amidst an odd set. This kind of melange within a melange continues for a bit, elements overlaid and morphing into one another, not Zorn circa 1990-like, but far more organic without any archness. I find myself going back and forth between simply appreciating the sonics, which are often glorious (and not seldom extreme), and trying to piece together the whole. The sixth track contains spacey, muted vocals that sound almost recognizable, and a phased shuffling rhythm sort of like the backward beats in "Are You Experienced?" The second half of this disc gradually tilts toward the less violent (slightly), with burred washes, distanced throbs; here recalling Lucier, there Barry Adamson. Now a low, pebbly growl, then a light, tinny beat, like atrophied mbiras. Monkish chants, a cut from, perhaps, a film, involving a man rueing that the pizzazz is being taken out, birds and crickets, a very loud car kidding to a stop next to your foot...I'm betting there's a ton more buried in there, mutated, hidden in nooks. But you get the picture, maybe. It ends with a flurry of harsh electronics and a few gentle pops and tidal spatters, really a lovely piece in and of itself but as disorienting as everything else here.

In a different way, but just as intensely, this seems to be as thoroughly personal recording as his extraordinarily moving and amazing, "The Pilgrim"; You have to give yourself up to it more readily than for most music, to kind of wallow in the Lescalleetness of it. (no Lescalleetlessness here).

Disc two, Road Test, is a different creature entirely, a single track some 41 minutes in length, divided into several broad sections, bearing no overt resemblance to the Big Black record as far as I can tell. There's one thing that's seriously frustrating for me, right at the beginning where you hear a voice in recording studio saying, "Wait a minute", then, "Rolling, take one." I know I recognize this but I can't for the life of me place it and know I'll kick myself when I find out what it is. Be that as it may....we drift into some fine electronics (and voices--Arabic? Hebrew? I know Lescalleet did some recording at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem--and a helicopter) which I imagine is sourced from somewhere but whatever, it's thick, mysterious and wonderful. At some almost indistinguishable point (perhaps it was this all along, artfully disguised) I find myself listening to a warped version of the already warped electronic parts that appear late into Terry Riley's magnificent "You're No Good". I cheerfully admit to chuckling when I first heard this. The transfiguration is great, layer upon layer of those buzzerlike pitches swathed in swirls of countless densities, with clangor underneath. I may not be too keen on a lot of reuse of material, but here it strikes a perfect balance between root and elaboration. And it goes on for a fine, long time. I imagine those a bit younger than yours truly, who had the (mis)fortune to mature in the early 80s, might derive a substantial kick from the next referral, following a lengthy, sonorous, complex drone and a fantastic windy/fire crackling sequence. I cheated and googled the lyrics to discover (hide your eyes if you prefer to be surprised) that Lescalleet had unearthed a Depeche Mode track called "It's No Good" (leading me to ponder whether that scrap of verbiage at the beginning might be from something with "no good" in its title...). When I saw Lescalleet recently at The Stone, prior to the set proper he was playing an old Donovan song, "To Susan on the West Coast Waiting" on an ancient 45 box-player, its rotation, possibly due to natural effects of aging, having slowed and skewed. I was reminded of that when the Depeche Mode track kicks in, equally disfigured, a winning combination of humor and, I have to say, nifty song, fading out, ambling away with a bounce in the step.

Even given all this, I bet I'm missing a whole bunch. I still think "The Pilgrim" is the finest music I've heard from him, but this is up there. Give a listen.



Al said...

So, this is Lescalleet's Exile In Guyville? Regardless, can't wait to hear it. I've always bought his music blind and have never been let down. I agree on The Pilgrim, too.

Anonymous said...

I just received a batch of CD's of the eai-ish sort including this one. I'm still lost. Rough going for me so far.

Steve R