The Weird, Old America

“I remember driving then with the song on the radio.” So Greil Marcus wrote in his indispensable 1997 book Invisible Republic about being haunted by the “inescapable” sound of Bobbie Gentry’s “Ode to Billie Joe” in the summer of 1967, a song powerful enough in its hush that time could be “brought to a halt.” He continues: “Trying to follow its sliding phrases, drifting into its miasmic trance, and plowing straight into the car in front of me.”

Marcus may have caused a ten-car pile-up had he heard “The Boy Called Billy Joe,” an answer song penned by Stephenville, Texas country singer Carroll. It’s creepy and peculiar, his molasses-thick Texas accent barely getting words like “Choctaw” and “Tallahatchie” out, yet it nevertheless sounds like it’s being whispered from the beyond by the titular character (who, if you aren’t familiar with Gentry’s original, jumps off the bridge).

Billie Joe’s ghost, slot machine singers, day-drinking husband-wife duos, The Sound of Memphis through a 4-track wood chipper, Ernest Hood, a Lynchian battle of the bands, and Weird Al’s old roommate all comprise this Weird Old America.

Even Weirder Old America for Bandcamp

Surya Botofasina

“The session was just me and Carlos Niño. That day was when we did the take of ‘Surya Meditation,’ that 28-minute take. It was this whole thing. Carlos said he knew in the moment that this was the place that the record was going to center around. I was super-happy, I feel like I really got to just be in the moment, in existence, and really take in everything I was experiencing in life at that time and put it into intention. With the intention of not only tending to my own mental health, but the intention of having it be something that could serve. Whether it served myself in that moment, or something that could serve my children in their moments, other individuals’ in their moments, it felt like this was a time that was very clear that it could be offered. I’ve been a part of different records where that was not the feeling. So to have that feeling, I was really moved by it.”

Surya Botofasina, Alice Coltrane’s Mentee, Takes Center Stage for Bandcamp

10 Years of Peak Oil

“I felt like if we were going to do a label that would exist solely as a labor of love, it should exist as a conceptual whole. I had been reading a lot about ‘peak oil’ theory, the moment when society—predicated on infinite growth of a finite resource, petroleum—is in collapse, and how petroleum is in everything, even records. It seemed to ‘click.'”

For the past ten years, Los Angeles-based label Peak Oil has been sketching the parameters of the city’s underground electronic scene, as well as drifting off to some new, still-unseen vista of the scene. I got to speak to label heads Brian and Brion –as well as vital players like M. Geddes Gengras and Lamin Fofana– about the past decade and the perils of creating petroleum-based consumer products for Bandcamp.

A Decade of Peak Oil’s Strange & Mysterious Electronic Music for Bandcamp

Pharoah & Phriends Radio Mix

There’s a Pharoah Sanders feature forthcoming in Maggot Brain, but in the wake of his passing, I’ve been spending a lot of time in the great saxophonist’s sound world, tracing through lines, shared sensibilities, similar resonances, following the trajectories and interconnectedness with the man’s many legendary bandmates. I presented a mix for The Lot Radio last weekend, using the man’s horn to spring into these other realms. Enjoy. Track listing below:

Maleem Mahmoud Ghania – Peace in Essaouria
Pharoah Sanders – Wisdom Through Music
Hannibal – The Voyage
Idris Muhammad – Peace
Lonnie Liston Smith – Meditations
Woody Shaw – New World
Pharoah Sanders – Japan
Joe Bonner – Celebration
Michael White – The Blessing Song
Lonnie Liston Smith – Floating Through Space
Norman Connors – Morning Change
Larry Young – Sunshine Fly Away
Gary Bartz – Etoiles Des Neiges
Sonny Fortune – Long Before Our Mothers Cried
Michael White – Fiesta Dominical
Pharoah Sanders – The Golden Lamp

(Not a) Mood Hut Feature

“People often only think of Mood Hut as a record label, but we are foremost a collective, and for a long time we did free park parties in Vancouver’s Stanley Park. For me, those nights reached close to the potential of what dances can be. When none of the usual constraints are put upon you, and when everyone is present in a beautiful place, willing to give themselves over to the whole thing. That’s when things can really ascend.”

Read more: (Not a) Mood Hut Feature

Back in 2014, Andrew Morgan dosed me with a jam called “Openin’ Up,” which opened me up to the curious incubatory sound emanating from Vancouver and a span of cryptic 12″s on the nascent Mood Hut label. Over the years, the label/ collective have remained elusive: going ambient instead of clubby, dropping an album of diffuse disco edits, and other unexpected left turns.

Nearly ten years along, Jack J drops the first proper artist album for Mood Hut, a lovely, effervescent, contemplative album which a certain music website lamented as having “no obvious epic or clear highlight.” As a longtime fan, I took the opportunity to chat with Jack (as well as Chris Wang and Yu Su) and to dip a toe into the Mood Hut mystique and “that sound.”

Jack J and the Mood Hut Collective Reimagine Dance Music In New Forms for Bandcamp

The Lot Radio

Not actually the view from The Lot Radio.

Last month, I did a special Sunday morning set for The Lot Radio. That day was thick with chilly clouds, so I leaned into that sort of ambience, starting off with some chorale clouds, gradually adding a little sprinkle of some more spring-beckoning sounds on the back half of the set.

Beta World Peace @ The Lot Radio 3-6-22

Vaguely remembered tracklisting below:

Continue reading “The Lot Radio”

Yasuaki Shimizu

“I was playing around with a radio transmitter I’d made when I heard something from outside the house and, fascinated, followed the sound outdoors. Striding off down the path between the rice fields, I paused halfway along the expanse of paddies to listen, and heard a chorus of thousands, tens of thousands of insects, like a wave of electronic sound washing over me. It was this experience that sparked my interest in sound and space, and which inspired me to begin exploring the many different sides of what we call sound.”

Continue reading “Yasuaki Shimizu”

Eiko Ishibashi feature

“The way the Japanese film industry works, you have very little time to do the soundtrack. There’s very little real instrumental music in Japanese films now. Most soundtracks are done by one person on a keyboard. Eiko’s soundtrack is so different that people here overlook it. It doesn’t operate in telling you what your emotions are.”

Congratulation to Drive My Car for its well-deserved Oscar! Two of my early favorites for 2022 come from Japanese singer/ composer/ flautist/ songwriter/ drummer/ noisemaker Eiko Ishibashi. One is her indelible soundtrack for the Oscar-winning Drive My Car, the other an imaginary soundtrack of sorts for Law & Order, entitled For McCoy. I was honored to speak with her and Jim O’Rourke, as well as director Ryusuke Hamaguchi for the story.

Eiko Ishibashi and the melodies that carry Drive My Car for The Washington Post