I've started poncing about with a Tumblr account as it seems a neat way to share links and simple stuff like quotes and photos that don't really fit in over here, or at least don't fit with the general longer format pieces that tend to appear here. It might be that I just end up bunging the stuff up here, but for now you can find the new site at mountain7.tumblr.com. Check out the Robert Hood mix, it's class.
Mountain*7 - for the person with nothing better to do
Artist: Jack Rose
Album: Luck in the Valley
Label: Thrill Jockey
There was something close to the animalistic in some of the responses to Jack Rose’s horribly premature death at the age of 38 in the December of last year. This isn’t to say that all our responses to grief don’t involve some sort of pre-lingusitic animal reaction of course, just that in this case there seemed to be an undercurrent of pure animal expression – a reaching out to some part of Rose’s personality that defied or outstripped attempts at articulation. I didn’t meet Rose, but I can remember seeing him perform in the café area at the Green Man festival, a great bear of a man hunched over his steel-strung guitar in a light pall of rain. He played unamplified and was surrounded by a tense semi-circle of about 100 people, all tilting forward slightly in the gloom. It was as intense a performance as I’ve seen, Rose clawing at his guitar, producing a great thicket of sound, at times seemingly atonal and ragged, then spiralling into moments of near transcendent finger-picked beauty. As the set progressed, the crowd pressed in, drawn towards his heat. It was an extraordinary thing to witness, but it does seem to have been the way of things. He filled more than his allotted space, broke out and dragged the world towards him.
And now we’re left with this – in the face of such a loss, the frankly bleak task of laying an unfair weight on what is now a posthumous album. The temptation is to redraw the surrounds of this, map it backwards and go searching for sinews of meaning and tease out intimations of mortality that simply aren’t there. Rose was a prolific performer and writer, and in truth Luck in the Valley isn’t a remarkable record – it’s lit up by the depth of his passion and his at times ridiculous dexterity and talent for composition, but in the context of the body of his work it feels exploratory and is a further melding of what were his then preoccupations: the raga-inflected longer pieces that dominated his early releases and the raucous pre-war music he’d been playing both in a solo capacity (as Dr. Ragtime) and with the Black Twig Pickers – with a pointed lean towards the latter.
Luck in the Valley was in fact, loosely speaking, to be the third in a trilogy (which Rose had refereed to as his ‘Ditch Trilogy) – a trilogy which, along with his albums from last year with the Black Twig Pickers and the Dr. Ragtime band, was concerned with exploring the immediacy and spontaneity of pre-war music. It’s largely based on first-take recordings and revolves around rollocking rags and hoe-downs, 3 of which are covers of American classics (‘St Louis Blues’, ‘Everybody Ought to Pray Sometime’ and ‘West Coast Blues’), works by W.C. Handy, Blind Blake, and Dennis Crumpton and Robert Summer. The band itself is made up of a revolving cast of musicians including the incendiary Twig Pickers and the likes of Glenn Jones, Micah Smaldone and Harmonica Dan (what does he do?) – and as Rose had said in the past, they swing like a motherfucker. This is, for the most part, profoundly joyous, life-affirming music.
That said, the album does feature some of the ominous tones that Rose has explored from way back since his Pelt days, and that run throughout the body of his work. This is most notable on two tracks on Luck in the Valley – ‘Tree in the Valley’ and the opening track ‘Blues for Percy Danforth’, which will rightly be lifted into the pantheon of his best works. It’s a beautiful mix of picking and raga drones, and the key is how effortless it all sounds – those dextrous runs and the deep-pinned bass notes meshing perfectly into a whole that is so immediately the Rose sound that it near pierces the heart. As the track rises to its tumult and is met by a backgrounded jews harp and soft harmonica line you realise Rose, and his tight, tight band, were so in control of where they were going with all this that it seems impossible that there’ll be no more.
We wont talk of epitaphs and the like, for music of this ferocity and timelessness beats all that. Instead we should probably take it all in the manner it was intended – wild, on the way to some oblivion or other and reeking of animal sweat and joy.
Download: Jack Rose - Woodpiles On The Side of the Road
There was a lot of quite open grieving around the time of Rose's death, and some beautifully constructed tributes and paeans. One of the finest was David Morris's, over at Strangeglue. He also put together a fine radio tribute which you can still download.
Ethan Miller also put together a fine tribute, and included a download of a relatively recent Rose show from Fredricksburg, Virginia. The show features tracks from Luck in the Valley.
Artist: Teeth of the Sea
Label: Rocket Recordings
On New Years Eve 2009, Teeth of the Sea performed the entire soundtrack to Flash Gordon, in full costume, lit up by a projected version of the film. What a way to see the new year in – glazed and fucked, buried under a dirty great avalanche of floor toms and camp fuzzed-up May histrionics. It must have been a hell of a sight… So now, 13 months after their diseased, choppily psychedelic debut album, Orphaned by the Ocean (which was, for the record, criminally ignored) they’ve returned with a vinyl EP that follows the spaceward trajectory set in motion by the vultan suits, and that has them sounding tighter, vaster – Hypnoticon is kosmiche space rock, in all senses of the word.
I don’t think it’s just me that felt the diseased thing about their debut. Amidst all that stately poise and harsh static was the reek of the unhinged – it felt like it might split apart at any moment, exposing rancid innards…They talked of how this was part of the very fabric of the band, this urge towards self-destruction – pushing things to a (il)logical extreme to see what might lie beyond. Tracks arose from protracted jams, the final objects more like detritus or offcuts. In this context, Hypnoticon feels more linear and complete – studied even; and sonically, the band sound absolutely in control.
The space rock aspect of their sound was fundamental to their debut, but it seemed to be mangled, sucked back in on itself. Here it’s all flung outwards, riding at times (especially on ‘Hypnoticon Viva’) on near Boredoms-like rhythmic patterns. They reprise the Flash Gordon theme too, with a gargantuan version of ‘In The Space Capsule (Love Theme)’, the tom-heavy patterns matched by a great swirls of multi-tracked guitars and banks of keyboards. It’s on ‘The Island Is’ though, that the faint whiff of disease returns, and it’s probably no surprise that it’s here that the sound at their most vital and their most profound. The track is built around a noir-ish screed of bass pulse and treated guitars, but it’s when that trumpet call arrives that you feel like you might bust through the top of your head. Jon Hassell once remarked that the trumpet was a lonely instrument – here it sounds vast, distant and ominous, and until the drums return at the track’s climax, for a time this reminded me of ‘In A Silent Way’ eating its own face.
There’s a new album due around June (if things haven’t split asunder). Things are building around this lot, and if this is anything to go by, the new record going to be quite some event. Go, Flash.
- There's a few things Teeth of the Sea related around at the moment - all worth getting your grubby hands on. A free download of an exclusive track over at the NME site. A Spotify playlist the band put together for The Quietus. A mix tape the band did for 20 jazz Funk Greats.
Excuse the long hiatus, I've been sweating it out beneath the roaring sun in The Gambia and Senegal. I stepped outside work today, into the first pool of sun I've seen since being back and could scarce believe that just five days ago I was facing the same bright disc and barely able to stand it. The shot above was taken about 100km inland from the coast in Senegal at the a ford of a river. The area was rich with cultivation - onions, tomatoes, lettuce - and people tended neat gardens, pulling at weeds, taking water straight from the river with battered metal watering cans. We sat at the ford for a time and watched the comings and goings, which was mainly people passing between villages, some with things to sell, others on social visits or simply on their way to school. What I love best about the photo is the little feet. All three women had children in these back slings (though two are obscured), and each of the children looked as if they could sleep all day long. Amen to that.