FFH – Make Them Understand (Hospital Productions)

Even devotees can be forgiven for not hearing FFH’s debut album Make Them Understand. The project grew slowly over years of cassette releases, each with a menacing sincerity that caught the attention of noise listeners whose tastes ran toward the harsher end of the power electronics spectrum. Released in an edition of 114 copies, Make Them Understand’s audience is intentionally limited to those who actively seek it, in a genre that strives to remain insular. Dealing with the extremes of the human condition and delivered with a severe industrial noise approach FFH is a closed door. The clear, commanding vocals laid over repetitive electronics make for a stunningly open approach. The album opens like a shockwave, like being pinned up against a wall, the claustrophobic sounds creating a nightmare of anxiety and pathological psychology. The album’s highlight “Nevada Light” is chilling in its images of true crime.  There is nothing redeemable about FFH, a project steeped in misery. But if you are among the 114 or so, you need to hear it, as it’s the purest release of the year. True hate.

by STEVE LOWENTHAL on 10/31/2013 in Reviews | Tags: ,

Steve Baczkowski/Chris Corsano/Greg Kelley/Bill Nace – Live at Spectacle (Open Mouth)

The Northeast improv jazz scene (Baczkowski is from Buffalo, the rest Massachusetts) has long been blowing, growling, spitting, and generally creating a righteous noise for decades now. That’s because geographically it’s a cold and grumpy place for the majority of the year. This harshness comes across on Live at the Spectacle, a recording of four musicians who have honed their chops shoveling snow. Each of these gentlemen are known for their unique stylistic contributions to their instruments, Kelley’s micro/macro trumpet, Nace’s deconstructed electric guitar, Baczkowski for his saxophone hubris and Corsano for having famously short arms. Together they move swiftly through tonal and rhythmic territories where few tend to tread. The resulting squall is engaging, and focused with an aggressive streak reminiscent of Kelley and Corsano’s Cold Bleak Heat group from a few years back. Cut at 45 rpm, this recording goes for the jugular. When all four go for broke the resulting smash is as potent as any who have traveled similar paths.  This is not friendly music but the rewards are instantaneous when the needle hits.

by STEVE LOWENTHAL on 10/30/2013 in Reviews | Tags: , , , ,

Bonnie “Prince” Billy & Marquis de Tren – Solemns (Drag City/Palace Records)

The Will Oldham/Bonnie Prince Billy discography, an increasingly rich treasure-trove, takes on different permeations due to the ever-changing musicians he works with on his material. Much had been made about his return to solo album simply titled Bonnie Prince Billy. So it’s somewhat understandable that this brief three-song 12” goes beneath the radar. Solemns reunites Oldham with Mick Turner and Jim White of the Dirty Three, (or the Tren Brothers when its just the two of them) two players whose unique dream-like sympathies merge perfectly with Oldham’s vivid and dramatic songwriting. Having last teamed up on the recently reissued Get On Jolly E.P back in 2000, these three haunting tracks offer a stirring melancholy, and ambience. New to the combo is the vocal counter-point of Angel Olsen, who gives a subtle yet affecting balance to Oldham’s vocal deliveries. Her melodies add further complexities to Oldham’s narratives, charting familiar themes to those who follow him sporadically or religiously. Whenever Bonny Billy teams with the Tren Brothers magic happens as evidenced again here all too briefly. Here’s hoping they record a whole album sometime.

by STEVE LOWENTHAL on 10/28/2013 in Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Hair Police – Mercurial Rites

illustration by Chris O’Neal

Bands in underground music seem to come and go quicker than ever, with fickle audiences shifting interests as attention spans shrink and browsers constantly refresh. What’s touted as extreme and exciting one month is often forgotten in the greater timespan as years and decades roll on. From their earliest days Hair Police has always been an anomaly, a strange mishmash of personalities and musical styles. Drummer Trevor Tremaine would be playing manic free energy drumming with a sparkle boa around his shoulders and white plastic sunglasses blocking his gaze while front-man Mike Connelly, shrieked in bouts of boundless hysterics and ripped at his shredded, detuned guitar. Dressed in black, a menacing coil that explodes on impact, his presence causing audience members to shake their fists in celebration. Robert Beatty, off to the side would be twisting bizarre frequencies like something out of the BBC radio phonic workshop, the whole while his cord wrapped around his throat like a noose. Watching them play became something to behold.

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by STEVE LOWENTHAL on 2/22/2013 in Features, Interviews | Tags: , , , , , ,

David Lynch interview

by MV Carbon
originally published, issue #8, 2008

illustration by Chris O’Neal

David Lynch has, so far, left us with an amazing and mind altering chunk of cinematic works. He doesn’t give out a lot of information when asked about the meaning or symbolism in his films. Although they are loaded with significance, he won’t let verbal descriptions smother the cinematic essence that lingers on and creeps back long after his films have been absorbed. He leaves it up to us to interpret them or to just experience them.

His newest film, Inland Empire, uses high def video to create a painterly murk that lurks. The colors bleed and so do the characters. The film’s soundtrack, which was created by Mr. Lynch, shakes the theater and is grafted to the image in a manner that conjures chills. He treats us with 3 hours of violence, decaying beauty, dual existence, carnival, and the darkest back staircases, back stages, and mysterious dwelling spaces you could ever wish for. The film sews itself through itself until something’s got to give… and it does.

Mr. Lynch has been honored with the Golden Lion for lifetime achievement award, at the Venice film festival, where Inland Empire was screened.

He’s recently finished a book titled Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity, which is available at the end of December.

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by Swingset Magazine on 1/31/2013 in Features, Interviews

Professor Genius

Picture a marketplace in 13th century Persia. A couple of young travelers meet an old beggar who offers to tell them an amazing tale in exchange for a place to rest. They accept and take him to their rooms. He ends up recounting his youth: how he was recruited by the Assassins, how he ended up in their garden of earthly delights in a total drugged haze, how he met Hassan Sabbah and how they took down powerful figures before the Assassins were brought down. The beggar barely escaped with his life and went into hiding. After his story is done and the two travelers pick their jaws up off the floor they all retire. The next morning they’re all found dead with writing on the wall in blood: “No One Speaks”. This is the first scene to the album Hassan by Professor Genius.

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by Swingset Magazine on 12/3/2012 in Features, Reviews | Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Dan Melchior interview

illustration by Chris O’Neal

Dan Melchior is an anomaly in the modern music world, even for the underground. As one of the world’s last truly great songwriters, Melchior’s voice grows stronger than ever over a string of recent releases by his “band” Das Menace. His music can’t be neatly partitioned into a narrow genre although one can detect elements of blues, vintage R&B, British psych pop and more recently even brazen experimentalism. His latest solo album, The Backward Path is a journey into the depths of existential dread, mortality and humanity as the record documents aspects of his wife Letha’s ongoing battle with cancer and their lives in the struggle. As their bills pile to the ceiling, unable to work, they have had to rely on the music community for help. As an artist that truly speaks about the world around him in the most honest of ways, The Backward Path is an experience that no other record this year can offer. The best albums are not an escape but a confrontation.

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by STEVE LOWENTHAL on 10/23/2012 in Features, Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Oral Damage: An “In Their Own Words” Case Study of Icky Boyfriends

by Justin F. Farrar
originally published, issue #7, 2005

…Spending nights (and early mornings) guzzling brews, smoking grass, beating off, snorting coke, talking music, and rattling the Greek neighbors’ faux-Swarovski chandeliers with high-decibel emissions of what we wasted fuckers lovingly referred to as “retard rock”: Puff Tube, Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Sad Sack, Happy Flowers, Lil Bunnies, Paraquat Earth Band, Sockeye, and San Francisco’s Icky Boyfriends.

Icky Boyfriends’ raw, brutal, barbed, bitter, and piercing lo-fi hard rock never really fit the retard rock label: it always felt more intelligent, poetic, desperate, and more severely human than the wonderfully twisted noise produced by the other freaks listed above. Listening to the Ickies’ I’m Not Fascinating LP was (and is), in a strange sense, as vital and psychically wrenching as listening to, say, Neil’s Time Fades Away or Television Personalities’ Painted Word, or even side four of the Jan and Dean Anthology Album.

As I scan these stark, black-and-white, forensic-like photographs of the Ickies from the early- to mid-90s, each damaged rocker dude looks like he might have died by 2005. (Fortunately, none of them did; they just seem a wee bit scarred.) The guy with the long, stringy metal-hair is Shea Bond; he played guitar or bass, but never guitar and bass. (That’s an important fact to remember for all you Beat Happening fans.) The stoned, sleepy-eyed fella is the drummer, Anthony Bedard. He once bled all over his kit and occasionally gnawed on a drumstick when smacking his hi-hat. The savage genius maintaining the massive, skyscraping ‘fro is vocalist Jonathan Swift. He was/is this genuinely brilliant, irate (and somewhat delicate) filthy-mattress outsider poet, even if that phrase now reeks of some urban slamfest nightmare. As the nosy rock journalist dredging up ancient history while constructing this, I felt like Swift possessed the capability to size me up and cut me down at any moment, because that’s what Jon Icky did to the entire fucking world. He would open his trap and sing, scream, wail, and growl scathing, insightful lyrics while his fellow Ickies laid down one cracked punk-jammer after another. Then again, that’s too mythical for these guys. As the Ickies once said, “Fuck that rock star crap.”

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by Swingset Magazine on 9/11/2012 in Features | Tags: , , , , , ,

Mike Watt vs. Raymond Pettibon

Intro by Max Maslansky
originally published, issue #6, 2005

No Title ( I Was Just) 2004. Ink on paper 30'' x 22.25 ''

When swingset decided to approach Raymond Pettibon for an interview, it was agreed that it’s better to hear old friends yuk it up than two strangers grope in the dark for commonality. Enter Mike Watt. He’s known Pettibon since the early ‘80s, the salad days of L.A.’s punk scene. While Watt was spreading the overpowering gospel with the Minutemen, Pettibon was drawing cover art and posters for his brother Greg Ginn’s band, Black Flag. Watt and Pettibon have since gone on to new creative frontiers, but they still live where the scene started: the beach. The two got together for a conversation about art, politics, history, and everything under the California sun. Raymond Pettibon lives and works in Hermosa Beach, California. He recently had a solo show at the David Zwirner Gallery in New York and is slated for a retrospective at the Whitney Museum in late 2005. Mike Watt lives and works in San Pedro, California. His new solo album is fashioned as a “rock opera” entitled The Secondman’s Middle Stand, and is out now. Our recordings were a little spotty, but please bear with us as we join this conversation already in progress… continue reading "Mike Watt vs. Raymond Pettibon"

by Swingset Magazine on 6/28/2012 in Features, Interviews | Tags: ,


by Maria Raha  |  Photos By Tod Seelie
originally published, issue #7, 2005


Explosions of blistering stop-and-start static are knotted with agonizing, far-off, distorted vocals. Blankets of brutal honesty distill the human experience down to its barest, most intense—though not always angry—moments. Regardless of layers of chaos, the aesthetics of Prurient and Dominick Fernow’s label, Hospital Productions, are tightly wound, but always fluid. There’s no room for leaks, no loose ends, no squeaky springs; however, Prurient is hardly an assembly line of albums rehashing one consistent idea.

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by Swingset Magazine on 6/20/2012 in Features, Interviews | Tags: , , , , , , ,