I’m following it, but I’m not close enough to fully pick up that station. I’m using a figure of speech, but I mean it literally. I’m driving the darkest nights in memory, and I’m trying to find the direction to clear up that signal. I want to lock in on that voice and follow it to its source.
But, for a kind of eternity, I’ve been losing this signal every direction I go. I push the gas to the floor and eat up the starry night, turning down section roads and searching for diagonal routes, never finding myself any closer.
Meanwhile, other music takes over the speakers, a juxtaposition of styles and voices each with its own allure. As random and diverse as it sounds, this is a playlist, a dozen songs by Midwestern bands that close out the first half of a music compilation. The record reminds me of Big Hits of Middle America, Vol. III, the record that would inspire the Minneapolis garage rock explosion of the early 80s….only the sound is more sophisticated, the music less easily defined by genre.
First comes this staggered drum part over a fat, fuzzy bass keyboard, and distorted vocals echoing the Beatles’ “Hello Goodbye” all giving context for a singer’s anxious effort to reckon with a relationship. And though Yoko may be one of the most common Japanese female given names, the “Blue Jay Way” keyboards and found musical elements refracting all over the soundscape and the final Yoko Ono vocal warbles make it pretty clear that this is a form of “That’s All Right, Mama” that tackles the scapegoats created by fans hanging onto ethnocentric (even racist) myths. At least that’s the way I hear this frenetic, psychedelic potpourri by Be Non, and I’m thankful for that.
An absolutely gorgeous music meditation comes next, courtesy of the experimental music collective, Monta at Odds. A yearning keyboard accompanied by gentle drums, high hat and strolling bass travels the dark night, too, picking up horns, strings, guitar and shimmering keyboard sustain.
That sense of a long dark night intensifies with the Latenight Callers’ “Calaveras,” a song that begins with a Raymond Chandler quote about the impending domestic violence brought on the Southern California’s Santa Ana Winds. Pulsing bass and garrote-sharp guitars frame Ms. Julie’s weary plea for escape. Eventually, Mr. Nick’s accordion-like keyboard locks into a dance that propels her to a moment’s child-like peace.
A study in contrasts comes with the following two instrumentals. Diverse’s “Full Circle,” begins with Hermon Mehari’s trumpet stating the main theme with warmth and restraint. But the jazz trio makes subtle shifts every few bars, the drummer pushing Mehari to respond with increasing variations and an intensity and tone that makes this driver think of Freddie Hubbard. That said, Mehari is his own voice, reining ideas in that glow all the more hot as the fires die down to the original clarity of the main theme.
Mr. Marco’s V7’s “Sparkin’ Your Mama Sweet 2” follows. This blend of metal-heavy bass pushed hard, assaultive guitar noise, frantic Turkish (what zither? baglama?) riffing and volcanic drums is as intent on losing control as “Full Circle” seems intent on maintaining it. The music is as rife with violence as that Santa Ana wind a couple of songs back, but for all the wild improvisation, the band hits each improbably planned mark and stops on a dime after its last dizzying array of manic flourishes.
The metal edge becomes full-on metal, or even proto-metal, with The Conquerors’ “Proxy Shady,” sounding mysteriously “found” like a demo cut by Blue Cheer in some San Francisco warehouse circa 1967. After drums pick up speed and push the guitar to two psychedelic freak-outs, the music slows back down with cooling harmonies and those warehouse walls reverberating with sustain.
Things grow infinitely more soothing with Cowboy Indian Bear’s “The Hunter and the Hunted.” It’s mainly about that singer’s ethereal seduction, promising whatever he’s selling will be well worth it. But something else is up, as there generally is in important matters of trust. It may be the dominant keyboard washes and pulsing expectant bass or it may be the tambourine on the margins, but there’s a quiet menace hanging here as dark as the blackest shadows elsewhere.
A keyboard wash serves as a transition to the folkie romp form Quiet Corral, “Lonely Company.” Lyrically, the purpose here is very similar to the previous song—to reassure a loved one about the future. But the way this melody finds its jaunty way to some rock guitar friction—not to mention group whistling and harmonies—allows the listener to rock the darkness back into its proper corners.
To make sure that darkness stays put, the even more folky and rambunctious, “Headless King” by She’s a Keeper tells a tall tale against a panoramic soundscape fleshed out by energetic banjo, guitar, cello, bass and mandolin. The specters are all up front here, the subjects of playful derision and dreams of newfound liberation.
The duo Eyelit picks up on this theme of liberation with “Motionless.” Singer Austin Marks declares, “in this heartache, I’m finding what it is to be a man.” This front porch celebration builds on its acoustic guitar with strings and delicate backing vocals by Marks’ band partner Dansare. It’s a song about surrender and acceptance and growth, and that’s exactly how it sounds, like the growing promise of a new day. In the movie that plays in my head, the anxious all night drive has found its way to the first rosy rays of dawn.
Howard Iceberg’s “The Wrestler” reveals that dawn to be a bleak Sunday morning. Kasey Rausch’s warm vocals and Rich Hills’ spirited keys breathe hope into Iceberg’s doomed ballad. At the end of the song, when he and his girlfriend sit in church seeking redemption, the distance between here and heaven has never felt more like a cruel taunt.
Countering Iceberg’s closing declaration, “I’m gone,” The Blackbird Revue’s “When You Are Mine,” says you’re not getting away that easy. The duo’s airy vocals pile into cumulus dreams and harmonies fed by running crescendos of tom-tom and guitar before the morning’s color washes away with the revelations of death from Appropriate Grammar’s “Six Foot Dreams. A nagging guitar arpeggio anchors this rooted meditation. Despite all of the hopes and dreams raised by its drum and guitar battle climax, that one riff refuses to budge from its modulation around a single, fixed point.
So another night has gone, and day has come again, but the “search for dreams” Nick McKenna sings about is already lost. Fortunately for this lonely driver, another CD’s worth of music is yet to come.
To be continued….
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