* Takemitsu: I Hear The Water Dreaming, etc. (BBC Symphony/Davis, et al.) (DG CD)
* Takemitsu: A Flock Descends Into The Pentagonal Garden, etc. (TASHI, et al.) (DG CD)
* Takemitsu: In An Autumn Garden, etc. (Tsuruta/Yokoyama et al.) (DG CD)
* Charlie Christian: The Genius of Electric Guitar (Columbia/Legacy 4CD)
* Charles Mingus: The Jazz Workshop Concerts 1964-65 (d.5-6) (Mosaic 7CD)
* Slobber Pup (Joe Morris/Jamie Saft/Trevor Dunn/Balázs Pándi): Black Aces (Rare Noise 2LP)
* Tom Rainey Trio: Camino Cielo Echo (Intakt CD)
* Secret Keeper (Stephan Crump & Mary Halvorson): Zeitgeist Gallery 2013-05-10 (CDR)
* Rodger Coleman & Sam Byrd: Indeterminate (Improvisations for Piano and Drums) (NuVoid Jazz CD)
* Olu Dara: In The World: From Natchez To New York (Atlantic HDCD)
* Olu Dara: Neighborhoods (Atlantic HDCD)
* D’Angelo: Brown Sugar (EMI CD)
* Frank Ocean: Channel Orange (Island/Def Jam CD)
* Miguel: Kaleidoscope Dream (RCA CD)
* Grateful Dead: Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, Long Island 1979-11-01 (selections) (SBD 3CDR)
* Grateful Dead: Road Trips Vol.3 No.4: Penn State/Cornell ’80 (selections) (GDP/Rhino 3HDCD)
* Jerry Garcia Band: Garcia Live Vol.2: Greek Theatre 8/5/90 (Round/ATO 2HDCD)
* Black Sabbath: Black Sabbath (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)(†/‡)
* Black Sabbath: Paranoid (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)
* Black Sabbath: Master Of Reality (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)(†)
* Black Sabbath: Vol.4 (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)(†)
* Black Sabbath: Sabbath Bloody Sabbath (Warner Bros./Rhino LP)(†)
* Yes: Going For The One (Atlantic/Audio Fidelity SACD)
* Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me (Original Soundtrack) (Ardent/Omnivore 2LP)
* Queens Of The Stone Age: …Like Clockwork (Matador 2-45RPM LP)
* Opeth: Newbury Comics, Leominster, MA 2013-04-20 (AUD CDR)
* ASG: Blood Drive (Relapse 2-45RPM LP)†
* Beach House: Bloom (Sub Pop CD)
* Deafheaven: Sunbather (Deathwish, Inc. 2-45RPM LP)
I’m currently reading Mingus Speaks, John F. Goodman’s new collection of interviews with Charles Mingus (and others associated with him) recorded back in the early 1970s as part of a never-realized collaboration (Mingus passed away in 1979). In his preface, Goodman says:
I quit writing about music in the 1980s in part because I could never resolve the critic’s dilemma: you either limit yourself to readers versed in various kinds of technical talk and bore them with musicological maunderings, or you write your impressions. Neither approach alone is sufficient to render the sense of what’s going in music…Unlike most other arts, music dances away when you reach out to it (p.xii).
Goodman is, of course, fundamentally, frustratingly correct. But he leaves out another option for the music writer: sociology. The eccentric personalities, colorful scenes and myriad subcultures are easier to pin down in words than that elusive, ephemeral thing, music. But this is similarly a dead end. It might make for interesting stories but they rarely get to the essence of “what’s going on in music.”
I’ve been confronted with this conundrum ever since I began contemplating the new Deafheaven album, Sunbather.
It would be easy to smirkily comment how vocalist George Clarke and songwriter/guitarist Kerry McCoy look more like fashion models than metalheads, or explicate the provocatively sexy title1 and the incongruously cheery salmon/pink gradient of the album cover2. Or, on a more substantive note, I could examine the lyrics, which wrestle with wealth, poverty, family, love, loss, envy, desperation, death and spiritual confusion—though Clarke’s shrieking, buried in the mix, renders them unintelligible. I could describe the music as a mixture of black metal, shoegaze and post-rock (whatever that is), a cross between Barzum, My Bloody Valentine and Godspeed You! Black Emperor, blithely proclaim Sunbather an important, “breakthrough” record and call it a day.
But that would not get at “what’s going on” in this music.
I could describe how it felt the first time I played this album a couple weeks ago, being swept away by its ferocious intensity and dramatic dynamic swings, drawn into the hour-long ebb and flow that somehow suspended time and how I was overwhelmed by the powerful yet inexpressibly emotions the music evoked. But then that would just be my impressions, personal and subjective—and useless as criticism. Having listened to it repeatedly since, I could then bore you with some “musicological maundering,” dissecting the dense layers of guitars, fetishizing McCoy’s variegated tone and subtly sophisticated technique and his creative use of electronic effects, meanwhile parsing the polymath drumming of Daniel Tracy. I could focus on the epic lengths of the songs—nine, twelve, fifteen minutes—and the atmospheric interludes that link them together (only one of which doesn’t quite work)3. I could emphasize the moments of breathtaking beauty amidst the harsh distortion and manic screaming: pretty chiming guitars, like a whiff of fresh sea breeze in a bad neighborhood. I could assert this is a black metal album that would appeal to many people well outside of the narrow subculture that now shuns them for stepping outside its boundaries.
But this still does not get at why this record seems to matter, why it packs such an emotional wallop, why I think you all need to hear it—even if you think you don’t like this sort of thing. Sunbather feels like a moment-defining record—a true breakthrough for a young, hungry and ambitious band—leaving me at a loss for words. Some will dismiss it as pretentious, “hipster metal,” others as senseless noise. I call it art.
1. “The [title] song came to me as I was driving around…I moved in with my mom to go to school for a bit and just chill out because life was really hectic. She lives in such a beautiful town—she moved there a few years after I moved out—but I got really depressed in this bourgeois, all-white seaside community. So one day I skipped class, drove around and I just saw this girl in the nicest house, and she was just laying there [sunbathing], and I was totally overcome with immense depression. It looked so nice, and I was in that ‘what the fuck am I doing with my life?’ mood at the time. I had a notepad with me, and the first half of the song was jotted down right then” (Clarke interview with Pitchfork 2013-05-29).
2. “[T]he color that you see when you’re laying down in the sun and your eyes are closed[.] The pinks and yellows behind your eyelids” (Clarke interview with LA Weekly 2013-05-22).
3. That would be “Windows.”