The Outsiders: Vol. 1
We listen to a lot of music at Stereogum: Not all of our favorite sounds conform to what people might expect us to cover. Because the last Stereogum reader survey indicated folks wanted more information on “weirder indie stuff” — and we have plenty of that sorta thing to share — we decided to start a weekly column, The Outsiders, where resident Bananafish fetishist Brandon Stosuy can focus on bands, albums, singles, and villages in Sweden that may otherwise pass by unnoticed. Some installments could be thematic, but The Outsiders isn’t genre specific: It’s more about maintaining an eclectic virtual milk crate. For the debut, the fixation is guitars, often solo, sometimes incredibly fast, but also played at various speeds in conjunction with other instruments.
For starters, the often sadly overlooked experimental New York guitarist, composer, improviser, and big Six Organs Of Admittance influence Loren Connors. He’s been releasing records since 1978, but I first hear him in the mid ’90s when I stumbled upon 1992’s Hell’s Kitchen Park (Connors on electric guitar, his wife Suzanne Langille on vocals). Fittingly, his new double album As Roses Bow: Collected Airs 1992-2002, which pulls his guitar airs from ten different records, all remastered by Jim O’Rourke, opens with four tracks from Hell’s Kitchen Park (it was released on the excellent Indiana label, and home to a slew of Connors’s releases, Family Vineyard). In Connors’s words, the new record “was inspired by O’Carolan’s airs and other Irish airs of the past.” Continuing, “They came easy to me. I never had to labor over their completion. They seemed to just be there in me. Maybe the fairies put them in my head…” He’s right, these almost silent, often hissy tracks feel almost invisible, simple spiraling guitar notes that register like shadows. They often flow together, so in order to get a better idea of what happens across a few, take a listen to “An Air,” “Child,” and “Sorrow In The House,” three originally from Hell’s Park, the second one with Langille’s supremely subtle, achy vocals.
It can be tough learning about someone as Bob Pollard-prolific as Connors, someone who collaborates variously both with other musicians (O’Rourke, John Fahey, Kath Bloom, Alan Licht, Christina Carter, Keiji Haino, Jandek, etc) and other writers (yeah, he writes, too) and has more than 50 albums out on various labels like Table Of The Elements, Ecstatic Peace, the much missed Road Cone, Drag City, Carbon, his own imprints, etc. A good place to start is the very excellent career-spanning 3-CD set Night Through: Singles And Collected Works 1976-2004, also released by Family Vineyard. Eric Weddle, the guy who runs the label, told me Night Through is currently out of print, but is being repressed as we speak. While you wait, here’s “Adonais” from the collection. It was originally a one-sided 7″ (in an edition of 200), put out by Black Label 2/Father Yod. The second track, “Deirdre Of The Sorrows Pt. 4,” first showed up as part of of suite on a 1995 J.M. Synge-dropping split 7″ with Thurston Moore.
You can hear more of Connors at his site In the spirit of the holidays, take a listen to the two lovely takes on “Silent Night,” which he recorded in apartment in 1995 (the second includes vocals by his son). Connors was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease for more than a decade, but remains incredibly active.
Things get a little bit noisier with Mouthus, Orthodox, Octis (pictured), and others after the jump. Well, okay, there’s some quiet stuff on the other side, too.
[photo of Mick Barr from Ocrilim’s RiffSpace]
The Kim Gordon-approved Brooklyn guitar and drum duo of Brian Sullivan and Nate Nelson have been operating as Mouthus since 2002, constantly shape-shifting — from noisy clatters to near-silent Excepter ambiance, and now the new album’s … Surprsingly, after a number of records on Ecstatic Peace to Troubleman and etc, this more monkish Load album Saw A Halo is their first studio release (recorded at the ubiquitous Rare Book Room in Brooklyn by Samara Lubelski, a fine baroque psych-folkie in her own right). “Your Far Church” is the weirdly strummed, monk and gong opener, asking us to lay our guns down amid a rattling vibrational haunting. After that, the album develops a bigger clang.
Mick Barr is the amazingly quick, ultra entropic guitarist behind Orthrelm (pick up, OV, please), Ocrilim, a duo with Hella’s Zach Hill, and various other “o” bands like Octis. In October, the great Green Point label the Social Registry (see Blood On The Wall, Gang Gang Dance, Telepathe, etc), put out a 7″ of Barr’s flint-fingered fretwork as a part of their Social Club series (previous stuff by Jena Malone, Sian Alice Group, I.U.D., etc). Here’s a stream of the hypnotic, grinding Side A, “Navlt.” This isn’t a loop … dude plays like this.
Following up last year’s The Anchorite, the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles multi-instrumentalist Stephen R. Smith just released Owl on Digitalis Industries. It’s the first of his albums to include voice. Smith, who also records as Hala Strana, is connected to various Jewelled Antler-related projects (Mirza, Thuja). Like many of those forest-floor psych-folksters, he often mixes various noisemakers — hurdy gurdy, fiddles, harmonium, bouzuki — and Eastern European scales and drones with his playing. On Owl he keeps it spare, evoking some early melancholic New Zealand sounds (think Xpressway records, the Jefferies brothers). Take a listen to “Across The Flats” and “Whistling,” both from the album, which was just released by Digitalis Industries.
Turning up the volume again, the Spanish doom trio Orthodox sport Sunn 0))) hoods and grind sludgy Melvins riffs like the best of them, but on their sophomore album Amanecer en Puerta Oscura, they’ve folded clarinet, contrabass, trumpet, and large does of brittle piano into the crunch, creating jazzier rambles amid the earthy, Sabbathian dynamics. Standout track “Solemne Triduo” leans on the heavier side of things, but listen to the delicate bells working their way through the caterwauling vocals (sorta like Serj, no?) and delicate guitar balancing the heavier chords. Other tunes are purer Blue Note ambiance or jaw harp set against the wind and flamenco guitar, a super skeletal Earth.
While we’re talking Southern Lord, and perhaps fixating too much on six-stringers, why not exit the Outsiders to the lofty fuzz bass and drums of Om’s “Unitive Knowledge Of The Godhead,” the second song from their third amazing record Pilgrimage. If you don’t know these guys, they’re the ex-rhythm section of archetypal stoner rock trio Sleep. Definitely search out more … it’s more of the same, and all pleasingly heady.
Exhale. In honor of Om, this first installment of the Outsiders was kind of epic. I’ll rein it in by next week. If you can think of someone worth covering here, pass along a tip to brandon at stereogum dot com.