excellent little write up on Pitchfork
Here’s a nice little write up in the Fader.
For Ten Hits For The End of The World, their upcoming LP on Paw Tracks, the Larson sisters hatched a premise so elaborate that it’s almost hard to believe they went through with it. Imagine that we’re living in the aftermath of the apocalypse, and Prince Rama is somehow still alive, and they’ve decided to make a covers compilation of the ten most popular songs around the globe on the day the world ended. The making of Ten Hits, which drops November 6th, involved the conception of ten imaginary artists, the penning of a track corresponding to each of them, and the physical embodiment of those fictional characters across ten separate photo shoots. The catchy-as-hell “Those Who Live For Love Will Live Forever” arrives to us today as a “channeling” of fictional British post-punk collective I.M.M.O.R.T.A.L.I.F.E., a musical “sex cult” founded on the belief that lovemaking is the elixir of eternal life, and that the right kind of dance anthem can get people in the mood.
That’s right! Interview magazine of all places
With the premiere of their first official EP—their initial (and hopeful) handshake with the general public—the Brooklyn-based Vensaire wants to show you what they’ve got. We’re pleased to premiere the EP in its entirety [at right].
Akin to a jigsaw puzzle, Vensaire is assembled from jagged, oblong, and often eccentrically shaped pieces: influences range from the sweeping sounds of traditional Chinese music, to the soothing voice of Billie Holiday, to the spastic and stuttered beats of Chicago footwork, to the stories that accompany psychedelic folk music.
And they want you to know that. Each song presented on the EP is authored separately by each of the five members; it’s a way to introduce themselves. “We wanted to solidify our personalities within the band,” said Alex LaLiberte, vocalist and synth player. “The Beatles did it so right, you can name each member of the band… you can hear each influence… and that’s what we want.” Alex Jacobs, the band’s drummer, added, “It’s a more personal approach.”
Maybe it’s democracy, or maybe they’re just naïve—either way, it seems to be working. Full of light-hearted jangles layered upon an atmospheric grunginess, the EP is both salty and sweet. As each track audibly personifies the member who wrote it, the listener becomes acquainted with every facet of the group, “like you are meeting a bunch of people at a party,” remarked LaLiberte.
It’s their résumé, so to speak, a glimpse into what they can do—and it was enough to get the attention of Scott Colburn (known previously for working with the likes of Animal Collective, Prince Rama, and Arcade Fire), who helped produce their debut full-length record, Perdix, which they are currently looking for a label to release.
All in all, it’s not a bad introduction.
Did anyone see Neon Trees on Kelly and Michael today?
You can read the review from the TapeOp site here
Practical Studio Construction (DVD)
< by Scott Colburn >
Reviewed by Scott McChane ©2012, Tape Op Issue 91
Perhaps your car is not worth parking in the garage anymore? Or maybe you’ve cleared out your basement, deciding to generally complicate your life further by building a recording studio in your home? If you’ve done any research, you’ll find many opinions and methods for creating critical listening and recording environments in an existing space. However, as with most specialized projects, if you’ve never done it before, you’re bound to make some mistakes. Having built two rooms myself in the past (and now occupying a third built by someone else), I have had to work around those mistakes every day.
While it may be ideal to hire professionals (engineers, architect, contractors, etc.) for the construction, many of us don’t have the resources to do so, and we end up designing and building ourselves. Solid DIY room construction requires research, planning, tweaking, and if at all possible, consultation with the experts. Most important is the advice and experience of someone that’s “done it all” before; this way, you’ll be learning from their mistakes instead of just making your own.
Scott Colburn (a past Tape Op contributor who was himself interviewed in Tape Op #11), is an educated and experienced recording engineer who also taught acoustics at the college level. It’s apparent to me that he’s also got some construction knowledge. In Practical Studio Construction, he diligently documents his own experiences (from concept to completion) building a critical listening room within an existing space. After watching his one-hour video a few times, it was easy to see how I could’ve used some of his advice and techniques in my own builds.
The video plays like a special episode of This Old House – well organized, easy to follow, and unpretentious. Practical, common-sense tips like pre-drilling ceiling studs, cutting drywall, and creating custom jigs, make this video a must for newbies. For his control room project, Mr. Colburn employed a combination of Chips Davis’ “live end, dead end” acoustic design with a room-ratio formula developed by Wes Lachot [Tape Op #21]. The DVD touches on acoustic design and treatment, but is foremost a step- by-step guide for calculating room angles, hanging ceilings, building walls, floating floors, mudding, painting, and finishing your room.
While watching this video, you’ll learn terms like “acoustic short circuit,” defined by Colburn as any connection to the existing structure. You’ll learn how to avoid acoustic short circuits by utilizing isolating materials such as neoprene, resilient channel, and hockey pucks to decouple your new construction from the existing structure. Other concerns addressed include choosing doors with a sufficient sound- transmission class and consulting a structural engineer when necessary.
Throughout the DVD, there is a careful emphasis placed on planning, measurement, and safety – important ingredients for a successful building project. In addition to the techniques provided on the video, a wealth of indispensable information (such as manufacturers of acoustic building products; articles and books on acoustics; discussion forums; etc.) is provided at the companion website.
During construction of my previous rooms, I did consult textbooks and colleagues. In return, I received a wealth of theory and opinion – without practical suggestions on actual execution and affordable building materials. There’s definitely a sense of pride in taking ownership of your own studio’s construction, but in the end, I could’ve used some guidance from a veteran. That’s exactly what this DVD is all about – covering everything from planning; installing ceiling hangers; mounting resilient channel; hanging drywall; layering floors and sub floors; installing wood and steel studs; stuffing insulation; caulking, mudding, and finishing; choosing ceiling treatment; building “703” acoustic panels; placing diffusion; and more. Both the production style and spirit of this DVD is smart, to-the- point, and entirely enabling, perpetuating a “this is how I did it, you can too” attitude. Construction tips and techniques are indispensable to the uninitiated without being distracting or annoying to those of us with some building experience. Though this DVD doesn’t cover building a live tracking room, electrical concerns, or permits, it will give you the insight of experience in constructing your control room or listening environment. Mr. Colburn’s disclaimer at the beginning of the video emphasizes that this DVD is “a testimonial” of his experience building his personal studio. He further states, “While it’s trying to give suggestions on how to do construction, each individual situation will vary and require personal examination by the purchaser as to the specific requirements of any physical space.” Disclaimers aside, consider this; how many guys at Mr. Colburn’s level do you know personally that you can consult for your building project? For about the price of two sheets of drywall, you can purchase the DVD. Consider it a materials expense for your project. You’ll thank him later. A recommended investment! ($20 plus postage; www.practicalstudioconstruction.com) -SM
by Mark Masters. Read this excellent overview here
Sun City Girls
By mixing primal jamming, worldly influences, and a bountiful release strategy, Sun City Girls spent 25 years defying conventions of structure and taste.
by Marc Masters
“It’d be a lot more relaxed if your whole life was recorded and put on record.” –Alan Bishop of Sun City Girls, in a 1989 Forced Exposure interview
Sun City Girls didn’t actually record and release every sound they made during their quarter-century life as a band. But sometimes it feels like they did. From 1981 to 2007, the dizzyingly prolific trio built a discography so large and varied, it’s doubtful that anyone outside the band owns it all. According to their own website, they generated 50 albums, 23 cassettes, 12 7″s, 12 soundtracks, 25 compilation appearances, six feature-length videos, and a number of other curios and oddities. (Twenty-eight of the releases on their own label, Abduction, have just been issued digitally for the first time.)
Sun City Girls weren’t the world’s first prolific band, and they won’t be the last. But what’s interesting about their oeuvre isn’t the sheer volume, but how that volume reflects their approach to making art. Their body of work is sprawling because the music itself sprawled, barreling through genres, ethnicities, and languages, and trashing notions of spiritual, political, and cultural taste. Always happy to err on the side of abandon, courting bemusement, embarrassment, and critical punishment, Sun City Girls stretched a take-the-bad-with-the-good philosophy to a place where the distinction between good and bad eventually breaks down altogether.
Sun City Girls were unafraid– even eager– to be ugly.
“We make hard decisions and we make ’em quickly, and we move on,” Alan Bishop told The Wire in 2004. “The downside of that approach is that there is too much for people to digest. The upside is that it’s fearless… So we leave a few diamonds by the roadside and we leave a few heaps of pterodactyl shit as well.” Or as Alan’s bandmate and brother Rick said 2009: “We just thought, ‘What the hell, get it out there, who cares what people think– let’s be done with it and start on the next one.’ That’s how we worked. We released stuff that no band in their right mind would ever consider releasing. It was a beautiful thing.”
Part of why it was so beautiful was because Sun City Girls were unafraid– even eager– to be ugly. They loved to wander through shambling songs, confounding rants, untamed improvisations, and goofball theatrics, in search of some unknown truth that even they might not understand. Often when it seemed they had drowned in the deep end, they’d resurface with artistic gold, hitting epiphanies that only made sense because of all the diving it took to find them.
This drive to baffle goes back to their earliest days. Formed in 1981 by the Bishop brothers in Phoenix, Arizona (home of a retirement community known as “Sun City”), they briefly went through a few line-ups before settling as a trio with drummer Charlie Gocher. From there, they entered the hostile territory of the punk scene. Their first gig was an opening slot for Black Flag (in front of “a bunch of skinheads [who] absolutely hated us,” Rick told Forced Exposure), and their first American tour supported skate-punks JFA, aka Jodie Foster’s Army. That may have been a deal with the devil– Alan played bass in JFA in exchange for Sun City Girls tagging along– but it actually helped cement the trio’s resolve.
“It was easy to develop sort of an anti-audience attitude,” Rick told Popwatch in 1999. “Much of the time it was us against the crowd, and the more they hated us the more we relished the fact that we were controlling their evening by purposefully putting them in an environment they were uncomfortable with.” Taking naturally to the role of contrarian villains, they found power in eschewing automatic acceptance. As Gocher put it to Forced Exposure, “It takes a certain kind of person to understand the joy of being rejected.”
Photo by Toby Dodds
Why did punk crowds reject Sun City Girls? Perhaps because, ironically, their music was so open. More than any other underground American rock band in the previous three decades, they used the entire world for artistic inspiration and sonic miscegenation. It’s no wonder the music sprawled, veering into fractured rock, twisted ragas, creepy ballads, surf-riding jams, tightly-wound Asian-inflected pop, and blabbering poetry. When every sound made in every far corner of the earth is fair game, things can get messy.
The group’s worldly influences were acquired first-hand. Since the mid-80s, the Bishops have frequently traveled the globe, playing and recording everywhere from India to Morocco to Indonesia. But the seeds of their non-Western obsessions were planted even earlier, when the brothers grew up in a Michigan family with close ties to its Lebanese ancestry.
Especially vital was their grandfather, who lived down the street– a master musician who rifled off Arabic tunes during basement jam sessions as the brothers watched in awe. His home was also a gathering place for friends versed in Freemasonry, fueling the Bishops’ later interest in rituals and the occult. “There was a weird Arabian Nights type of magic in that house, both light and dark,” Rick once said. “My most vivid childhood dreams and experiences took place there and they were dark indeed. By the age of 10, I had an entire pantheon of different sprits catalogued in my head.”
Those spirits persisted throughout Sun City Girls’ career, a kind of roller-coaster ride through a secret, bastardized history of the global underground. Even some of their farthest-out jams hinted at tunes uncovered in dusty foreign cassette bins or torn from trebly soundtracks of salvaged Bollywood classics. Just as often, the trio would quickly learn those melodies and rip them out in sharp, masterful form between looser improvisations.
Such discoveries guided 1990’s Torch of the Mystics, an enchanting record often cited as the group’s finest achievement. It showcases Rick’s versatile guitar playing, capable of conjuring sonic spectres from thin air; Gocher’s limitless drumming, rooted in jazz but hard enough to chisel rock; and Alan’s mesmerizing voice, darting from hypnotic moans to spirit-channeling warble. But even though Torch of the Mystics can get wild, it’s mostly pretty focused (the longest song lasts merely seven minutes), making it a bit of an anomaly in the group’s discography.
More typical were albums mixing Sun City Girls’ non-Western interests with distended explorations of power-trio rock. Take 1996’s 330,003 Crossdressers From Beyond the Rig Veda, 130 minutes of electrifying sound stretched across two CDs. Absorbing its 23 songs is an immersive experience, like waking up inside an experimental film where catchy Hindi surf snuggles with spooky street-folk, rattling experiments frame surreal skits, and a 35-minute live odyssey called “Ghost Ghat Trespass/Sussmeier” conjures demons.
If that sounds too daunting, try 1993’s Kaliflower, a midpoint between Torch-style precision and the outer realms of Crossdressers. (It was also the first studio album released on Abduction, after years spent with JFA’s label Placebo and the stellar Seattle label Majora). It offers the loping séance “Dead Chick in the River”, the eerie prayer “And So the Dead Tongue Sang”, the “Monster Mash”-on-acid “I Knew a Jew Named Frankenstein,” and a 17-minute storm called “The Venerable Uncle Tompa” (a variation on the even-longer “Venerable Song (The Meaning Of Which Is No Longer Known)” from 1993’s Bright Surroundings, Dark Beginnings).
Kaliflower opens with one of the band’s most potent tracks, “X+Y = Fuck You”. Here, Alan raps punning beat-poetry in the mode of a character he called “Uncle Jim” while Charlie and Rick spill rolling beats and radio-static feedback. Alan closes with a command that sums up the group’s attitude: “If you can comprehend polyrhythmic murder to the tune of ‘Ignorance is Bliss’/ You know there will never be a critic who will be qualified to critique this.”
Plenty of critics ignored that dictum, particularly when discussing Sun City Girls’ use of sights and sounds absorbed from their global travels. Confronted by their masks, costumes, and other borrowed iconography, some branded them cultural imperialists. For aficionados, such pageantry was more about mystery; the creepiness of their garb matched the weird amalgams in the music. But others saw disrespectful appropriation with a dose of ugly American privilege.
One such objection came from The Wire‘s Chris Bohn after he saw the trio perform in late 2005. “Their tourette-like tirades in an indeterminate language, cyberdelic exotica visuals, alarmingly poor skits, and palm-wine drunkard storytelling are all so poorly executed that you can only conclude that a trio of loutish fools rather than jesters are inhabiting their carnival costumes,” he wrote. “Their satire… ends up trampling all over the sensibilities of the places and folklores they romp through.”
It’s doubtful Sun City Girls agreed, but I bet they were amused. After all, they had long enjoyed rejection. Besides, Alan had already answered those charges in The Wire itself, a year before Bohn’s reaction. “Tradition is not about slavish imitation,” he told the magazine. “The last thing I want to see is a bunch of fucking white guys playing Javanese gamelan proper… They are being disrespectful because they are not evolving the situation. They are not rolling the dice. They are copying, just following somebody else’s rules.”
For me, this cultural dice-rolling was also a form of education– not only through Sun City Girls’ own music, but also Alan’s art-excavation project known as the Sublime Frequencies label. In less than a decade, he’s amassed a huge catalog of global artifacts, upwards of 70 CDs, LPs, and DVDs. Most of it was gathered during his travels (he claims to have been to Thailand alone over 30 times), from “Radio” editions crafted from hours of listening to broadcasts, to collections of songs he finds tucked away in shops and on street corners. (Some have accused Alan of taking advantage of underprivileged musicians, but he swears the label does everything possible to compensate any artists it can actually locate).
Sublime Frequencies is an achievement in preservation, as well as a kind of musical bibliography of the influences behind Sun City Girls’ own work. And the label has exposed the Western world to some great current artists, leading to global reknown for excellent Syrian musician Omar Souleyman. “If the source material wasn’t documented beyond the context of its specific locales, the material would be deprived of its full power and magnificence,” he told the website Artist Advocacy in 2010. “And many others who could actually benefit from these powers would never get the opportunity to experience it otherwise.”
Sun City Girls’ music offered a similar kind of education, but anyone showing up to their concerts hoping for a musicology lesson would have been disappointed. They actually didn’t tour that much, but their rare appearances proved perplexing. At one of their biggest shows, at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, they abandoned instruments altogether, offering what long-time Sun City Girls producer Scott Colburn described to The Wire as “a skit about three hobos waiting for a train.” Added Rick, “A lot of people were upset with it, but that’s just the breaks… we thought, if there’s going to be 600 people there, let’s do something they’ll remember.” Even more baffling was a Seattle show billed as “Sun City Girls play John Coltrane’s Live in Seattle,” which featured the original Coltrane album playing on the club’s PA with the band nowhere to be found.
In concert, Sun City Girls could jump from sharp rock jams
to free-form blare with an exactitude that would
require years of rehearsal for most bands.
As prankish as Sun City Girls’ performances could be, the group could also approach shows with surprising forethought. According to Colburn, the trio prepared for one tour by combing through old set lists to avoid song repeats. That story chimes with my experience: In 2004, my brother and I followed the band during a short East Coast tour, filming each show along the way (see an excerpt below). It was the only time I’ve ever trailed a band, but I was amazed by how different each performance was. The group consistently pulled out obscure compilation contributions or odd B-sides from 7″ singles that were over a decade old. And they jumped from sharp rock jams to free-form blare with an exactitude that would require years of rehearsal for most bands.
If you’re looking for a single Sun City Girls release that captures that kind of head-rushing range… well, there are a lot of them. The brave could start with the neck-breaking triple-CD Box of Chameleons, a vault-clearing compilation spanning the time between their first home recordings and its 1996 release. It’s like a space-based radio station picking up the band’s beamed detritus, but it’s probably too schizophrenic for the uninitiated.
Instead I’d recommend the group’s most successful extended project, the Carnival Folklore Resurrection Series. Volumes in this series came out so quickly– 14 between 2000 and 2006– that it was tempting to assume it was another vault dump. But each one showed a different, integral side of the band. There are the hypnotizing séances of Cameo Demons and Their Manifestations; the high-level free-jazz of A Bullet Through The Last Temple; the ritualistic creep of Sumatran Electric Chair; and the best-of blasts of Libyan Dream, which supposedly was “originally released as 50 cassette copies dropped in cassette vendors racks in various cities throughout SE Asia in 1993.” There’s also the requisite bafflement, this time courtesy of two volumes made for radio broadcasts, and one called The Handsome Stranger featuring Gocher’s growling, oft-unbearable tales.
The Handsome Stranger:
It’s those kind of releases where Sun City Girls’ risky approach most openly courted failure. Their absurd storytelling was like stand-up comedy without punch-lines, and it could turn tedious– take Gocher’s weird yarns on the double-CD Dante’s Disneyland Inferno, or an early LP of painful covers and interludes called Midnight Cowboys from Ipanema, which even Rick admitted to The Wire was “pretty bad stuff.” Perhaps the best way to reconcile these more maddening moments is to watch their full-length videos, especially the legendary 1994 VHS tape Cloaven Theater (an extension of their early self-released cassettes from the late 80s). Seeing them get a kick out of flirting with disaster and threatening to kill you with boredom is somehow more thrilling when it’s all hacked together in a manic kaleidoscope.
Boredom was less of a danger when Sun City Girls targeted politics. Take the bizarre early LP Horse Cock Phepner, with its vulgar paens to Nancy Reagan and the CIA, or the juvenile, Fugs-like “Prick of the World”, a psycho-sexual tribute to the Washington Monument. Rick has downplayed the former record’s topical bent: “We looked at it as a chance to catch up with our obscenity quota. I don’t think we had any intention of doing anything that resembled a political album. I think it was more of a documentation of the American nightmare in all its incestuous beauty.” But there’s something hilarious about the way they applied absurdist humor to serious subjects.
Maybe that’s why Sun City Girls meshed so well with experimental guitarist Eugene Chadbourne, who’s also baffled audiences by conflating the sublime and the silly. In 1989, they collaborated with him on Country Music in the World of Islam Volume XV (featuring cover art by Simpsons creator Matt Groening), a miniature classic of wry ditties and frayed improv. The humor level may not rise past titles like “Don’t Burn the Flag, Let’s Burn the Bush”, but the songs are consistently interesting, upending notions of how substantial novelty music can be.
But to me, the best Sun City Girls moments came when they leavened the humor and theatrics by simply hammering out improvised rock music. This often resulted in long pieces that seem to fly by, like “Distorted Views”, a cinematic 34-minute track from 2002’s Wah that in other hands might be interminable. Elsewhere, they chopped their rock into heavy chunks, such as on 1993’s Valentines from Matahari and 2006’s Djinn Funnel, both masterpieces of raw, primal jamming. It’s a sound that may seem harsh to some, but for a certain sect of Sun City Girls fanatics, it was the molten core of their musical earth.
That core felt strong enough to last forever. But in 2007, Gocher passed away after a long fight with cancer, and the Bishops decided they couldn’t continue Sun City Girls without him. They subsequently toured as the Brothers Unconnected, playing a handful of classics and screening Gocher’s films beforehand. Both have also forged evolving solo careers– Rick with his fast-handed guitar missives under the name Sir Richard Bishop, and Alan with his creepy bedroom folk as Alvarius B.
Sun City Girls’ legacy is also evolving. Their prolific activity and affinity for sprawl was picked up by acts such as No-Neck Blues Band, Jackie-O Motherfucker, Bardo Pond, Sunburned Hand of the Man, and Animal Collective (who hired Scott Colburn to record Feels because of his work with Sun City Girls, and have tapped Sir Richard Bishop to open for them).
Yet there’s something illogical about anyone even attempting to approximate what this unique band accomplished. The Bishops sometimes speak of Sun City Girls as a phenomena that occurred when they were in a room with Charlie Gocher– something beyond their control that even they couldn’t replicate. And the point was always to move forward rather than look back. Maybe the title of the final track on one of their best live records, Live from Planet Boomerang, says it best: “You Could Be Making History and We’re Already Forgetting You”.
This band’s music is stuck in my head most days