Yo La Tengo Look Back to Move Forward With ‘Stuff Like That There’

For Yo La Tengo — staunchly independent rock stalwarts, human-jukebox monolith, proud wavers of the Hoboken flag for three decades, and one of the last of the elder statesmen left standing in the wake of Sonic Youth’s dissolution — 2015 has been a year of both sea change and reminiscence. There was the news that the pride of Hoboken, guitarist/singer Ira Kaplan, and his drummer/angel-voiced wife, Georgia Hubley, had jettisoned the New Jersey city with which they’ve been synonymous and crossed the river for Manhattan digs. On the phone, Kaplan plays it low-key when it comes to their move: “One step ahead of the sheriff, like anyone else.”

He’s more psyched to talk about Stuff Like That There, a new Yo La Tengo record that nonetheless represents a dip into the band’s storied past. An eclectic set of cover songs, reworked tunes from their sprawling catalog, and a couple of fresh originals, Stuff is vintage Yo La Tengo minus Kaplan’s trademark guitar freak-outs and organ-fueled drone-fests. As Kaplan admits, they carefully dialed back 25 years for inspiration. “We really did go full-concept on the record.”

[pullquote]Ira Kaplan on Stuff Like That There: ‘We really did go full-concept on the record.'[/pullquote]

Kaplan traces Stuff‘s lineage to Fakebook, their unplugged fourth record from 1990, which found Yo La Tengo geeking out on a glorious hodgepodge of classics and bargain-bin obscurities from the likes of Cat Stevens, Daniel Johnston, the Kinks, NRBQ, the Scene Is Now, and John Cale.

Using Fakebook as their live-feel blueprint, Yo La Tengo went about re-creating the harmony-driven beauty, ghostly textures, and back-porch-jam vibes of their breakthrough record. They returned to the same Hoboken recording studio; original producer Gene Holder again manned the boards. Longtime electric-bass player James McNew took the upright-bass reins. Guitarist Dave Schramm was welcomed back into the fold, and Kaplan traded in his electric for an acoustic guitar. Kaplan had no problem yielding the steel-strung spotlight once again to Schramm, whose fretboard handiwork is all over Yo La Tengo’s roots-rocky, Feelies-inspired 1986 debut, Ride the Tiger.

“It wasn’t like, ‘Oh, finally I get this damn electric guitar off,’ ” Kaplan says of slinging only the acoustic on Stuff and expanding into a quartet. “Dave is just a great guitar player, and it’s fun. It changes the whole dynamic. The difference between three people and four people, it’s pretty shocking at times. The three of us have done so much together for so long, it kind of makes sense to introduce somebody else into it. Everything changes.”

Indeed, in Yo La Tengo’s universe, changes are well afoot: Kaplan and Hubley left Hoboken behind; the legendary indie-rock hub Maxwell’s, where their annual Hanukkah shows became the stuff of legend, is now a restaurant; and Schramm is back in the fray, at least for the moment. But this much is certain: The stripped-down Stuff, their fourteenth record, is classic Yo La Tengo in all its sublime dream-folk glory.

A record collector’s coup that only music buffs like Yo La Tengo could have whipped up, Stuff‘s grab bag of covers is a virtual Music History 101, and Hubley’s star turn on it is liable to melt hearts. On Hank Williams’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry,” her sultry whispers transform the timeless beer-soaked tearjerker into a gorgeous bedtime lullaby. She takes the doo-wop strut of “My Heart’s Not In It,” by r&b queen Darlene McCrea, and imagines it as a countrified stroll (Schramm’s homegrown twang doesn’t hurt the cause). And on the R.E.M.-ish jangle of the Cure’s “Friday I’m in Love,” her delightfully morose delivery — and the hilarious, apocalypse-themed video that goes with it — would roust even Robert Smith from his doldrums to crack a smile.

“It’s a song we’ve done a couple of times over the years but in more of an electric arrangement,” says McNew of the Cure’s mopey pop hit from 1992. “I think we all kept it in the backs of our minds, thinking that we could do it again and that it could fit in nice among the other songs on this record.”

While Yo La Tengo’s knack for pulling covers out at will is to die for (check out Yo La Tengo Is Murdering the Classics, their all-covers collection captured live at WFMU’s annual pledge drives), it’s their reinterpreted songs, such as Fakebook‘s “Barnaby, Hardly Working” (taken from ’89’s President Yo La Tengo), that are something to behold. Stuff Like That There continues the trend, stripping the fuzzy noise from their own “The Ballad of Red Buckets,” “Deeper Into Movies,” and “All Your Secrets” and giving them the magically quiet treatment of Schramm’s piquant riffs, Kaplan’s delicate strums and chugs, Hubley’s brushed backbeats, and McNew’s beefy rhythms.

[pullquote]”Since we’ve been rehearsing for the tour, we’ve worked out a ton more [reinterpreted songs]. At least a couple of them, we were like, ‘Hmmm, that’s an interesting version. Maybe we should have or will record some more.’ ”[/pullquote]

“We’ve tried a bunch of them and those were the ones we felt like recording,” Kaplan says of the revamped tunes that made it onto Stuff. “Since we’ve been rehearsing for the tour, we’ve worked out a ton more. At least a couple of them, we were like, ‘Hmmm, that’s an interesting version. Maybe we should have or will record some more.’ ” Kaplan notes that two takes that benefited from this experimentation, an acoustic try at “Deeper Into Movies” and a guitar-laden “All Your Secrets,” were particularly apt examples of this different approach.

For McNew, Stuff presented a challenge of sorts. Not yet a Yo La Tengo member when Fakebook was released (his debut was on 1992’s May I Sing With Me) but a fan who originally bought the record and caught the tour, McNew knew that Al Greller (of the Schramms) played the upright bass on Fakebook. Since Stuff was to be Fakebook‘s companion piece, McNew wanted to uphold tradition. Thing is, he had never handled an upright bass before. Kaplan didn’t expect that his bandmate would start from scratch and put himself through (self-taught) upright-bass school.

“It’s crazy,” Kaplan recalls. “When we were talking about doing this record it was the assumption on Georgia and my part that we’ll do it with electric bass this time. You know, it’s not like we’re asking to learn how to play upright bass. And James was like, ‘Well, I did!’ ” McNew admits to being nervous as a full-scale tour awaits — one for which the upright will be his instrument of choice. “I know I’m not supposed to say that, but yes, I am [nervous]. I’m more excited than anything else. It feels so cool to be in uncharted territories. There’s a weird excitement that comes with this sort of inner feeling. It’s somewhere between terror and excitement. We’ll see what happens.”

What will happen at Flatbush’s majestic Kings Theatre on October 10 promises to be a bash worthy of Yo La Tengo’s much-missed Hanukkah shows. They’ll tap into a healthy swath of songs from their pioneering 31-year arc, offering covers galore and reimagined originals in an all-acoustic format. Just don’t expect a sequel to Stuff Like That There anytime soon. According to Kaplan, it may take awhile:

“Set your alarm for 25 years.”

Yo La Tengo headline the Kings Theatre for an acoustic set on October 10. For ticket information, click here.


Mike Krol Hates Jazz and Wants No Part of Your SoCal Garage-Rock Scene

Mike Krol truly doesn’t give a fuck. The L.A.-via-NYC-via-Wisconsin garage-punk outsider is, put bluntly, anti-everything, but certainly not lacking in the shits ’n’ giggles department. In Krol’s wacky world, nothing is sacred. The harmless provocateur has self-released junk-fi slabs with titles like I Hate Jazz and Trust Fund. On the just-dropped Turkey — his Merge Records debut — this School of Visual Arts grad isn’t softening up on the shtick or dialing down the catchy-assed DIY raunch.

There’s the goofy album art (Krol graces the cover in full-on cop garb, with Seventies-styled mustache to boot), hilarious low-budget vids, a bowling reference in the title (three strikes in a row!), and, on insanely melodic yet simplistic rippers such as the pointed “Left Out (ATTN: SoCal Garage Rockers),” lyrics like “I’m so bored/With the stereotype/Even though if I tried/I couldn’t do that right.” Krol embraces his being part of just one scene: his own. In spite of that, Krol is still finding himself lumped into a group, having drawn comparisons to Thee Oh Sees and King Tuff.

[pullquote]’There’s a lot of happy accidents and it’s loud and kind of not perfect.'[/pullquote]

“I thought I was being pretty obvious that I’m saying I don’t really like that scene and those bands that call themselves garage bands,” says Krol on the phone from a gas station in Tucson, where he played a gig the night before. “Living in Southern California and being interested in garage music is just kind of hard because there’s so many bands and it’s such a scene and it’s incestuous. The bands that are hot are like the hottest bands, and they are hyped by everyone — without naming any names and a record label, in particular, that is named after a food item.” He laughs.

While Krol won’t single out that label, the proud outcast has no problem recounting how he hooked up with the legendary Merge imprint. His tale of inking a record deal with the famed label — home to major players like Arcade Fire, Titus Andronicus, Bob Mould, and his beloved Superchunk — is that of having scored one for the underdog. By Krol’s account: Fledgling, scuzzball rocker home-records and self-releases two lo-fi records. He then shops them to labels like Merge. Nothing happens. That is, until he sends them to a particular radio station: New Jersey’s staunchly independent WFMU. Enter Tom Scharpling, mastermind of The Best Show.

“It wasn’t until Tom Scharpling started playing them and liking them that I got a chance to meet him kind of randomly at WFMU one night,” Krol recalls. “I was helping my friend Pat, who DJ’s there on Wednesday nights. I met Tom because he happened to come back to the studio because he left something there from earlier in the day. We hit it off, and he told me he liked the record and if I got him some new material he would help shop it around to some labels. I took that as my opportunity to go and record something as quickly as possible.” Krol then hit the studio to put down the tracks that would ultimately become Turkey — even before the Merge deal went down.

“The time that Tom told me, ‘You get me a record, I will help shop it around and see if any labels are interested’ was in December of 2013,” Krol says. “I immediately booked studio time in March of 2014. Then I just wrote songs. I then recorded it all on two-inch tape in a studio that is all analog and all old-school technology. That’s why it sounds messed up, in a charming way. There’s a lot of happy accidents, and it’s loud and kind of not perfect.”

At a miracle nineteen minutes, Turkey is snotty power-pop and sludge-bathed rock ‘n’ roll perfection, with Krol going off the rails on feeling left out of every scene and wasting away in suburbia. Fuzzy ragers like “Neighborhood Watch,” “This Is the News,” and “La La La” channel Krol’s heroes — Cheap Trick, Superchunk, Descendents — while his affinity for pop hooks reaches Bob Pollard levels.

“That’s my thing,” says Krol of his songwriting technique. “I like to make short songs and short records just so that they require more listening, so that they become more embedded in the listener’s brain. It’s a concept, if you will, of trying to trick people subliminally.”

This coming Monday and Tuesday, Krol returns to New York, where he lived for four years, to rock the Cake Shop and Baby’s All Right. Krol and his band of misfits may be sporting matching cop uniforms, and the smoke machine will be on full blast. He talks glowingly about shooting the shit over a slice like the good ol’ days with his SVA teacher, graphic design mentor, and swissted mastermind Mike Joyce, and credits his time here for driving his music mission.

“The most important thing I was doing when I was living in Brooklyn and Manhattan was I got a four-track recorder, so I was making a lot of little short demos and songs that I would do for fun in my apartment,” says Krol. “It was those years in New York that got me into the home-recording thing, which is what I did for my first two records.”

While Krol traded in home recording for a legit studio on Turkey, the end result is just as scuzzy, and his m.o. remains solidly anti-. “I’m just trying to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing,” he says. “If everyone is gonna draw an alien head, a peace sign, and a weed leaf on their cover, I’m gonna wear a police outfit and say, ‘Fuck you. I’m a cop.’ That’s a joke, but in a sense, the idea is, whatever is cool, I want to do the opposite. Maybe I’ll find a different crowd that understands and appreciates that.”

Mike Krol plays the Cake Shop on September 28 and Baby’s All Right on September 29. Click here and here for ticket information.


Jon Fine on His Rock Memoir ‘Your Band Sucks’: The Good Stories Come From ‘the Schleppers of Any Scene’

“Hopefully I’m much less of a flaming asshole than I was.” Jon Fine, the self-deprecating talking head, longtime Brooklynite, and author of the sprawling, shoot-from-the-hip, love/hate letter to his fiercely independent D.I.Y. upbringing he calls Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock’s Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear), is making amends. Rock memoirs like his — Your Band Sucks traces his lineage from New Jersey music snob and Oberlin slacker geeking out on punk rock, zines, college radio, and record stores to co-founder of pioneering Eighties post-hardcore squelchers Bitch Magnet — tend to have that effect. Fine is feeling apologetic, kind of, for his dickish behavior back in the day.

While the guitarist turned Inc. Magazine executive editor takes no prisoners in his brutally candid tome as he (hilariously) trashes seminal and beloved bands like Beat Happening (“Not everyone shares those opinions or likes that but I don’t know what to say about that. ‘Sorry’? It is what it is”), it’s his stories of butting heads with bandmates, causing years-long rifts, with respect to which he now admits he could have gone about things differently.

“My basic feeling is adults don’t really change that radically, but if you are a decent adult, you can get better at being the person that you are,” Fine explains of growing up, even in his late forties. “I’m always going to be excitable; I’m always going to talk too fast and I’m always going to have a million opinions.” Fine admits he has “fucked up bad” in the past but says that, as the old adage goes, time heals all wounds. Or not. “I don’t know about that, actually,” he says, laughing. “I still have this enormous chip on my shoulder about high school.”

As Your Band Sucks reveals, Fine’s suburban Jerz upbringing in the Eighties was a teenage wasteland where cheeseball hair metal and MTV ruled the cultural landscape. Naturally, the specs-sporting outcast gravitated toward the anarchic D.I.Y. spectrum of punk, diving headlong into the Sex Pistols, Dead Kennedys, and New York Dolls. But it was at Oberlin where Fine honed his admittedly marginal guitar skills and met kindred spirit Sooyoung Park, who shared an affinity for Hüsker Dü. Orestes Morfín soon entered the fray, and Bitch Magnet was birthed. Three obscure slabs of Big Black–ish noise-rock heaviosity followed, and they were worshipped by a small but rabid fan base before fizzling out a quarter-century ago. That is, until their unlikely reunion in 2011, which, as Fine documents in Your Band Sucks, finally rid the bad taste that lingered in his mouth from how his band originally ended in 1990.

“I started the band with Sooyoung,” Fine recounts. “I was kicked out of my own band, and the way it ended was just kind of a drag. Here was a chance to do it again and do it better, and luckily that’s how it actually turned out.”

However feel-good a story the Bitch Magnet reunion turned out to be, Your Band Sucks wasn’t without its challenges. For one, Fine’s notoriety didn’t exactly stack up to the star power of memoirs offered up by the likes of Bob Mould, Kim Gordon, Dean Wareham, and Kristin Hersh. Fine, though, found his own niche. “To me, as with everything, the really interesting stories are often told by the schleppers of any scene,” he says. “I wouldn’t want to read John Gotti’s memoir. I don’t care. But it turns out this low-level mobster in Brooklyn who saw some crazy shit talks about everything he knows, and it turned out that was Wiseguys, the book that became the movie Goodfellas. It’s fuckin’ unbelievable because the guy’s got nothin’ to lose. It comes back to that. I just wanted to bear witness to what felt true to me, true to the people that were there, and that really can tie open knots if you’re writing a memoir.”

Like his touring glory days with Bitch Magnet, Vineland, and Coptic Light, Fine is back on the road — not with guitar in hand, but his book. For the last several months, he’s taken to the van to plug his book, talking indie rock shop with fellow luminaries such as Clint Conley of Mission of Burma, Mudhoney’s Mark Arm, and Andrew Beaujon of Eggs. On September 9, Fine is in conversation with DFA bud and ex–Six Finger Satellite guitarist/keys dude John MacLea, a/k/a Juan MacLean, under the guise of musical reading series “Words and Guitars,” and he’s stoked. “I’m really psyched about it,” Fine says about the event at HiFi. “It’s going to be fuckin’ hard, because I don’t know if I’m going to get through many stages without falling off of my stool laughing. He’s hilarious. Juan has done this for years. He’s quoted in the book. He went through really dark and crazy shit. Speaking of bands who should have a book written about them: Six Finger Satellite. Whoa! Just a really strange and singular band.”

“Words And Guitars” presents Jon Fine and Juan MacLean in conversation September 9 at HiFi. For more information, click here.


Enter the Outre Metal World of Pyrrhon, If You Dare

“We’ve played in venues that everyone plays and we have friends in lots of other New York bands. But, yeah, I wouldn’t say we were ever part of some niche community. We float between a few of them.”

Doug Moore, the gloriously demonic vocalist for Brooklyn-via-Philly metal deconstructionists Pyrrhon, is guzzling down a cold one at Ridgewood watering hole Onderdonk & Sons, attempting to explain where, exactly, his band fits in to New York City’s vast and somewhat schizophrenic heavy-music pantheon. Sure, Pyrrhon are semi-regulars at metal hubs like Greenpoint’s Saint Vitus and Bushwick’s Acheron, but boxing these mad scientists of extreme and chaotic shreddage into a single genre is near impossible. Fact is, Pyrrhon can be plugged in to a free-improv gig at John Zorn’s downtown experimental space, a noise bill at D.I.Y. haunt Trans-Pecos, or a weird avant-garde show at Cake Shop, and the vibes will still be copacetic. Naturally, Moore embraces that outsider mindset.

“I like that about being in this band,” he explains. “It’s liberating, in a way. Not to dramatize it, but because we all like different types of music, it’s nice not just to have to play death-metal shows or grind shows or noise-rock shows.”

It was right here in NYC, on the subway, where the seeds of Pyrrhon’s origins were first planted. “I met our original bass player on a subway platform after a Vital Remains show in 2008,” guitarist Dylan DiLella says. “It was at the old Knitting Factory [on Leonard Street]. I remembered seeing him at the show and I struck up a conversation with him, which is not something I ever do.” Moore, living in Philadelphia, entered the Pyrrhon fray by way of a community service trip, and in a strange twist of fate, DiLella’s sister happened to be on that house-building mission. “We were the only two people who were into strange music, so I friended her that way and I met Dylan through that,” Moore recalls. “A few years after that, Dylan and I wanted to go to Maryland Deathfest, so we went down there together and we started talking about doing a band.”

Ultimately, that crystallized into Fever Kingdoms, their 2010 debut EP, and the following year’s long-player, An Excellent Servant but a Terrible Master. These LPs make for a pair of controlled, yet chaotic, sets of manic math-metal riffs and brain-frying stop/start pummeling, with Moore’s gnarly gone-postal howls at the center of the sonic din. Famed metal label Relapse took heed, inking Pyrrhon to a deal, and for these born-and-bred Philly hardcore and punk disciples — rounded out by bassist Erik Malave and drummer Alex Cohen — it was a dream come true. “Relapse was a big part of learning about extreme metal for all of us,” says Moore of the endorsement. “I first came into contact with their stuff a little less than fifteen years ago, and their stable from that era — stuff like early Dillinger Escape Plan, Burnt by the Sun, Pig Destroyer, Neurosis, Halo, Agoraphobic Nosebleed, Cephalic Carnage, Today Is the Day, Dysrhythmia, reissues from Suffocation and Human Remains, etc. — makes up a huge portion of our musical DNA. Their Nineties death-metal and grind catalog is also very important to us as fans. I suspect that I also had a soft spot for Relapse because they’re based in Philly, near where I grew up.”

With the release of their Relapse debut (last year’s The Mother of Virtues), Pyrrhon cemented their outré rep with a noxious avant-metal blitz recalling the groove-heavy grind of Child Abuse, the fretboard-hopping wizardry of Mick Barr, Black Flag’s slower, sludgier moments, and the skronky jazz-metal of Naked City. Alas, Pyrrhon were unceremoniously dropped for — get this — not selling enough records. Moore, however, holds no ill will toward their former label, even presenting a silver lining. “Being on Relapse helped the band tremendously,” he says. “As brief as it was, we went from being a band that virtually nobody had ever heard of to being a band that, at least, has enough name recognition that when you get into contact with publications and promoters, they take you seriously. Once you achieve that status, you kind of have it, and that really is priceless.”

Less than a year after The Mother of Virtues and the Relapse debacle, Pyrrhon are back at it, celebrating the release of Growth Without End, a fly-off-the-rails EP that vomits enough chunks of mangled and spazzed-out riffage, improvisational fuckery, and piercing screams to make your face melt. That was no accident. “I think of the EP as kind of a ‘punk’ recording, both in the sense that it’s short and fast, and in the sense that we deliberately wrote, recorded, and mixed it as quickly and efficiently as we could,” says Moore about Growth. “We also just really like playing fast.”

Pyrrhon play Saint Vitus June 18 with KEN Mode, Fight Amp, and Couch Slut. For performance and ticket information, click here.


The New Electronic Republic of the Sea and Cake’s Sam Prekop

For those well versed in the forward-thinking trajectory of Sam Prekop from his work with brainy post-jazz pop institution the Sea and Cake, it may come as a bit of a shock to hear him talking metal. But here was Prekop, post-rock elder statesman, on the phone from his home base in Chicago, praising Thrill Jockey label-mates Lightning Bolt, Liturgy, fellow Chi-Town thrashers Oozing Wound, and the Body, a diabolical doom-metal duo from Portland.

“The Body’s [Christs, Redeemers, from 2013], that was a good one,” Prekop says, though with a slight caveat. “I like all that stuff. It’s not something I put on, really, but I’m all for it. Whatever gets you going.”

Thrill Jockey’s certainly seen its share of change since the mid-Nineties, when Prekop’s band helped establish the label as an indie titan (and template for other aspiring imprints). As Thrill Jockey has expanded its model as a genre-defying force to be reckoned with, Tortoise, Trans Am, and Prekop have soldiered on as its veteran core artists. But Prekop — not one content to rest on his laurels and, say, drop in only every few years with a new Sea and Cake record — hasn’t idled by. While the Sea and Cake remain an active recording and touring unit, albeit not as busy (their last record, Runner, came out in 2012; a new one is on the way), the guitarist/singer has undergone something of a reinvention.

Enter Sam Prekop, Modular Synthesist.

“The Sea and Cake has always involved synth stuff, like really early on,” says Prekop, explaining how his infatuation with electronics crystallized. “John [McEntire], he’s the reason I’ve really gotten into the stuff, through him. I remember on our very first record he had a classic modular synthesizer that we used a lot, and at that time it was definitely not as common as it is now. These things cost a ton of money and were pretty hard to get. So from the beginning, when I first met John, that’s when it started, and then years later I started getting some of the stuff on my own.”

While Sea and Cake LPs sprinkled those synthesizer flourishes over elegantly bendy and melodious electro-jazz pop stylings, Prekop’s recent synth-based excursions under his own name belong entirely to him. For starters, Old Punch Card (’10) and the just-released The Republic are both devoid of a Prekop trademark: his pastoral and cathartic voice. But akin to the Sea and Cake’s detailed and cerebral soundscapes, his electronics guise is unmistakably stamped with that Prekop aesthetic.

“When I started, I didn’t have any idea that I would like to make a record out of it”

Unlike Old Punch Card (which Prekop calls a “friendly, abrasive record”), The Republic constructs a futuristic stratum of rhythms and rich textures using oscillators, sequencers, limiters, and filters, emerging with a sonic ambience fit for an art-installation soundtrack. In fact, the first half of The Republic was designed for precisely that — and nearly never saw the light of day. Prekop had to make sure it would be heard outside the David Nolan Gallery here in New York, for which it was conceived, originally, to soundtrack a video installation (also called The Republic).

“When I started, I didn’t have any idea that I would like to make a record out of it,” Prekop says. “But as it proceeded, I was really getting into it. I was like, ‘This is a lot of work for it not to be heard by anybody, so I’m going to try to keep going.’ I just felt once I was in it I wasn’t going to stop.”

The Republic is ostensibly two records in one. There’s the droney, nightmarish futurism, playful synth stabs and ecstatic improv echoed on the first nine pieces (fittingly sequenced as “The Republic 1,” “The Republic 2,” and so on) before it takes a dramatic left turn on the entrancing, techno-ish “Weather Vane,” which, intentionally or not, channels upbeat vibes. “I think I was just trying to — I don’t want to say taunt people — but retrospectively it was kind of rude,” explains Prekop. “A lot of the record implies a beat could be happening and it could easily go in that direction. I just dropped it in for a half a minute to taunt people, I guess.”

For now, Prekop donning a “provocateur” badge is on hold, especially in light of his upcoming tour, which brings him to Ridgewood avant-garde hub Trans-Pecos on May 12. Not only will he be whetting the appetites of synthesizer-seeking purists with an all-electronics set, but he’s bringing his longtime S&C cohort Archer Prewitt along for the ride.

“We’ve developed a long piece that relates to more of the second side of The Republic — it’s more pattern-based and there’s rhythm involved,” says Prekop of the synth segment of the show. “It’s expanding on some of those pieces live.”

And though Prekop, while talking his synth-stockpiling obsession, will namedrop Oneohtrix Point Never and tour companions Pulse Emitter, Panabrite, and Mountains as experimentalists he’s hooked on, he knows his fans want to hear Sea and Cake classics, too. He and Prewitt are happy to oblige with a career-spanning set of minor hits, rarities, and early solo Prekop tunes.

“I don’t want anyone to be bummed out if I don’t sing,” says Prekop nonchalantly. “I think people want to hear me sing something, so I’m like, ‘All right, I’ll sing. Whatever.’ ”

Call it the best of both worlds, or a new Republic of noise.

Sam Prekop plays Trans-Pecos May 12. Click here for ticket information.

See also:
They Might Be Giants’ Recent Records Are Their Best Since Their Earliest
Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds at Webster Hall
Oh Land Goes From Homesick to
Earth Sick in Williamsburg


How a 14th-Century Spanish Monk Inspired Six Organs of Admittance’s Hexadic

Playing by the rules has never been part of avant-rock maverick Ben Chasny’s M.O. Working under his Six Organs of Admittance moniker — dude is Six Organs whether performing solo or supported by coming and going members — Chasny has carved his own niche in the underground as a genre-hopping guitar ace since his 1998 self-titled debut. Like fellow left-field Drag City label-mate Jim O’Rourke, Chasny has taken cues from folk-centric forefather John Fahey while experimenting with drone, psych, and noise over well north of a dozen records. Lest we forget, he leads the freak-folk movement and boasts membership in both psych-rock demons Comets on Fire and the Sir Richard Bishop–led Rangda. In other words, Chasny owns the cred.

So it’s no shocker Chasny’s latest vehicle is yet another shapeshifter. The recently released Hexadic is not only the polar opposite of his previous album (the psychedelic boogie of 2012’s Ascent), but an alien trip where the scholarly guitarist — in a years-long quest “to break out of his habitual guitar playing” — hatched “a new way to compose music,” as he tells it, though he isn’t imposing strict methods and rules to abide by. In fact, his is an “open system,” a malleable, chance-based compositional technique where he takes a deck of playing cards, assigns the numbers on the cards to the guitar fretboard’s individual notes, and throws the proverbial dice. In Chasny’s case, what came next using this self-devised method was Hexadic‘s touch-and-go beast of improbable notes, time-signature changes, tones, and scales.

Brainy stuff indeed, but Chasny, calling from the road, sees it in simpler — and much heavier — terms, considering his current Six Organs touring iteration. “I have Andrew [Mitchell], who is my go-to bass player, and Adam Payne [of Residual Echoes] on drums,” Chasny explains. “Adam is a heavier kind of drummer. Some of Hexadic‘s songs are already heavy in a way, and it’s interesting because when Noel [von Harmonson] played on them, it was kind of a ‘free heavy,’ and Adam has kind of a Dale Crover style. Adam hits the drums really fuckin’ hard. It was like, ‘Oh, shit. It’s pretty fuckin’ Melvins right now!’ ”

While Chasny reminisces about playing along to the Melvins’ 1989 touchstone Ozma as a kid, it’s a safe bet King Buzzo hasn’t namedropped a Spanish monk from hundreds of years ago, a historical figure whose work helped inspire Hexadic.

“I came up with the idea — just like the actual pattern that is laid out for the cards — from Ramon Llull, who was a monk from the fourteenth century,” Chasny says. “He built these wheels called Llullian wheels. They would have names where you consider these different aspects of God and you could realign them. You could consult your wheel and come up with an answer. I was influenced by that way to put the cards down in a wheel-type form and then spin them, so he was a really big influence as far as actual structure of the Hexadic form [is concerned].”

But as Chasny readily admits, his shuffling-of-the-deck composing style is “absolutely not a new idea” (seek out downtown avant-garde jazz legend John Zorn’s Cobra and Game Pieces series, or John Cage’s chance operations for more cerebral mind games). He has taken umbrage at reviews of Hexadic and their comparisons to Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, even posting a retort on his blog.

“I love Eno, but I just felt like people were just immediately like, ‘Oh, it’s cards like Eno!’ ” he says. “Actually, the system works exactly the opposite way Oblique Strategies is supposed to work. Eno was working with the idea that you need a quick way to rearrange your thoughts to give yourself a new outlook or sense of immediacy.’ But when I was developing the system, I was thinking more in terms of, ‘This is supposed to slow everything way down.’ Besides, Eno’s has nothing to do with notes — they are conceptual strategies — and [the notes as dictated by the Hexadic system] are specific notes to play.”

Live in concert, Chasny may glance at sheets of music. “I have no idea how to read music, so those [papers] are fretboard diagrams,” he says, laughing. “It’s a total fuckin’ Neanderthal style, you know?” That primal edge is one way to describe Hexadic‘s nine feedback-drenched, spacious songs, which indisputably offer Chasny’s most sonically hefty assault as Six Organs. Not a clunker served up in its lucky draw, Hexadic features U.S. Maple–meets–free-jazzy weirdness (“The Ram”), a Japanoise-inspired punk riot (“Maximum Hexadic”), SunnO)))–like doom metal (“Guild” and “Future Verbs”), and fret-hurdling fuckery (“Hesitant Grand Light”).

For those who want to geek out and gamble on Chasny’s chance-based guitarscapes outside of a live performance, there’s an instructional book (fittingly titled The Hexadic System) and a set of custom playing cards. And Chasny isn’t done, either: He’s already focused on Hexadic II (he’s going acoustic for the sequel), and workshops are around the corner.

“I’m going to be doing a couple of talks at Supersonic Festival,” Chasny says about upcoming plans. “One is going to be on the actual Hexadic system and the other on the history of combinatorial systems.” Chasny is thinking big — with his tongue planted firmly in his cheek. “I’m getting older, and this is my gateway into the lecture circuit,” he laughs. “Put on the glasses and explain how to do this. All part of the big plan!”

Six Organs of Admittance play Baby’s All Right on April 30 with Elisa Ambrogio. Tickets are available here.

See also:
Hop Along Unleash Their Vivid Stories on
Painted Shut
Palma Violets at Baby’s All Right
Manic Street Preachers Reprise
The Holy Bible in All Its Brilliant, Painful Glory at Webster Hall



For Adam Schatz — visionary architect of the annual Winter Jazz Fest spectacular that took over downtown just over a week ago — there’s nary a minute to revel in the bacchanal’s latest triumphant turn. Schatz is back onstage with Farfisa and electronic gadgets in tow and fronting Landlady, his DIY-or-die, melody-laced art-pop collective. On last year’s terrific and eclectic Upright Behavior, the perpetual charmer Schatz, always with heart on sleeve, led his troupe through a colorful set of precise yet elastic soul-jazz. With Schatz’s husky croon taking center stage, Landlady’s stadium-sized, hook-dripping Stax Records–influenced rock fuses elements of Talking Headsian African rhythms (their double-drummer percussive attack is lethal) and TV on the Radio–like electro-r&b, a combo exuding the community-minded spirit the frontman is known for. Fellow Brooklynites and pop darlings Leapling also lay the melodies on delightfully and contagiously thick. On the forthcoming revelation Vacant Page (due February 10 via the ascending Exploding in Sound label), the quartet — led by singer-songwriter Dan Ames — weave a majestically orchestral, jangly and jazzy dream-pop that’s as soothing and complex as their kindred spirits like Broadcast, The Sea & Cake, and Portishead. Heaven for Real open the show, which begins at 9 p.m. Cover is $10.

Wed., Jan. 21, 9 p.m., 2015


Northern Spy Presents at Sugarcube

Ever wanted to attend avant-guitar school and learn to shred from a six-string-wielding godhead? Well, here’s your shot, and it won’t cost you a dime (just a simple RSVP will do). Marc Ribot — the pride of downtown avant-garde jazz, John Zorn stable royalty, Lounge Lizard under John Lurie, Tom Waits’s right-hand man, leader of Ceramic Dog, Y Los Cubanos Postizos (a/k/a “The Prosthetic Cubans”), and his Trio (with legendary bassist extraordinaire Henry Grimes and drummer Chad Taylor), and hardcore activist — will conduct his very own “How to Jam With Marc Ribot Workshop,” sure to be an epically noisy jam-fest. No parameters or pro status required — just bring your instrument, an amp, or whatever you need to play along and shoot over to Sugarcube, an inflatable performance space at the South Street Seaport. After Ribot teaches you to slay, punk-jazz style, you’ll be treated to a performance by another guitar luminary, Loren Connors. Here, Connors will create his atmospheric blues-damaged guitarscapes under his Haunted House moniker, accompanied by vocalist Suzanne Langille. To cap off the festivities, Ribot’s Ceramic Dog (bassist/multi-instrumentalist wizard Shahzad Ismaily and drummer Ches Smith) will truly display a fret-hopping shred clinic as they dive in to cuts off their excellent LP from 2013, Your Turn. It’s all free but your RSVP is encouraged.

Sat., Jan. 24, 2 p.m., 2015


Nels Cline

NYC-via-Cali guitar-wielding godhead Nels Cline is one tireless, globe-hopping maestro. Consider this: Just in the last year, the punk-jazz noise-monger has performed his six-string magic with Cibo Matto and Wilco, dueled with young gun Julian Lage on guitar-duo record Room, and, with the Nels Cline Singers, given an ax-shredding clinic on Macroscope. Tonight, Cline’s DIY free-improv roots will be in full-throttle gear as he converges with the hall-of-famers of Brooklyn’s avant-jazz scene for interstellar fret-pounding and skronk-heavy freakouts.

Thu., Dec. 18, 7 p.m., 2014


Wrekmeister Harmonies Drape Bushwick in Pastoral Doom – 12/14/14

Better Than: That Scott Walker + SunnO))) record. Yeah, I said it.

“I was nervous. I didn’t know if anybody was gonna show.”

J.R. Robinson a/k/a Wrekmeister Harmonies is enjoying a post-show cigarette and breathing a helluva sigh of relief. The “pastoral doom” overlord needn’t have pondered that nightmarish scenario, because a shit-ton of his doom-and-drone-seeking worshippers did in fact flock to DIY art hub Signal Gallery in Bushwick, where the Chicago-based, ink-
covered WrekHarm architect — in all his bearded glory — presented a rare local performance of Then It All Came Down, his second long-form mammoth composition.

Sure, Robinson pulled this same feat off at Greenpoint metal destination Saint Vitus last year (“it’s a wonderful place, but it’s too small for 12 to 14 people,” Robinson admits), but when you’re amassing a rotating hall of fame cast to help interpret a 34-minute klassikill-cum-drone-cum-doom-metal marathon, space is key and Signal Gallery was his choice spot.

Last night, Robinson brought with him a head-exploding dream ensemble including — prepare yourself, kids — Slint’s Dave Pajo, OM and Grails traps pummeler and Holy Sons chief Emil Amos, Dylan O’Toole and Ron DeFries from Chicago’s blackened metal doomers Indian, Bloodiest ax-wielder Eric Chaleff, L’Altra’s Lyndsay Anderson, vocalist Scout Pare Philips, violinist Esther Shaw, David Grant, cellist Brent Arnold, and, fresh from opening for Swans on Friday night, Hunter Hunt-Hendrix, mastermind of “transcendental” black metallers Liturgy — to the sprawling, industrial space at 260 Johnson Avenue to recreate his brain-melting opus.

See also: Ten Metal Albums to Listen to Before You Die

The spiritual ambience of Robinson’s Then It All Came Down performance at Chicago’s Bohemian National Cemetery just over a week ago (sadly, our historical and scenic Green-Wood Cemetery was a no-go) was recaptured as candles adorned the Gallery’s factory-like spread, the space dimly lit and, naturally, experimental auteur Kenneth Anger films providing the cinematic backdrop to the oncoming apocalyptic drone-fest.

Signal Gallery’s lack of stage gave way to a familial vibe, as Schaefer-guzzling (yes, they sold Schaefer) doom-seekers squatted, sat, and settled on the dusty floor in front of the imposing setup of to-die-for vintage amps, keys and harmonium stockpiles, drums, laptops, and a string section that lined the wall from one end to the other.

With nary an introduction, and perched in front of his econo laptop looking like he was about to shoot off some emails, the towering beardo Robinson
launched into the lush, feathery dronescapes that open Then It All Came Down, which is inspired by and takes its name from an essay written by Truman Capote following his interview with Charles Manson associate Bobby Beausoleil.

The slow crawl of thunderous hums, jet-engine whirs, and vibrating purrs enveloped the Gallery, but Robinson wouldn’t be sitting too long in front of his ‘puter. Soon enough, he fetched his six-string and began subtly finger-picking Eastern-tinged lines. That wouldn’t last very long either. Dude’s got an 11-piece collective to conduct.

Wrekmeister Harmonies in all their beardy glory.
Wrekmeister Harmonies in all their beardy glory.

Robinson — like a way mellower Glenn Branca — sprouted up, first cuing the angelic voices of Anderson (also on keys) and Philips to enter the fray, the twosome filling the
cavernous space with holier-than-thou operatic bliss. Arnold and Shaw’s strings were given the go-ahead by Robinson and drone, violin, cello and synths and high-pitched voices from the otherworld united for ecstatic peace, the throngs there to watch, mesmerized and respectful.

Of course, Then It All Came Down‘s slow-build was eventually going to morph into a loud-as-fuck sonic dystopia of epically pastoral, demonic doom-crush — and Robinson’s crew didn’t disappoint one iota. As Anderson and Philips faded out, giving way to nails-on-chalkboard noisescrapes, the room got effin’ loud. Arnold chafed melancholy on his cello’s strings, Amos stabbed his cymbals; Robinson’s piece was about to rage full-on.

Hunt-Hendrix, Pajo, and the reverberating, nihilistic bass booms of DeFries combined to eclipse ear-bleeding yet cathartic Swans-like levels, and with Amos’s hyper-kinetic
and hammerhead drum fills and countdowns (not heard on the recorded version of Then It All Came Down) propelling the massive riff-mongering pounding, a head-banging Robinson and six-feet-under Satanic screaming brought the epic journey — before fading out — to its final resting place. Puffing on that cigarette, Robinson reflects on bringing Then It All Came Down to our backyard, thankful for being able to perform it at Signal Gallery. “I think environment plays such a huge part in the presentation of the work, so anytime you can get people out of their normal places to go see music, I think it’s beneficial for everybody — it benefits the performers and the audience. It’s a whole beneficial exchange.”

Overheard: A pair of ladies shootin’ the shit get serious as WrekHarm are about to hit: “I bought my boyfriend new jammies because his old ones are worn out and have holes in the crotch.” Time to get the drone on!

Random Notebook Dump: My beard envy reaches dramatic proportions when gazing at J.R. Robinson’s epically flowing salt ‘n’ pepper heft.

Critical Bias: “Wrekmeister” looks and sounds cool as fuck — especially sans the C.

Check out WrekHarm on vid from 2013 at St. Vitus.