|Elephant Micah — Genericana (August 3, 2018)|
Elephant Micah — Genericana (August 3, 2018)★ Vyvoláním estetiky průměrné sbírky kompaktních disků pčipravuje Elephant Micah prostor na Genericanu, aby si pohrál se zvuky pro vlastní potřebu. O'Connell a společnost následují ve stopách producentů písničkářů, jakými byli Arthur Russell a John Martyn — umělci, jejichž sklonem k použití efektů způsobil, že jejich hlasy najednou byly ještě ostřejší a osobitější. ★ Genericana se často věnuje také zpožděným klubovým zvukům, od dubu až po techno — a vynalézavosti producentů, kteří tyto žánry vynalezli. ★
Born: Pekin, IN
Location: Hoosier~Tarheel Nexus, USA
Genre: Experimental, Indie Folk
Album release: August 3, 2018
Format: Limited Ed. Arctic White Vinyl LP / cd
Record Label: Western Vinyl
01. Surf A 6:23
02. Fire A 5:24
03. Life A 1:27
04. Life B 7:28
05. Fire B 6:35
06. Surf B 4:52
Performers: Joe O’Connell, Matt O’Connell, Jason Evans Groth, Zeke Graves
Mixing: Scott Hirsch
Mastering: Carl Saff, Saff Mastering
★ “Hey, Clayton, check out this flier I found with an alien face on it.” “Whoa. Huh. ‘Trippy Pastures?’ That’s weird.”
★ “Yeah. It says it’s at the old National Guard Armory in Ellettsville.”
★ “Oh, by Hardee’s? Yeah, ok. My parents think we’re going on a marching band trip. So I guess we’re in the clear.”
★ It’s 3:00 AM in America. That’s the hour when devotees of the underground dance party must answer an eternal question. Is it time to chill out?
★ On Genericana, art folk stalwarts Elephant Micah butt in with a resounding “yes” — and “no.”
★ At first, the call to chill out seems obvious. The album’s opening moments advertise a virtual vacation place, where soft waves of AM static crash and synthetic gulls call to a hazy sun. A skeleton~thin drum loop jogs by — but these lazy synth tones are just working on their tan. And then, just as the soundscape approaches maximum repose, a gnarly guitar band busts into the mix like an odd choice by a half~baked algorithm.
★ Indeed, “what” is the mantra of our moment. And Genericana aspires to be that moment’s soundtrack.
★ “WHAT is happening to our culture?” Americans ask themselves, in the era that sees entertainment, politics, and community life consolidated in a digital communications ecosystem. Responding, Elephant Micah has tuned its music to an appropriately disorienting pitch. For songwriter and recordist Joe O’Connell, that means remixing his own cultural experience, and questioning how “where we live” affects “what we sound like”:
★ “To me, ‘country’ music could mean any of the music we listened to growing up. When my sister and I were teenagers, in the 1990s, we put a lot of effort into trying to access alternative music. You had to steal Rolling Stone issues from
the public library to find out about artists. Or stay up late when you could get in some different radio stations than you could during the day. I think of that whole experience as a ‘country’ music experience.”
★ In the place of “Americana,” the band offers Genericana. Evoking genealogy, genre, generic brands (and perhaps a bottled genie), the album title points the way to a different theory of what binds our culture together.
★ “I think Genericana just means ‘the stuff from which stuff generates,’” O’Connell explains. “It’s a short hand way of shouting out to the stock elements that I’m mashing up in this music. I wanted this project to be sort of like a lucky mutation, that could lead to a heartier version of Elephant Micah for the digital world.”
★ Mining the aesthetics of the average compact disc collection, Elephant Micah makes room on Genericana to play with sounds for their own sake. O’Connell and company follow in the footsteps of songwriter~producers like Arthur Russell and John Martyn — artists whose descent into effects made their voices all the more poignant and personal. Frequently, Genericana also pays tribute to laid back club sounds, from dub to ambient techno — and to the resourcefulness of the producers who invented these genres.
★ “To make this record, we assembled a bunch of gear that was devalued or discarded,” O’Connell explains. “A cheap FM synth, some Hindustani electronics, and an old three~head tape deck to use as a ‘poor man’s Space echo.’”
★ At the top of this heap of equipment was something new. And in fact, there had never been anything quite like it before. Working from a series of manic band meetings and napkin drawings, percussionist and keyboardist Matt O’Connell brought to fruition a one~of~a~kind digital synthesizer. Its inspiration comes from the possibility of alternative playing interfaces — ways of interacting with digital instruments that aren’t based on techniques for existing instruments. Matt and Joe named this synth The Mutant, a title that’s right in key with the themes of Genericana.
Overall rating: SCORE 9
Allan Jones August 3, 2018
★ Joseph O’Connell takes his avant country folk to the water’s edge and strips it down.
★ The first thing you hear, on a track called “Surf A”, sounds like the sea, where everything comes from, our watery genesis. Waves appear to crash on a beach somewhere. Seagulls squawk in circling overhead flight. It’s like a field recording from the beginning of time, or thereabouts. But the noise you’re listening to is made by a homemade synthesiser called The Mutant, a contraption likely built by a boffin with electrified hair and an obsession with obsolete technologies. Whatever, you are soon beguiled by the rhythm of surf hitting sand and its sucking retreat, even as it goes on longer than a typical Ramones song. Then a voice eventually appears, superimposed on the tidal splash and bird caw behind it. The singer is describing all the ways he’d change the world, if only he was someone else. It’s the same speculative construct effectively deployed on earlier Elephant Micah songs like “If I Wore Wigs” and “If I Were A Surfer” that imagined the promise of assuming new identities, the possibility of becoming someone or something else. Which, of course, begs the question: who or exactly what is Elephant Micah?
★ Joseph O’Connell’s been putting out records of idiosyncratic Americana and avant~folk since Low Energy Dance Music in 2002, mostly on small labels, sometimes self~released. This is something like his 16th album. He was born in rural Kentucky and grew up in Louisville before moving to Indiana, where he has a day job as a folklorist and freelance ethnographer, recording when he has the time, inclination and inspiration. It’s probably a nice way to live if not make an actual living as a musician. Hiss Golden Messenger’s MC Taylor, introducing his rather more obscure friend to Uncut around the time of Elephant Micah’s 2012 album, Louder Than Thou, referred in passing to the influence of Richard and Linda Thompson and John Martyn on O’Connell’s music, which seemed plausible enough. Across most of his albums, you may also hear something of Mark Kozelek, Arthur Russell, Jason Molina, Sam Beam, any number of usually be~whiskered men making melancholy music in shacks, log cabins, wigwams or whatever. The deep mournfulness of some tracks would therefore appeal also to fans of David Corley and John Murry. O’Connell’s greatest musical kinship, however, is probably with Will Oldham. They have very similar voices — frail, hesitant, slightly askew, vulnerable but exclamatory — and the influence of records like I See A Darkness and Master And Servant is often conspicuous.
★ The wryly named Genericana — the title has something to do with genre and genealogy and how they bind a culture together, apparently — blows O’Connell further than ever from the mainstream he’s sometimes tacked recently towards. The fractured country rock and splintery folk of records like Louder Than Thou, 2013’s Globe Rush Progressions and 2015’s Where In Our Woods is here dramatically abandoned. The sound is often reduced to not much more than O’Connell’s voice, the drones, yawns and sonorous sonic shifts provided by The Mutant and the kind of pounding drums you might hear at the funeral of a Pharaoh. Elvis Costello has probably written songs with more words in the first couple of lines than you’ll hear on the whole of Genericana. O’Connell writes with such piercing brevity, these songs are the equivalent of a kind of shorthand haiku. Looking for a chorus in any of them, you may not even find what usually passes for a verse. It’s a dramatically stark but luminous sound and the difference between this album and the several it follows is similarly the difference between Nico’s Chelsea Girl and The Marble Index or Tim Buckley’s Blue Afternoon and Lorca. Records in other words that similarly were so stubbornly singular they couldn’t easily be compared to anything else. Parts of the album make you think especially of “Lorca”, the 10~minute track that marked at the time such a departure for Buckley, but stripped of everything but Tim’s voice and John Balkin’s upright bass and pump organ. On The Marble Index, Nico’s glacially fatalistic voice was projected onto a series of astonishing arrangements played by a multi~tracked John Cale that owed more to modern European classical traditions than anything that in 1968 was happening in pop, folk or rock. In its own ways, Genericana is often as daunting, O’Connell’s voice, sometimes disturbingly double and treble~tracked, given such prominence in the mix it sometimes seems to be a computer generated effect, almost alien.
★ For such an apparently minimalist record, Genericana is nevertheless full of unexpected associations, surprising echoes and evocations. The final death~pulse of “Surf A” has barely faded before “Fire A” starts with an instrumental passage that recalls something from Ry Cooder’s portfolio of dustbowl ballads. The song then turns into an elegant lament, a dissolving hymn with stately gospel roots. The brief “Life A” follows on a mudslide of guitars, not quite the remorseless grind of Dylan Carlson but still as intense as Lou Reed on “The Blue Mask”. The most striking thing about the track, though, is how much O’Connell sounds like Townes Van Zandt, another unexpected juxtaposition.
★ “Life B”, meanwhile, reprises a song called “Still Life Blues” from 2010’s Echoers Intent. Up to a point, it occupies the same sensuous vacuum as Fleetwood Mac’s “Albatross”, that spacey loneliness. The guitar part is like something walking across space, one star to another, a series of luminous notes, bright as pearls against a sublateral darkness, the prevailing cosmic murk. O’Connell’s voice eventually replaces the guitars as the track’s focus, his vocals a warm halogen glow, all shrillness denuded, utterly gorgeous before the track is reduced to tom~tom beats and tape hiss. “Fire B”, meanwhile, is introduced by what sounds like a six~year~old trying to master the opening to “Baba O’Reilly” on the cheapest synthesiser in the shop, some Amstrad~era monstrosity. A cluster of repeated notes, drones, a needling noise, prefaces the return of breaking waves, various hammerings, what sounds like a string quartet playing the refrain from Lou’s “Street Hassle”, O’Connell again promising to reshape everything, conditional on being someone he’s not, including in this instance a hunter and a Quaker.
★ Finally, “Surf B” opens with a drumbeat that’s equivalent to a man hammering sand down a rat hole and the same oppressive guitars as “Life A”, a nauseous churn. “If I were a thinker, I’d occupy my mind,” O’Connell sings. “Take a view of something and assess its meaning.” There’s a deadpan nihilism to this that again evokes Van Zandt, especially now that O’Connell sounds like someone barely clinging onto life. “We’ll start all over again,” he sings, over a sudden cacophony, revisiting a line from “If I Were A Surfer”. “Let it turn into dust,” he goes on, his voice forlorn, accepting, bereft. “It’s gone,” he’s singing now, “whatever it was.” You’re almost relieved when his voice is washed away by what again sounds like breaking waves, as if the album is taking us back to the beach where all this started and now apparently ends. You keep waiting for the seagulls to make their somehow reassuring return, wheeling above the desolate scene. But the birds like everything else, by now are gone, baby, gone.
|Elephant Micah — Genericana (August 3, 2018)|
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