Shirley Collins, English folk luminary, has been amassing a repertoire of traditional songs since her childhood in 1940s Sussex, England, a period she associates with being sung to by her grandparents during frequent stints in air raid shelters. As she matured, her interest in folk eventually led her to the American Deep South, a trip which resulted in the much celebrated collection Sounds of the South. As moving and inspiring as that trip proved to be, Collins’s heart was in her motherland, England, where she returned, continuing to collect songs in the English tradition, and creating such seminal works as 1959's Sweet England and 1969's Anthems in Eden, a collaborative record with her sister Dolly. Shirley’s career took a decidedly negative turn, however, in 1978, when she began developing dysphonia. She lost her ability to sing, and retreated from both the stage and the studio. That is, until one David Michael Bunting, known to many as Current 93’s David Tibet, phoned her up, asking to meet for what, in hindsight, was a surely fortuitous exchange.
Fast-forward through the '90s and early 2000s: after a few contributions to Current 93 records and a number of foregone invitations to perform, Collins appeared on stage for the first time in 2014 at Union Chapel, opening for Current 93. But why stop at one performance? Following the concert, and bolstered by the positive reactions, Shirley “wanted to give it one more go” and record a new album. She picked an assortment of personally important songs that would eventually become that album, Lodestar, out last week on Domino. Across the record’s ten evocative tracks, Collins reveals herself as enraptured by traditional music as ever, showing off a resplendent selection of penitent songs, murder ballads, may carols, and more, a nod to her excellent power of curation. It’s a powerful, profound release—a much-needed reminder of the power of personal contact and lineage in the digital age, and a much-needed reminder of how the oldest and most authentic songs are sung out of pride and necessity, in addition to enjoyment. We spoke to Collins about collecting and interpolating folk songs, and getting back into the studio.
AdHoc: You’ve been hearing or collecting folk songs since you were very young. How did you decide which songs to sing on Lodestar? Were they new songs for you?
Shirley Collins: Oh! They just presented themselves, really. I’ve got so many songs in my head, but there are some that really stick with you, ones I’ve regretted not recording before. There were a couple of new ones that came in as well that wanted to be sung, so I sang them. The most likable one for me was the Cajun song “Sur le Borde de l’Eau.” I love Cajun music’s rhythms and its independence—it stayed itself. Once I heard this early 1920s recording of Blind Uncle Gaspard, a Louisiana singer, I fell in love with the song. We went ahead and did it, but that’s very unusual for me, because I mostly sing songs from the English tradition. It’s been my life’s work listening to as much as I can. Working with Alan Lomax in America was incredible, but back in England there were collectors too who were working throughout the country, noting down songs. That tradition had gone back as far as the mid nineteenth century when collectors just wrote down songs. Once the tape machine was created, the BBC sent out people in the 1950s to record and collect what were left in the countryside. Things changed so much with the proliferation of record players, radio, television, and pop music. It swamped a lot of the tradition. I understand why, but I never quite saw why you’d give up your beautiful tradition for something with built-in obsolescence, if you judge pop music that way [laughs].
On TCB’s self-titled debut, the Chicago trio reverberates with a languid cacophony over the course of four long-form improvised compositions that add up to a ninety-six-minute listen. The group, composed of Adam Tramposh, Carlos Chavarria, and Ben Billington, is resplendent in Chicago experimental music stalwarts. While a ninety-six-minute record of anything could be, well, pushing it, TCB’s refined curation manages to capture the listener’s attention throughout. The release affords freakouts galore, but most shocking are the moments of stark, minimalist beauty, like the beginning of the fourth piece. It’s a reminder of the variety you might see at a basement in the city: punk rockers playing with jazz cats and noise heads. It’s a wonderful artistic ecosystem.
On their self-titled debut EP, New York three-piece Soaker channel the jagged abrasion of the amphetamine reptile catalogue. But using an entire label as a springboard to describe a band is like using a person’s place of birth to explain how they came to be who they are. Like, for instance, I was born in Los Angeles. I only lived there for two years, and though I learned some skills that I still use today, like, you know, how to walk and how to speak, I’m not exactly emblematic of a person from LA. Thank God. “Sendhi,” the first track on the four-song EP, is a deceptively catchy noise rock anthem that sounds like the three band members each shotgunned cans full of adrenal glands. Trying to feel tough? You could do a lot worse than spinning this hot slab.
If you spend more than a few minutes with either member of Uniform—Ben Greenberg or Michael Berdan—you’ll realize you’re talking to someone deeply empathetic and kind, willing to discuss either personal topics or consider which pie shop in Williamsburg is the best. But under their openness is a lashing restlessness, a quiet discomfort with being human and being slave to biological routines that becomes very loud when the two take a stage.
Perfect World, their band’s debut LP, saw Berdan’s scathing, analytical lyrics dwell on the significance of identity loss, being done wrong, consumption, and the fight against your own chemistry. Ghosthouse, the band’s upcoming 12” on Sacred Bones condenses all the viscera of Perfect World and kicks up both the throb-o-meter and the personal darkness. The title track, easily one of the band’s best songs, sees Berdan considering his lifelong battles with insomnia and depression, detailing dark hours as “the ghosts come out at night.” But there’s a big difference between giving into the ghosts, though, and shining a light on them—Berdan’s lyrics being clearly an instance of the latter, exposing his personalized dread, and moving past it.
When he’s not submerging himself in his own anxiety, Berdan’s watching someone else’s, kicking back with a horror movie. I’ve gotten some amazing recommendations from him—mind-melting shit likeThe Visitor, Bone Tomahawk, Wake in Fright, andFound. But what would you expect? Pairing Berdan’s knowledge and love of horror movies with his output in Uniform makes sense—after all, in a lot of ways, Uniform is a meditation on fear. We talked to Berdan about horror movies, and you can read his thoughts after the jump.
The video for “The Flower Tree” opens in what I assume is Daniel Bachman’s house. A camera pans across a lightly-decorated mantel, scanning across art, photographs, burnt sage, and a crab handling a cigarette, before fading into a mesmerizing live rendering of the piece, a cut from his upcoming self-titled album. As anyone familiar with Bachman knows, his performances are profoundly moving, rooted in the hypnotic finger-picking patterns of the American primitive tradition. A life-long student of older American music and history, Bachman could not have had a more perfect genesis for the Appalachia-influenced style of guitar playing. Born near Fredericksburg, Virginia, he has since become more or less a fixture of North Carolina’s triangle area. At its most basic, "The Flower Tree" is a country-blues song, but characterizing the piece as such does a disservice to its intricacy. Drone elements become more central, as do violent and varied strums, all of which points to Bachman's ever-developing compositional prowess.
“He died at New York Presbyterian—no one came to visit him,” ends “N.Y. Presbyterian,” the second song on Mommy’s debut LP Songs About Children (for the inimitable Toxic State Records). Mommy draws from many traditions, most notably Japanese hardcore and noisecore. Mike Caiazzo’s scathing, relentless words sound like they’re being delivered through a cheese grater; this guttural voice foregrounds Tye Miller’s noise-crusted bass and Ian Graye’s pummeling drums. While the band’s stage antics sometimes border on the cartoonish, lyrically things couldn’t be more serious. Documenting slices of life from Caiazzo’s time in and out of hospitals and other insidious institutions devoted to helping “at-risk individuals,” Songs of Children is a heavy listen, grounded in the very real failings of mental health establishments at large. Though Mommy has shared bills with Burning Spirits pioneers Death Side, the group's sounds are less anthemic and definitely less positive, coming more from the school of Gai, The Swankys, or Ghoul. Still, few bands have sounded exactly like Mommy, and even fewer have addressed these themes with such an unflinching eye.
Explaining her newest music video for Weyes Blood, for the song "Do You Need My Love?" Natalie Mering states “this video is about accessing the inner beast, tapping into Dionysian impulses in a safe guided way with some time traveling entities.” Across the video’s seven-minute narrative, the nameless protagonist, played by a mustachioed Mering, checks into a hotel, bringing new ideas, desires, and chemicals into the surrounding community, including a sickass bear.Though humorous, the video is rich in cultural signifiers, nodding to both old world ritual and new world psychedelia. The video ends in a comedic twist, one that both proves endearing to the viewer and - perhaps more importantly - begs the question why doesn’t M. Night Shyamalan use baroque pop for his soundtracks? Frankly, it shouldn’t have taken us this long to ask.
In a farewell poem to Jack Rose, Byron Coley wrote “jack was just one of those people you knew you were gonna know for a long time/ there was an agelessness about him that gave you the sense/ he was built to last, like a bull/ or a china shop/ although what i guess he resembled most/ was a bull becoming a china shop,” nodding to Rose’s crystallization from drone maestro in Pelt to finger-picking demigod as a solo musician. Rose died in 2009 to the dismay of many friends from a surprise heart attack at the age of 38, leaving the world with a rich, robust catalog of originals, appearances, and musings that begged the austere question: what couldn’t this guy do?
Jack Rose was often up front about the role of a record. On one hand, a release signaled a channeling from the intangibly personal to the tangibly available, but on another, it was a commodity on which to subsist while rolling through the United States on tour for the thirtieth time. Regardless of whether Rose were peddling an LP, an EP, or a single, the release eventually disappeared into the undocumented and often untold corners in the world dedicated to record collections. Needless to say, once Rose passed on, and his legacy stretched out to those who had yet to hear his catalog, many of the records were out of print, available, but for a hefty price.
Thanks to Cory Rayborn of Three Lobed Recordings and Bill Kellum of VHF Records, many of Jack’s back catalogue will be available to purchase once again at reasonable prices, with extensive liner notes and all the profound sounds and ideas that made the records so special in the first place. We spoke to the two label head's about how they view Rose's music and his legacy.
Carlos Gonzales is prolific. Like, really prolific. Over more than a decade, Carlos has channeled images and storylines devoted to the the uncanny, the monstrous, and the humorous, both as his solo project Russian Tsarlag and as a comic artist. Sprinkled through the unwritten laws of his multi-faceted oeuvre is a sort of dream logic—puns and loose associations become the axes of surreal narrative. On Unexplained American Goat, his newest full-length as Russian Tsarlag, Gonzales nods to his world-building prowess, showcasing an original soundtrack to a gray planet spinning almost entirely in the wake of one-note basslines and earnest, melancholy rumination. Unexplained American Goat boasts minimal orchestration and adornment, but Gonzales’s music has never sounded more somnambulant, as he drifts in and out of reality, the divine, and the deeply subconscious.
On Itasca's upcoming LP Open To Chance , Kayla Cohen synthesizes her love of acid folk with her love of country—the slide guitar quotient on the record is the highest it’s ever been. On “Buddy,” the record’s first single, and one of the most immediately country-sounding tunes in the collection, Cohen’s whispered delivery is still at the forefront, though on this pass it’s backed by a contingent of friends and Los Angeles musicians. It shows. Itasca has always been an arresting project, but it’s never sounded more full or more clear than on Open to Chance.
As to be expected from the Itasca songstress, Kayla is well-versed in psych, country, and folk, but, like most notable musicians, she’s much too inquisitive and open-minded to stick to any limited handful of genres or styles. I’ve hung out with her at Total Control shows and conversed with her Hawkwind, but she also recommended I listen Bob Brown’s private press nugget, praising Tompkins Square and its deep, focused discography. Kayla’s musical knowledge is robust and expansive, never complacent to stay rooted in one place. Knowing that, I had to ask what she had been jamming during the writing and recording of Open to Chance and she was kind enough to respond with some words and a mixcloud link to this grab-bag of songs. Read what she had to say about the songs after the jump.