The descending lick that presents itself about a minute into "I Ain't Waiting"-- that rises from the ashes of a quiet Americana-tinged introduction-- certainly bares some resemblance to the similarly descending lead riff in Television's "Marquee Moon." The sonic reference is no accident, of course: "I ain't waiting" is also a pivotal sung line in Television's opus. But Chris Forsyth's track, from the upcoming Intensity Ghost, isn't mere Television worship. Both the musical and titular quotations engage memorable slices of this classic piece of music, recontextualizing them via repetition, fragmentation, and a satisfyingly epic arrangement. What Philadelphia-based Forsyth and co. (Steven Urgo, Peter Kerlin, Paul Sukeena) end up with, then, is simultaneous homage to and investigation of Television's legacy, distilling and interpreting that band's trademarks. But what "I Ain't Waiting" also is, more importantly, is a totally kickass, stand-alone piece of music that'll make your pulse quicken.
Intensity Ghost is out October 28 on No Quarter.
There’s a certain amount of apprehension that comes with any discussion of classic rock. Our conception of the classic rock fan is dominated on one hand by the image of the curmudgeonly dad in the Blue Oyster Cült shirt, or, on the other hand, of a proud, 12-year-old commentator on a live video of Led Zeppelin on YouTube. Even if many of the songs which constitute the canon of that "genre" aspired to push musical envelopes, their celebration as the "greatest rock music ever made" comes off as distasteful. Even so, there are several contemporary musicians who draw, explicitly or not, from the genre. Acts like Chris Forsyth (a passionate Neil Young fan), Ukiah Drag, Tonstartssbandht, and Tony Molina all engage with classic rock and its legacy. Recalling his love for classic rock as a child as part of the same interview that produced the Tonstartssbandht travelogue, Andy White said,
We’d hear a song on the radio and I’d be like "Mom! They’re playing that Led Zeppelin song on the radio." And my mom would be like, "Yeah, no shit, they were the biggest band in the world for a decade." And you realize, everyone has heard these bands. and the DJ would be like, “The greatest band of all time. Let’s get the Led out." And you get to thinking that maybe people are too excited for this.
After watching No-Neck Blues Band summon spirits at ISSUE Project Room a couple weeks ago, a friend and I had a brief debate about whether or not NNCK could be considered “American Primitive.” The genre was coined by John Fahey in the late '50s, and he characterized it musically by its fusion of early twentieth century American music-- namely blues and its offshoots-- with western avant-garde styles like musique concrète and minimalism, as well as various eastern musics. Perhaps it's just because Fahey himself was a guitarist, but the genre traditionally centers around the steel-string acoustic guitar. It was that fact, in and of itself, that first made my friend reject my claim that NNCK's performance could be classified as American Primitive.
It seemed to me, I told him, that they embodied that genre descriptor in the most literal sense. In delivering a ritualistic performance predicated on being de-skilled and subversive, NNCK were fusing the contemporary and the “primitive,” digging up the mischievous creative spirit inherent in the American land and character. It's true: their music didn't sound like John Fahey's, and no, there was no blues-style finger-picking. Rather, they made a mess of rambling improvised noises with a variety of instruments and other props. They hinted at a more traditionally American musical performance by, for instance, beginning the set in rockstar fashion and cracking a beer into the microphone; but they used guitars in ways most bands wouldn’t (laying them on tables, picking at them with objects), and used tree branches and wooden blocks for percussion and performance purposes.
Peeesseye (P.S.I.) member and weirdo guitar hero Chris Forsyth melts down the spirit of six string Americana in his latest effort for Northern Spy, Kenzo Deluxe. When flying solo, Forsyth's cosmic bluesmanship is just as categorically elusive as his collaborative ventures; he manages to distill country's plains wanderings in "Down & Ups," meditatively boogie within a funky soundtrack imagination in "First 10 Minutes of Cocksucker Blues," and zone out psych-style during the benzo-dipped Kenzo anthem that is "East Kensington Run Down."
The highlight, however, is the distorted, noisy goo of "Boston Street Lullaby No. 2" that oozes out like a sweet, sharp sigh before a restless, necessary slumber. Nadia Hironaka & Matthew Suib directed the rainbow-colored slice of waking life that is it's music video, mashing together, to enrapturing effect, negative-image thermal visions of black butterflies, fading landscapes, and locust-plague gangs of birds encircling a surreal skyline. It's hard to tell if you hear this lullaby in some hypnagogic playground of the mind before bedtime, or in purgatory before your last step into the afterlife.
Kenzo Deluxe is out July 10th on Northern Spy. Tour dates for Chris' first extended U.S. tour after the jump.