Skyscraper Magazine » 2011 » June
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The life of a recovering know-it-all is one fraught with trials and travails. As a man whose past personal hubris rivals that of classic Greek tragedy, my later years have been spent coming to grips with a wealth of previously ignored shortcomings. For instance: despite a rich family heritage and decades littered with failed forays of understanding, I am forced to deal with the cruel reality that I am neither smart enough to understand jazz nor most poetry exclusive of that purveyed by contemporary urban griots. The wide world of Art is another slippery slope. Like many simple creatures, I enjoy things that are pleasing to the eye, but there is much therein that confounds me and my humble roots. I have been led to believe that such understanding requires a more cerebral theoretical side than I’ve been able to muster up thus far. Myopic artistic eye and lack of interpretive skills aside, I can claim to be a reader. Always have been. So there. Recent years have found me reading non-fiction almost exclusively, in hopes of perhaps regaining the arrogant intellectualism of my youth. I must confess to having enjoyed my time in the cold, but in my absence from the world of contemporary fiction, the worlds of art and design have merged in ways heretofore uncontemplated by my boorish self.

Case in point is Please Take Me Off the Guest List, a new collaborative release from Brooklyn-based indie publishing house Akashic Books. Readers will be unsurprised that Design is another art I have very little understanding of (most fundamentally how one makes a livelihood doing it) but Please Take Me Off the Guest List seems to feature a skilled hand. Pairing the expertise of magazine and art book designer Stacy Wakefield with the photography of Nick Zinner and prose from Zachary Lipez, this mini-book (a slim 150-pages) handily quashes the idea that Kindle and Nook technology is a superior form for delivery of print.

Zinner’s photos comprise the main visual element presented across the pages of this volume, often in gatefold form. Lipez’s prose is printed inside the covers and bound in mini chick tract form in the middle. Zinner is a gifted lensman, taking advantage of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ worldwide presence to capture stark locations on a variety of continents. Freshkills frontman Lipez acts on a more microcosmic level, recounting the life of a 21st Century Brooklyn Gram Parsons, shirking a semi-privileged background and semi-slumming it in the big bad city. When not writing red-eyed prose, our protagonist tends bar in Bushwick and works at venerable used book purveyor The Strand. His three offerings are well-drawn confessional snapshots from a gritty cocaine and Jameson-fueled life that is alien to most yet remains strangely alluring, a taste that fosters appetites that can prove dangerously all-consuming.

Please Take Me Off the Guest List is the fourth collaboration from these three parties and the first with Akashic. Previous projects were published through Evil Teen, a publishing entity founded by Wakefield. Their previous Slept In Beds (2003) collected all the beds Zinner rested in on tour, interspersed with poetry from Lipez. While I like the previous visual concept better, I’m glad that I got in on the prose end of things. It’s much less taxing on my limited faculties, and I think poetry would have had me embracing old-school reactionary values. Much like Zinner’s music, I enjoyed Lipez and his prose more than I expected at the onset, even morseo when incorporated into an artier medium. While Lipez and Zinner are the more immediate presences in Please Take Me Off the Guest List, it is Wakefield who deserves the highest marks. Her combination of the photographic and written elements into a third art form that is stronger than the sum of its parts is the linchpin that makes Please Take Me Off the Guest List compelling to a myriad of consumers, artistic or otherwise.

Wading through The Psychic Paramount’s thick instrumental prog-psych shitstorm is a revelation in light of the fact that this aesthetic is pretty much a non-factor these days, its ear-bleeding and gooey guitar chords stabbage and ginormous drums action dripping with sublime noise. The similarly-minded Don Caballero are long gone, so is The USA Is A Monster. OXES and Hella vanished and Battles don’t really work in this niche. That leaves this NYC trio as the only ones standing, and II has been a long time comin’ in the wake of their debut LP Gamelan Into the Mink Supernatural, which came out way back in 2005 (No Quarter). Nevertheless, it was worth the wait.

Had Glenn Branca been schooled on King Crimson instead of classical music and hadn’t been busy inventing no wave, he might have meandered down the same path as The Psychic Paramount. Traversing the ol’ reliable guitar-bass-drums route but creating music that is anything but simplistic, these dudes drag arty prog-rock through the mud, get apeshit loud, form symphonic walls of dissonance, smoke the psych-rock weed, and go way titan on these seven tracks. The Psychic Paramount ratchet up the sonic assault right out of the gate, breaking into album opener “Intro/SP” with a reckless but oh-so-controlled abandon bustling with waves of Sonic Youth-ish machine gunner guitars. Drew St. Ivany proves the unsung, under-the-radar hero of the rock underground, the trio’s lone axe-man’s guitar mastery takes him effortlessly pedal hopping from dreamy distorto groundswells and Don Cabby brainiac-busting 1990s-era math-rock convolutions (“DDB” and “RW”) to stadium-rock riffage (“N6”), sludgey noise-rock (“Isolated”), and avant-jazz forays (“N5 Coda”).

While the band does channel math-rock classics like Don Cab’s American Don (Touch and Go, 2000), The Psychic Paramount’s II is no mere retread of a yesteryear genre. This is challenging, shape-shifting music constructed by a skillful power trio who know precisely how to wield their instruments and ideas into epic songs meant to be played loud as fuck.

KEVIN RATTERMAN’S FUNERAL HOME: Thinking back, there are very few relaxing moments while in the midst of documenting, perfecting, and gathering a group of songs to be shared with the world.  Somehow within the environment of Kevin’s father’s second and third floors of the funeral home, the scrambling and discomfort of an average recording studio is swept away without note. I haven’t pegged down exactly what it is – maybe the porch with the speaker set up for an awesome play back for rough cuts, or the antique interior that placed me in an almost “spending time with the family” state of mind, or the souls of the dead seeping up through the floorboards, or Kevin’s overly open attitude to making new sounds… I haven’t pegged it down, but I like it.

VINYL REISSUES: One single, one album, and recordings that never saw the light of day. The days of rediscovery are here, and music fans who have the power and money to reissue lost or forgotten hits from the past are available now more than ever. Songs from times and places that have long been past, but hold up higher and stronger than most new music being created now.  Don’t be scared to dip back and check out bands that you will never see perform live, or if you do get the opportunity they’re long past their glory days.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE SERIES: Watching The Twilight Zone (1959-64) is mysterious.  I’ve discovered the best way to interact with the mystery is to pause each episode 12 minutes in and, within two minutes, write down a guess of how the episode will resolve.  A recommendation of two or more participants.

BETSY: Betsy was groomed two days ago and she’s getting skinny. She’s short-haired and due to her chi-corgi characteristics, she sheds every summer in a way that I feel she even distastes. When I got her back from the groomer, they had tied a neon and black tiger striped hanky around her neck.  I’m not into that kind of thing, but she seems to like it. Betsy is around 13 or 14 and she is a damn fine lady.

DIGITAL REVERB: I fell into a hole – a deep, deep hole – and at the bottom I found digital reverb. I enjoy the sounds that could never be created through an analog reverb. It places the guitar out of perspective, down the street, or in some forbidden land. Shimmery harmony and lovely depth.

SHELBY COUNTY FLEA MARKET: 20 miles east of Louisville, just past the Simpsonville water tower, Highway 64E Exit 28 leads me to the only place I can purchase a sack full of greens beans, Pink Floyd’s A Saucerful of Secrets (1968), Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Schmilsson (1971), and a new pair of Sierra leather boots all for under $100. The Troggs’ single “Love Is All Around” b/w “When Will the Rain Come” (1967) is one of many hidden gems amongst the buried treasures of the record booth.

MONKEY DRIVE SCREENPRINTING: The benefit of working at a screenprinting shop that is run by a bunch of slacker musicians is that it’s ideal for being a slacker musician. Not only do I get shirts, record covers, posters, stickers, et cetera, at cost, but I also get to hit the road whenever desired. Twelve years strong and forever thankful that I always have a job when I’m home. FTH.

Evan Patterson (pictured above right) is the guitarist/vocalist of Young Widows, where he is joined by bassist/vocalist Nick Thieneman (center) and drummer Jeremy McMonigle (left). He has previously played in a number of prominent Louisville, Kentucky, hardcore punk bands, including Breather Resist, Black Cross, and The National Acrobat. Young Widows’ third full-length, In and Out of Youth and Lightness, was released in April on Temporary Residence Limited. The band is currently on a tour of the western U.S.

Photo: Nick Thieneman.