Every Friday, Dusted Magazine publishes a series of music-related lists determined by our favorite artists. This week: Charalambides guitarist Tom Carter and ex-Yellow Swan Pete Swanson, who together form psych-noise duo Sarin Smoke.
Listed: Tom Carter + Pete Swanson
One day in Texas in the mid-1980s, guitarist Tom Carter hitched a series of fuzz pedals to his axe and immersed himself in a distorted psychedelic haze in what turned out to be an important moment in underground music. The Houston artist went on to work with Christina Carter as Charalambides, whose desolate, eerily beautiful sound made the duo rightfully adored by a relatively small, but worldwide audience. Outside of Charalambides, Carter has kept busy with Zaika (a duo with Marcia Bassett), Badgerlore (with Rob Fisk and Ben Chasny), and countless improvisational encounters with other wayward musicians. In the time since Carter moved to New York City, he’s engaged in free-rock with Eleven Twenty-Nine (with steek guitarist Marc Orleans), and heavy drone as Sarin Smoke with long-time co-conspirator Pete Swanson. During a European tour this summer, Carter developed a life-threatening case of pneumonia and was hospitalized in Germany for an extended period of time. Thankfully, he made it through all right, but still faces daunting medical bills, prompting many of his friends to release the benefit compilation Music for Tom Carter. We’re thrilled to feature the man, along with Sarin Smoke teammate Pete Swanson, as this week’s Listed contributors.
1. Velvet Underground - Sweet Sister Ray(bootleg)
It’s hard to believe now, but until Polygram’s VU reissues in the mid-’80s, the chances of a northwest Ohio resident hearing the Velvets (other than perhaps via “Sweet Jane” or “Rock And Roll” on late-night Detroit radio) was about nil. Nonetheless, a lot of guilty ink was spilled on them in the mainstream rock press, so a kid could get a picture (albeit distorted) of this allegedly unlistenable wail that represented the pinnacle of musical decadence, et-fucking-cetera. I finally discovered my older brother’s copy of White Light/ White Heat, and dove directly into side two. The synergy was instant, and while I could write many pages on “Heard Her Call My Name,” “Sister Ray” (and Cale’s air-raid organ) held deeper implications for the future of music as I was to conceive it. Appropriately, there are dozens of different live versions, all illuminating differently wrecked facets, all riding a Bo Diddley vamp straight into the sun. This version, from the Sweet Sister Ray double LP (and I believe culled from the Tea Party “Guitar Amp” boot), is my go-to air-thickener for any “situation” in need of a quick ratchet job.
2. Led Zeppelin - Led Zeppelin IV
Listening to folk music, for many in my immediate snark-orbit in the ‘80s, was about as acceptable as VD (and about as unlikely to be encountered, given that my friends were all lying around in their dorm rooms listening to Black Sabbath records). "Battle Of Evermore" (which preteen me first encountered via a copy of Zep IV purchased at J.C.Penneys) somehow managed to escape post-teen ire and land on everyone’s mental hit parades. I’d like to think it was the crystalline purity of Sandy Denny’s voice that melted the walls, but it had just as much to do with the song, which to this day still manages to conjure symphonic bone chills out of a mandolin, guitar, and a half-dozen vocal overdubs. I consider it a gateway drug for the Fairports, and that’s undoubtedly true for a lot of people.
3. Sandstone - Can You Mend A Silver Thread
When Pete played this for me, I assumed it was a British acetate from the golden age of psych-folk, or one of those records they only made 99 copies of to avoid the U.K. taxes that kicked in when one’s pressing size crept into the triple digits. Turns out Sandstone was from Eastern Pennsylvania. The degree of congruence between bands a continent apart (say, Sandstone and Pentangle) is something I wouldn’t expect from an artifact of an unconnected, non-virtual era where regionalism was still king. Was the connection made via record store cut-out bins? We once had that mob era tax-dodge music biz device to thank for bringing many strange sounds to diffuse heads, and perhaps this is no exception. Our nation is much poorer since the extinction of dime-store bins full of enigmatic 99-cent LPs, and the sad thing is hardly anyone knows what they’re missing.
4. The Seasons (BBC Drama workshop - David Cain) - The SeasonsAnother Pete Swanson “blindfold test.” This weirdly staid (and staidly weird) electronic gem masquerading as an educational aid sounds like Tim Goss jamming with the guy who announces the daily hog futures report. This bygone ‘60s-’70s era of straight culture’s attempted interface with perceived trends of futurism and progress produced many wonderful, misbegotten artifacts like this one. Growing up in the ‘70s I remember a lot of wacky shit - graphical scores, electronics, improvisation - from music class (which schools used to have, believe it or not). As an educational aid, this LP possesses a duff deadpan aspect. Its "hip" references are meticulously scrubbed of drugs, sex and revolution; its presumptions of inevitable technological change are put forward in a scattershot hope that some vision of species advancement might inadvertently rub off on the occasional student.
5. 13th Floor Elevators - Easter Everywhere LP
The Elevators were on my radar when I was still in Ohio - a friend had loaned me a copy of Elevators Live in ‘84 or so. I wasn’t too impressed then (for good reason - it’s basically session outtakes with fake applause added), and my youthful attentions were unfortunately diverted to the Mothers’ We’re Only In It For The Money which I’d borrowed at the same time. Fortunately I escaped Zappa unscathed, and I finally got hooked on the Elevators when this Easter Everywhere opening track came blasting through the Sound Exchange stereo while I was idly flipping through the King Crimson section. After that I nurtured an obsession with all things International Artists (the Elevators’ record label throughout their career), responsible for many of Texas’ most fevered expectorations of druggy spew into the sonic ether of pop culture. Elevators guitarist Stacy Sutherland remains an unsung and tragic hero whose ghost was palpable on the oily streets of Montrose, even in the dismal ‘80s. The living and active principal players of the IA/ Elevators axis remained elusive until I finally met Powell St. John, Tommy Hall and Bill Miller in SF in the early aughts... but that’s another story.
6. Black Flag - Rat Music For Rat People
Although by 1980 or so I’d heard of punk via the six-o’clock news (and midwest AOR radio jizzing over “Train in Vain”), Black Flag was my first glimpse into an underground world in which the ubiquitous Rolling Stone would only occasionally stoop to acknowledge. (My personal fav of the lame RS punk name-checks was a coked-out Bill Graham dishing an anti-Flipper rant. He referred to them as “Mr. Flipper.” Fucking yuppie). Anyway, Black Flag: in 1982 a friend made me a tape that had all the Everything Went Black radio commercials on it, I went and bought Nervous Breakdown, and a half-dozen records later I’m chiseling candle wax out of the grooves of Slip It In. As for “Scream,” most everyone I knew that gave a shit revered the track as the apex of sonic annihilation, at least until they heard "Raping A Slave." Side two of My War (where you’ll find the studio version of “Scream”) doesn’t sound like it’s being played by human beings - it’s being stamped out of a brass sheet by some sort of steam-driven clockwork. This live version is much more elastic, and much faster, and gives a sense of what a seamless unit Flag could be. I heard Greg Ginn did a “reunion” Black Flag gig a few years back with his “Dale Nixon” bass tracks played back through a bass cabinet. I wish I could’ve seen that.
7. Suckdog - Little Flowers Dying
I was in Texas during Lisa Carver’s heyday, and so I never saw her perform. I don’t remember her ever coming to Houston - maybe Austin before I lived there. Christina and I were huge fans however. This album has an rawness and delicacy that was a huge influence on early Charalambides stuff. I was sort of shocked to see Suckdog on a bill honoring the great Crown Heights venue Port d’Or a couple of months back. During the “consultations” for this article, Pete insinuated all kinds of drama going down on this most recent tour, but he refused to elaborate. I can only assume he’s afraid of retaliation from Scientologists, Satanists, Boyd Rice, French performance artists, or all of the above. What could this drama be? (Postscript: she never showed up for the Port D’Or gig).
8. Really Red - Rest in Pain
Speaking of Texas (which I can’t seem to stop doing), this track is a stark reminder of the weirdness rampant in mid-’80s Houston, still inexplicable to this day. Was it the legendary acid produced by the Rice Chemistry Department, or record stores stocking more Throbbing Gristle than Sham 69? An academic point, probably. Best known for the anthemic “Prostitution” (their contribution to Jello Biafra’s Let Them Eat Jellybeans compilation), Really Red’s avant roots (like those of cohorts Culturcide) struck far deeper into the misfit motherlode than into the skater culture typical of most provincial DIY scenes. This track takes up most of the second side of their last, posthumous LP, and was criminally left off of the allegedly comprehensive CD comp that’s drifted around (virtually or otherwise) ever since. This track may have fallen by the wayside because of its length, but I suspect that the swirling power-drill electronics, late night TV cutups and muttered acidhead vocals might’ve rubbed someone’s tender punk rock ears the wrong way.
9. Archie Shepp - Blasé
Jeanne Lee’s voice soars across the racial/ sexual divide and carpet bombs my soul every time I hear this. This was a road music staple for more years than I’d care to count, and along with many sides by Coltrane, Sanders, and Ayler, one of the earliest jazz LPs I devoured like rock. As she does on so many other records, Lee lends a whispery elegance even when she’s treading the outer limits, which she doesn’t do so much on this LP - which, I suppose, means this is a "mellow" Shepp record, which also probably explains why people often give it a downer review. But fuck them anyway.
10. Waylon Jennings - Dreaming My Dreams
Self-explanatory. Fun fact: the lyrics for Charalambides’ “Gypsy Woman” are a cut up of this LP’s liner notes.
Before collaborating with Tom Carter on Sarin Smoke, Pete Swanson was half of Portland noise duo Yellow Swans for most of the 2000s. During the beloved band’s run, Swanson also released occasional solo efforts, but it wasn’t until he rooted himself in New York that he focusd on his own work. Swanson just released a new techno/noise EP on Type called Pro Style, while Sarin Smoke’s Vent hit stores on Sept. 17 via MIE Music.
1. Universal Order Of Armageddon – Universal Order Of Armageddon
I was never a big fan of rock music and my childhood was mostly either not engaged with popular music or fixated on rap music. Aside from a few rare “alternative rock” interests, I didn’t really get very excited about music until I discovered punk/hardcore/grindcore when I was about 13 or so… Being a kid on the west coast, there was a lot of powerviolence and riot grrl stuff around—and then there was Gravity Records, which established the unfortunate “screamo” genre despite a few of the foundational acts maintaining my interest. I still listen to UOA fairly frequently and I remember this side-long, plodding track being described as “BRICK HYPNOSIS” in a Kill Rock Stars catalog. That description conveyed this sort of sinister and rigid psychedelia and the track fits well in a sort of violent and paranoid take on the bass mantra as a vortex pulling the listener towards a violent center. I still really appreciate this track for it’s a-melodic nature and cathartic interruptions.
2. Main - Dry Stone Feed
One of the more important experiences in my life was joining a band with a bunch of older guys that had been doing music for awhile. Guys who either had been in or would go on to be in: Angel Hair, Glass Candy, Get Hustle, Rabbits, etc. I got SCHOOLED by these dudes in all sorts of ways and trading a bunch of mix tapes and swapping LPs frequently exposed me to a lot of great music that I’m still obsessed with. One of the records that we frequently came back to was Loop’s album Fade Out, which features its own inspired breed of rigid psychedelia but I found Main’s Hydra-Calm and Dry Stone Feed records to be both more enveloping and more forward-thinking than the Loop albums. Loop relied on laptop manipulations to transform their guitar and bass explorations into dense layers of crisp guitar riffs and alien synthesis.
3. Les Rallizes Denudes – Heavier Than A Death In The Family
I got passed Live ‘74 around 2001 or so and I quickly became obsessed with the quality of the recordings of this bootleg. The guitar is so incredibly harsh and cancels out the other instruments frequently, but in a way that is very satisfying. This album, as well as Mark Stewart & The Maffia’s Learning To Cope With Cowardice were the records that drove me to invest in a reel-to-reel tape machine to try and emulate that effect in a live setting. Again with the bass-as-mantra form backing the violent guitar shrapnel interjections.
4. Rhythm & Sound With Tikiman - Showcase
This album was a regular spin on all of the Yellow Swans tours. Along with Sade Love Deluxe and Jesus and Mary Chain Psychocandy, this is the thing that really drove us around the U.S. German minimal techno dudes with Jamaican singers… Doesn’t get much better in my book. I love how the hermetic electronic sound blends with such soulful voices and the CD version of Versions allows for the vocal tracks and the instrumental versions to run together so you have these 15-minute long stretches on the road with each beat.
5. The Rita – Thousands Of Dead Gods
Probably the most maximal block of sound you can track down. Sam pioneered “wall noise” and it really lives up to the descriptor. Sound like this is either so repellant and active that you can’t take it, or you dive in head first to be swallowed up and carried by the current until you’re spit out on the other side. With Yellow Swans, I was always interested in how making this psychedelic, enveloping noise could mess with my own perceptions of time and this track can either seem much longer or much shorter than it actually is. Literally perception-altering sound.
6. Catherine Ribiero And Alpes – Ame DeboutThere’s no way I could put anything off Nico’s Marble Index album, so I’ll have to go for the much more hippie aligned, Portugese/French singer Ribeiro. She made three records in the early ‘70s with Alpes that I think are absolutely incredible. This track is all simple bubbling percussion, one guitar doing some sort of alpine folk gesture, another guitar interjecting occasionally and what appears to be some homemade synthesizer or organ fitting into the pattern. On top of everything is Ribiero’s fantastic voice that moves from Nico’s stoicism and gradually moves towards some sort of feral animal howls and growls. I’ve been told byFfrench-speaking buddies that the lyrics to this song are bad to the point of distraction and disappointment, but I’m content to enjoy my ignorance here and just appreciate her voice as sound. Despite the song only being eight minutes long, it feels like an epic drama.
7. Gate – A Republic Of Sadness
Gate’s been an obsession of mine for ages and I wasn’t sure how to feel about his bedroom techno album until I got to the last track. This one’s an easy sell for me. Very lush, beautiful melodic lines floating over a gridlocked rhythm that seems to go on for FOREVER. Michael’s mumble/sung vocals firmly plant this track in a total X-factor, genre-less void that seems only tangentially connected to his previous Gate and Dead C work.
8. Keith Fullerton Whitman – Generators
I love Keith’s current, fractured take on automatic analog synthesis more than almost anything going on in contemporary music. His Generators series is different to his Occlusions series in that the music is far more melodic and bound to slightly more predictable, synchronized patterns. There are still melodic and rhythmic shifts that are executed with minimal human interruption in the modular system. Usually the shifts are smooth and inviting. Occasionally there are rough patches that act as means to draw the listener back out of the matrix for a second before they’re dropped right back in.
9. Lubomyr Melnyk – Wave-Lox
The fastest piano player in the world who’s got an affinity for the sustain pedal. Wave-Lox is a composition of Melnyk’s for two pianos that consists of what is essentially an hour-long piano wash. The music is simultaneously frenetic and pastoral. The notes are played so quickly that the piece can seem totally static, but if you listen closely, you hear themes weaving in and out of each other. The composition can be listened to on several different levels and is only constructed from piano notes. I really admire the density that Melnyk was able to achieve on this piece.
10. Regis – Adolescence
Regis’ best work is almost totally unchanging. Somehow he manages to set up these patterns that remain compelling over several minutes that pound along with maybe a few very discrete filter sweeps or a few parts fading in and out around the rhythm, but ultimately he’s producing these strict blocks of techno that are as pummeling as they are enchanting. The collected early works of Regis are only disappointing when he fades tracks out as opposed to abruptly stopping them. There is something eternal about this music. His records have been a perfect soundtrack for my time in New York.
By Dusted Magazine