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Listed: The Books + John Olson

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Dusted Features

Every Friday, Dusted Magazine publishes a series of music-related lists determined by our favorite artists. This week: Tune tanglers The Books and CD-R pundit John Olson of American Tapes and Wolf Eyes.

Listed: The Books + John Olson

The Books

Tomlab duo The Books are one of the most unique and original groups making music today. Their debut, Thought For Food was as skippy, choppy, and destructed as ever an acoustic-guitar(ish) record has ever been. The Books' brilliant reassembly of tone into tune simultaneously created a genre and perfected it. Their most recent release, The Lemon Of Pink finds the duo refining their clippily beautiful melodies and sounds while refreshing their sound with the addition of ethereal female vocals. To all those who doubt the future of open-minded music, both The Lemon Of Pink and Thought For Food are gleaming examples of phenomenal creativity, and The Books are as exciting and brilliant as band as exists today

1. Odetta - She has been knocking us flat since the summer. Seldom did we hear a voice so true and unaffected, guitarplaying so well matched, and bassplaying (Bill Lee, Spike's father) so seamless. The repertoire is timeless: folk, spiritual, blues: some of it well-known but really in the freshest performances we've come across, some of it well worth a revival.

2. Silence - It's better than ear candles for cleaning out those hard to reach places. The quietest place I've ever been is in the desert outside of the canyonlands, southwest of Moab, Utah. There was no traffic, no planes, no birds, no insects, no people, no animals, no wind through the trees, no trees. Just the sound of rocks and gravity and the buzz of my nervous system. It nearly drove me crazy at first, then I got used to it and it was really nice. I became annoyed by the sound of my clothes so I took them off and danced around and I could hear my knees and elbows bending. Lovely. Slept like a log.

3. Graded Sentences for Analysis - This is a book that our friend Jorge Just gave us, written in 1922 by two elementary school teachers, Mary Rossman and Mary Willis. The inscription reads "Selected from the Best Literature and Systematically Graded for Class Use". It consists of 1200 sentences from famous literature organized by grammatical structure and presented as a numbered list, with no bibliography whatsoever. here's an excerpt:

203. How far do these great wheat fields extend? 204. June 21 is the longest day of the year. 205. The little princess grew more beautiful and gracious. 206. Pshaw! This string is too short! 207. Oh, dear! The wind has blown my hat away! 208. Alas! That news is sad, indeed! 209. Whew! That north wind freezes my nose! 210. Philemon and Baucis were the kindest old people in the world. 211. For supper they had only a bit of brown loaf, and a drink of fresh warm milk. 212. To no stranger did they ever refuse the best hospitality of their poor cottage.

4. Improvisation - Whenever we get stuck, we improvise. Sometimes we end up with answers that bypass the questions, and It is always a good way to get to know each other better.

5. Sleep - It's often better than being awake. Sleeping outside is the best. The Navajos always sleep with their head facing north since it helps to align subtle energies. Try it, it works. Paul's dreams are silent, like slapstick. Nick's dreams are filled with unfamiliar voices.

6. Movies - Recently it's been more of a quantity thing, rather than a quality thing. When they're good, they're great. When they're bad, they're still pretty good. Recent favorite's include Lisa Cholodenko's Laurel Canyon and Pasolini's The Gospel According to Saint Matthew and anything with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jesse Ventura together (i.e. The Running Man and Predator). But enough of that.

7. Walking - The further the better. Walking all day will take you to some interesting places. Walking for several months will alter your life drastically. One of the best walkers ever was a mysterious American woman who called herself 'Peace Pilgrim'. She walked over 25,000 miles around the United States with nothing but a blue tunic and a message of world peace. Her writing is remarkably clear and inspirational and should be sought out by anyone who is honestly interested in peace. Her legacy seems particularly instructive these days. When in the city, walking around Manhattan is often the fastest way to get to anywhere, and the natural rhythm of walking provides a great basis for musical meanderings of the mind.

8. Food - Food is Tasty. Over the summer we were eating dark green vegetables, sautéed with mushrooms and onions with red wine vinegar and a little salt and pepper, potatoes (boiled, baked, mashed, and fried), tomatoes with nice cheese and bread from our friend Heather's bakery. Omelets, fresh fruit, pies. These days it's back to squash and potatoes and the occasional rutabaga for the long winter. and donuts from Neville's. Our kitchen is next to the studio. Cooking becomes composing and vice versa.

9. Bach - Music is sacred, Bach is its prophet.

10. Collaboration - A humble opportunity to become more than the sum of our parts. You can work alone when you're dead. Until then it's nice to work together.

John Olson

John Olson, Southeast Michigan native and resident, is a founding member of Wolf Eyes and proprietor of the American Tapes label. Olson and his projects are white hot with good reason – he has an apparently bottomless reservoir of good music in him. American Tapes is approaching their 300th release (though they may surpass that by the time this goes to print), and Olson's played on close to half of those. Wolf Eyes are set to play Brooklyn's No Fun Fest in March, and the 2004 UK All Tomorrow's Parties festival in March. Some of American Tapes' limited-run cassettes and CD-R's may fetch high prices on eBay, but part of the beauty of Olson's output is that you can never "collect them all," though you can always find something amazing that practically no one else will have. In fact, you can send John $20 and get a package of awesome music right now, even if it's not exactly what you ask for.

1. Los Pajaros - Kissing Spell LP – Not really an LP but rays of information-rich ecstasy from the mysterious corridors of Heaven. The perfect LP. Complex like a cubistic vision of ‘60s organ pop through the cut-up method. Every song and flow of the LP is stunning. Vocals in Spanish and English with a perfectly orchestrated rock ensemble with ebbing keys and stinging fried-out guitar. Amazing, moving, heartfelt. No other record in the world sounds like this. Soul vision through South American amp personified. Peaceful, mysterious, heavy aura. Takes awhile to find the path in the grooves but when finally lays gently on your mind/heart/nothing else will compare. Guess they started a trend in South America with their idiosyncratic approach, so many large bands were scrambling to compete.... number one. Gets better with every listen.

2. Almendra - Anything – Over the course of one single, two albums (last a double), these Argentina giants destroyed the groundwork of underground homemade rock. Anyone who has heard “Colour Humano” (guitarist started a band named after the song when the group broke up) is completely dazed. Almost Ginn/Process of Weeding Out guitar feedback frenzy through a downer depression heart mangled vocal speak. Sung in the native tongue, these four geniuses cranked out some serious heaviness. One look at the back live photo on the first amazing LP, you can see the unspoken rapport the band has. Again, like the Kissing Spell LP, total flow and consistency of song path through the course of the albums. Pounding, but gentle drums, solid bass, insane fuzz guitars. The instrumental prowess of this band growls like a rabid sleeping dog. The vocals speak with you, not at you... like a friend. Everyone I have played this for has eventually asked for a copy. Even all my co-workers who hate jams before ‘95. Grows on you like a fungus. Start with the perfect intro of “South American Psychedelic Guitar Masterpieces Vol. 1” boot LP and then on the first album. Original pressing sounds way better/warmer if you can track down a clean copy. The final double record has a slew of decent tracks but contains some of their greatest guitar heroics. Perfect band.

3. Wizards - Untitled LP – Unbelievable vibed out sullenness from this unknown Texan. Strange cover, strange sequential circuit loner key action. Very downer and odd glowing thing. In the amazing “dude alone with a keyboard and mental illness” synth section, this is truly a dude alone with a messed-up synth and social illness. Imagine a Corwood version of “Zeit.” Has the glow that nearly all modern “electronic” music has. Soul/reflection/lack of flash. Creeping thing. No retard masks or distorted pedal beats. You talk about electronics, this mysterious thing comes into my beta brain. Very eerie, gentle numbing mind strangling. Close contenders are Pythagorean, Chappelle, Jonas Palm and anything on the Piglet label, Ancient Leaves, etc. But Wizards takes the prize in its understated dark beauty.

4. Lazy Smoke - Corridor of Faces – Jesus this record is intense. Jokers say this is the poor man’s Beatles, but fuck them they suck. Textbook album of “atmosphere.” Intense personal wreckage lyrics, searing guitar with backwards parts, weird quiet drums. The second this hits the air you know the homemade perfection. Psych for the boot and collector comic crowd is for the soul, but this and other recs like Kak, Cargo, Jessie Harper, Morly Grey, various Dead live recordings, Quicksilver first LP, early Man, Shylock, Music Emporium and wasted others are gateways to another personal strange universe full of mystery. “Corridor of Faces” is ageless gentle waves of soul bearing that hits your heart like Satan terrorist bowling bombing. Gets better with every listen.

5. Reality Gates Electronic Meditations by Steve Birchall & Nik Raicevic – Two unbelievable jaw destroying “dude with problems & synths” LP that are in their own frozen universe. Something about deranged synth damage through the jokey-gimmicky electronics make for a slightly melodic less academic and avant folk real people iron forest jam every more unsettling. Done right and done strange and individual these social misfits with cracked circus gear really drive the mad home to trance mediations & rhythmic hammers of swamp glue to truly cracked musics. Upon millions of listening,, there is an approach & depth to this that stands more honest & direct than more “serious” electronic musics. This could be the Ramleh & K. Mizutani’s of the mid 70’s? True psychosis. Few and far between but the payoff is a lifetime of mutant brain waves.

6. MB - Anything – Jesus this dude is wacked. Could almost be in the synth damaged social problem section but is doing his own thing. From the Sacher Palz lo-fi repetitions to before he made a career out of redoing the theme to “Twin Peaks,” MB had his own garbage junk vision on lock. Sullen swells of hyper distorted radio and synth radiation, he had his own singular vision on meditations with social disease and limited equipment. Maurizo had what every jammer should be possessed with, a style very much his own and an ebb and flow that surpassed improvisation and songcraft. The path through the MSG for the soul could only have moved his rotten fingers to tweak the garbage to the fallout-angel -demons deadened earth vision. Thought at first that “Armageddon” was the best, but after hearing nearly everything, every recording has its own haunted soul. Regal, IBM, Mectypo, etc... the history of it is stunning.... true unique genius.

7. Prick Decay - Guidelines for Basement Non-Fidel LP & Junk Operatics tape – Dylan N. the dog-brained mutant who changed the face of the gutter underground in the ‘90s. Living up to it’s title, “Guidelines” is the “Reign in Blood” for all homemade alien aktions. Totally crude, totally weird nonsense garbage. Amazing. Record might as well been cut into the corpses of plasma donors then into wax. Nods to various cut-up Swiss dudes & “Pizza Au Go Go.” Dylan and “sister” Lisa had everyone scratching their dandruff huts. From millions of homemade amazing puddle splatch tapes, “Junk” is one of the many gems. Illuminating, in a leprosy vein. Still going on today under Decear Pinga, but the majority of the magic lies in these rotten grooves.

8. Messiaen - Le Ascension played by Simon Preston – The most moving recording ever. Easy. Organ music is incredible, this the best. Strange, eerie. Very personal account of the religious experience. Joy, anger, ecstasy, mysterious, all together in three movements. There are many versions of this masterpiece by other organists, but this recording really captures the intimate and creepy nature. Very original use of the organ, some almost like MB and other electronic music. Messiaen rewrote the instrument to his vision. Listen late at night and be transported to another mystic realm. Again, a masterpiece.

9. Negative Approach - Ready To Fight – Unreleased live gigs and first basement demos, totally raw and way more intense than the already snarling dog intensities of the album and 7”. Starts with eight second version of “Pressure”. Incredible. Serious Michigan shit. Brannon’s fierce vocals and stripped-down delivery only make the impact more severe. Totally honest hardcore that transcends genres and goes for the throat. On the live tracks they sound like a gnarl machine, in synch and bomber like. Best live record ever, even better than “Made in Japan,” “Live Faces,” “Earthbound,” “Clyma Est Mort” etc....

10. Magic Sam - Magic Rockers and Live double LP – Dude was the best guitar player ever. Poor fella, guess that joker Kim Fowley was the last person to see him alive, Sam was so poor he didn’t even have a jacket to go back to Chicago in the winter, so Fowley gave him his. His playing is searing and right from the heart. Very soul tugging with a despairing anguished sound. No pick, crazed vibe. Blues is pretty much junk save for Charlie Patton, various Lighting Hopkins and Blind Lemon Jefferson but this poor soul was in his own field. Celebration music for heartbroken loners. Very staggering. Like listening to friend hanging on for dear life. Fighting for every sound. Totally himself. RIP.

By Dusted Magazine

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