By Hillary H. McGoodwin
A few months ago, I was in my humble office at the local homeless shelter; listening to Jimmy Smith with Metric up next (gotta keep social work zesty, ya know). I was filling out paperwork for a veteran with whom I was helping to find housing. As I play the air-organ, an elderly man appears in the doorway. The Christmas lights that adorn my office doorframe made him smile, and then the hearing of Jimmy Smith from my ancient PC speakers made his face light up. I invited him into my office. After collecting basic information from him, like his name, branch of military service, what brought him to the shelter, etc., I ask him if he likes music. The 56 year old Navy veteran lit up again and said: “Music is my savior”. I replied “Me too”.
We discussed his stroke, the subsequent abuse by his spouse, and how he had contemplated “checking out early” many times before but he knew that he just needed to leave and seek shelter elsewhere. This man arrived in my doorway with nothing tangible and only the clothes on his back but he was a walking well of musical knowledge. Part of my therapy with him was to explore music to get a better understanding of his life. It was not long before I learned his life is one long playlist.
Every event, positive and negative, is tied to a song or record. Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew eased his mind when his father killed his mother in front of him. Django Reinhardt was his grandfather’s hero and he remembers decorating the table for Thanksgiving with gypsy jazz filling the air, a week before he deployed for war, and that was the last time he saw his grandfather again. He remembers easing his war-torn soul with the funky bass-lines of Larry Graham. He remembers (and now loathes) Al Green for being the singer of his wedding song. He remembers Up on Cripple Creek playing on the taxi ride from his abusive home to the shelter. “Music is my savior” he said. “Music haunts me and helps me. Music helps me remember the good so the bad is endurable.” Music is embedded in his being. Music is his soul.
I have had the pleasure of watching this man rise up from unsurmountable odds to now being well on his way to living independently with a refueled sense of self. I have introduced him to new music so that he can make associations with them as he embarks on this new beginning. (He has taken to A Fine Frenzy). He told me the other day that Jimmy Smith’s My Funny Valentine will forever be associated with the day he came alive again. ♦
Hillary McGoodwin is a native Lexingtonian audiophile who coordinates a transitional housing program for homeless veterans at Hope Center.
Intense Experimental Noise
Gubbey Records – March 18, 2017
Over the weekend, Louisville’s Black Kaspar – comprised of members (past and present) of bands like The Belgian Waffles, Sick City Four, Tropical Trash, and Suspected Terrorist – released their new cassette, Year of the Centipede. The release is nearly unrelentingly noisy from start to finish.
“Enemy of the State” is droney and mostly arhythmic, save for the glissed bass that gives some structure, and pushes the track forward. It subsides suddenly, giving way to “Glitchfest,” which is all built around an electronic beat. The drums randomly count the rest of the band into washes of sound – when their interjections subside, the digital beat keeps moving along, perfectly in time. “Dark Nexus” is composed mostly of the synthesizer and guitar equivalent of white noise with guitar overtones howling across the background – by the end, the track has grown into something massive.
The title “Dislocation Machine” fits the next track well: it’s equipped with a bassline that rumbles unstoppably, repetitively at the bottom of the texture. Horns fade in and out of the song’s texture, sometimes allowing the guitar to take the forefront (maybe there’s some distorted synthesizers or an organ in there, too??). The first section on “Escape!” feels like its submerged underwater: dripping guitars and synths, even the drums come in bursts like waves crashing on the beach. Eventually, the track locks into a driving tempo with guitars screeching on top – the song somehow feels like it perpetually moves upward, both in pitch and intensity, before suddenly giving way to an echoey ending. “March of the Centipede” is just that – a march, with a dissonant guitar heartbeat providing a constant tempo while the remaining band members orchestrate chaos around it.
The latter side of the tape is fully occupied by “Landing Party,” a twenty-eight minute track that begins with droning guitars and a low, humming synth. By minute four, jazz drums have added some rhythm and structure, with a synthesizer (maybe its a theremin?) wailing on top; seven minutes in, bass and distorted bells define the groove and texture. Around the middle of the track, there’s a quiet break – a welcome relief from the constant intensity that preceded. A very long, slow, controlled escalation follows that – it happens so gradually, you almost don’t notice it happening. The track ends suddenly, but despite being nearly half an hour long, things never seem to stall out – the band manages to feel like its headed somewhere, toward something at all times.
Black Kaspar is a band that clearly knows how to play this sort of music – a group of experienced, technically proficient musicians that build subtle structures for their chaotic music to fit into, making the arrival points that much more intense and powerful. As a whole, Year of the Centipede is so overpowering that it becomes almost meditative and relaxing to listen to (or at least it was for me).
Tracks I Liked: Enemy of the State!, Dark Nexus!, Dislocation Machine!!, Escape!(!!), March of the Centipede!!!, Landing Party!!
Ben Southworth – March 20, 2017 – Kenwick Place
Southern-Tinged Psych Rock
Self-Released March 3, 2017
I caught the latter half of Bendigo Fletcher’s appearance on the latest episode of WRFL-Live! – they’re a relatively new five-piece from Louisville, Kentucky. I hadn’t heard of the group before, but enjoyed what they played that night on the radio. Their songs were spirited, loose, and unusually uninhibited. Somewhere, towards the end of their set, they mentioned they were playing a show over the weekend with Lexington’s Johnny Conqueroo, and that they’d be marking the occasion with the release of their first single – a song called “Sleeping Pad.”
The track is the first they’ve released as a band, serving to tide their fans over until the release of their debut EP (coming somewhere in the fairly near future, perhaps?) Ryan Anderson, singer for the group, paints a simple, comforting picture of lying down for a well-deserved rest. The bright verses are punctuated with verses full of momentum, which in turn give way to instrumental breaks on guitar and violin – all sections of the song have enough space to breathe and develop. Songs like this seem to come out quite a bit less often than those about dark, difficult subjects; though perhaps we could all use the occasional musical reminder of the importance of a good night’s sleep and proper self-care. The group, though new, have a great sound, cohesion, and positive energy – it should be interesting to see how their future plays out.
Ben Southworth – March 5, 2017 – High Street
Self-Released February 14, 2017
Brother Bee is a fairly recent project of Somerset’s Boone Williams, who you may know better from his work in electronic duo, Tiny Tiny. “Rely” is a step in a slightly different direction than the tracks on Tiny Tiny – there’s a familiar calmness in the air on this track, even more so than on other releases from Williams. The drum machines are dialed way back, making room for a pulsing synth bass, guitar, and vocal samples to make up the arrangement. Boone’s opening lyrics, “all the lines I never said, I saved them up to give to you,” express the feeling of finally finding the right one; at the midpoint of the song, “it’s my heart that you hold whenever I’m in your arms,” he reveals the vulnerability of being with someone else. All this leads to the simple, repeatable chorus, “so please rely on me,” where the song reaches its densest point of arrangement – layered vocals, echoing synthesizers, circular guitar patterns, all set upon a simple drumbeat. Much like other recent releases from Boone Williams, this track is clear, thick, and well-produced – those who have heard and enjoyed Tiny Tiny should like these sounds.
Ben Southworth – February 12, 2017 – Kenwick Place
Self-Released January 2, 2017
Abraham Mwinda who now resides in Lexington, Kentucky was born and raised in Kenya – he’s now known in our community for his optimistic songwriting. The twenty-one tracks on Dreamer are relentlessly positive and upbeat – ranging in subject matter from love and loneliness to empathy and the importance of family. Though the album is long, it manages to stay moving for its duration – the first half is particularly good. The first full-length song on the album is the big-sounding, catchy pop song, “Love Come Alive,” which is full of lots of percussion (and percussive melody) that will undoubtedly find itself stuck in your head. “Revolution” sits on top of a reggae beat, and the vocal work of Mwinda, guest Jessica McKenney, plus the background voices make it a lush, beautiful track (and my favorite of the album). Following immediately after is “Cold World,” another very strong song that asks questions about the need for war, and how love can change the world – the track grows patiently into a pretty massive song before it runs its course. The rest of Dreamer shows off plenty of talent – that of Mwinda and the album’s many collaborators – all of which maintain the momentum even through the later songs. The production quality of the album is more or less impeccable, which stuck out to me almost immediately, and makes the album all the more enjoyable. If you’re in need of something positive and uplifting (and that sounds great), Abraham Mwinda provides just that on Dreamer – give it a play.
Tracks I Liked: Love Come Alive!, Revolution!!!, Cold World!!, One in a Million!, There is Hope!!, What If?!, Yelele!!
Ben Southworth – January 22, 2017 – High Street