Lo-Fi Chamber Folk
Gubbey Records – May 19, 2017
Dream Eye Color Wheel is a project based in Louisville // New Albany, Indiana made of many musicians and led by Ben Traughber. Their new album, False Omega opens with the plodding instrumental, “Slow Thundergeist,” a dark, richly orchestrated piece (featuring my favorite woodwind, the bass clarinet) that toes the line between feeling mechanical, even machine-like, but ultimately human and raw. “Saw Teeth” opens as a waltz, led by acoustic guitar before Traughber’s soft vocals enter, eventually giving way to a lovely organ-violin solo. Later is “Flying Erase Head,” a beautiful piece that feels transmitted from a long time ago – everything is whispered and washed-out, like it’s coming from a distant memory. “Gamma” rumbles into focus on a low synthesizer note before acoustic guitar and Traughber’s voice enter, him singing a repeated “gamma, gamma, gamma… rays.” Balanced somewhere between upbeat and psychedelic, “On Arrival” challenges what a bossa nova can be, throwing a noisy guitar solo on top of an already disorienting track. The album closes with “Goodbye (Listen Here),” which starts as an unsettling duet between rewound guitar and an angry voicemail (the caller eventually cools off). Dream Eye Color Wheel is a fascinating, refreshingly creative project of Ben Traugbher – False Omega is a strange, disorienting listen, but a beautiful and enjoyable one at that.
Tracks I Liked: Slow Thundergeist!, Saw Teeth!!, Flying Erase Head!!!, Gamma!, On Arrival!!
Ben Southworth – May 21, 2017 – Kenwick Place
Dark Atmospheric Rock
Gubbey Records – March 24, 2017
Cat Casual is the moniker of Louisville’s William Benton; ostensibly, the Holy Midnight are the three musicians joining him on this cassette: Brian Foor (keyboards), Sean Gardner (bass, percussion, backing vocals), and Tim Pinkerton (drums). This is a full-length self-titled release from the group, shrouded in a moody, decidedly dark atmosphere.
The album’s opener, “Sending,” is the only track recorded apart from the rest of the album – it establishes a strong tone (thanks, in part, to some guest humming from Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy) before Benton’s baritone vocals come in, ending the track with a fiery electric guitar solo. “Ladyfingers” is colored with a long intro of subdued bass, guitar effects, and soft drums that contrasts with a dissonant, angular chorus of descending chords. The very next track, “Mock,” opens with a lighter, shuffling beat strung together with organ, drums, and bass – about a minute in, the song shifts into a higher gear, making way for a noisy guitar solo. “Come Back” is the most straightforward track on the album, lyrically. Benton’s response during the first verse is a repeated “I’m not coming back” which is exchanged during the second verse for “I’ll come running back” – these verses are punctuated with bursts of weight and texture from the band. “Untitled” is the last track on the tape’s first side – it opens with a heavy, piano-driven beat that gives Benton a great platform to perform vocally. The final two minutes of the track are a frantically intense burst of sound from the band, complete with another wild, colorful guitar solo.
The second side opens with “And You Move,” a track of synth loops and a spoken word bit that sounds like a transmission from far away – giving a nice palette cleanser between each of the tape’s sides. “Wicked World” is breathlessly quick, and Benton’s vocals are mixed almost to match the force of the accompanying instruments on the song. My favorite of the album is “Mutadis Mutandis,” which opens with contrasting chords on the organ, tolling like a church bell, before being joined slowly by the rest of the band. The chorus is made up of the repeated “I’m bound in chains I hate to break, don’t want my place in history” – powerful lyrics that Benton says reference the deaths of people like Michael Brown and Eric Garner, who then became names of the movement seeking justice for their deaths. The album is closed by “Francesca,” a track with instrumental flourishes that give it an art-rock bent, and whose vocal delivery is not unlike Nick Cave.
Cat Casual and the Holy Midnight listens great as an album with a decided atmosphere throughout, a sound that matches the idea of a ‘holy midnight’ – the album is dense, dark, moody, reverent, and contemplative.
Tracks I Liked: Mock American!, Come Back!, Untitled!!, Wicked World!, Mutadis Mutandis!!!, Francesca!!
Ben Southworth – March 26, 2017 – Kenwick Place
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
Gubbey Records is a Louisville based record label that was founded in 1994, but has been especially active in the last five or six years. It is a label responsible for several underground releases each year, and perhaps most well known for the yearly compilation of Louisville music known as Head Cleaner – A Louisville Music Compilation, which has recently been released for the third year. This most recent installation to the series featured 188 bands and their songs and was released across five volumes (three cassettes and two digitally). The first run of physical copies sold out in just two days, with $2.00 from each sold being donated to Louisville radio station, ARTxFM. Here’s what Dave Rucinski of Gubbey Records had to say about the release, Louisville, and more:
What is the mission of Gubbey Records, and how do the Head Cleaner compilations serve that?
The mission of Gubbey Records is to document obscure, isolated and eclectic Louisville music, regardless of genre. The whole Head Cleaner-A Louisville Music Compilation series is about documenting Louisville music on a yearly basis. And while there are many well-known Louisville bands on this compilation series, there are also a slew of completely unknown bands that you will be exposed to for the first time and they are well worth your attention. So, I feel like the compilation fully pays tribute to the labels mission.
This is year three of Head Cleaner, and it’s getting bigger every year. Why do you think it’s gotten so popular, and where do you see it going?
The compilation certainly has had more bands from year to year, but popularity is not what we were seeking, this is about documenting. Here is what I like about this compilation and possibly why some people are attracted to it: It truly is a home grown series, we operate out of a basement with a total staff of three people, no sponsors or outside influence. We try to make it as easy as possible for Louisville bands to submit music, we are inclusive and do not judge the music based off of how many people like your band, genre or your musical expertise. We believe that is up to the listener and history to judge those aspects. And lastly, we believe it is as high quality of a compilation as we can provide.
As far as where I see it going, I guess the sky is the limit…. but one would think that at some point there is a ceiling and it is based off the amount of bands and musical acts that are currently performing in Louisville and that are willing to participate.
Why put it out on tape?
We started off in the 90’s releasing short run cassettes and when we came up with the Head Cleaner project it seemed like the right project to implement cassettes with again. We are able to get quite a bit more music on them then a CD or vinyl record. We found a manufacture that could provide archival quality chrome tape, we mastered and optimized the compilation specifically for cassette, Also they are professionally duplicated on high end gear. This is not your fathers cassettes, they were built to last and sound good.
Another reason for using tape is that we are able to offer our releases at a lower price point that most people will take a chance and buy a release from a newer band that they may not be very familiar with. And we certainly have not forgotten the people who want a digital copy, all of our cassette releases including Head Cleaner come with a digital download card.
Gubbey Records has been around since ’94, but much more active the last few years – what has led to all the recent activity?
We have been quite a bit more active since 2010. Before then, we were doing periodic releases. I was bouncing around the country for work and basically became more stable and focused around 2010 and we have been releasing a lot more records since then.
Do you have any short-term // long-term goals for Gubbey?
Our goals are to expose people to Louisville bands that they may have not otherwise heard of and we hope to do this in the most high quality way that we possibly can. We are constantly striving to provide the best audio and packaging that we can and try to keep our releases reasonably priced. We also have a distribution deal in the works, but are unable to comment further until it is complete.
$2 from each Head Cleaner sold this year went to ARTxFM – why do you believe in what they’re doing?
ARTxFM is much like Lexington’s WRFL. Their programming is unique and engaging and they care about the community that they are a part of. A good majority of their DJ’s are local musicians and they curate shows that are very deep in musical content. They have at least two weekly shows that I am aware of that are completely dedicated to Louisville music. The Deep End with Joey Mudd focuses on early to current Louisville music and Club El Rancho with former Lexintonian Brian Manley focuses on current Louisville music, both are excellent shows. Local music also makes it to their airways heavily in regular broadcast hours as well. Louisville has had a desperate need for a station like this for many years and through the incredible dedication of their staff, I am ecstatic to say that they will be launching on FM on 2/14/16.
What is your musical background outside of running a record label?
I currently play guitar and sing in a Louisville band called Furlong. I have really not had much time to devote to the project in the last few years because of the label, but there has always been something brewing behind the scenes, this year I plan to devote more time to the project and release our first full length LP.
In addition to playing music, I am also an audio engineer. I offer private mastering services through my home studio Tin Pan Basement. I have also run sound for large and small acts and worked in my earlier days for labels in Nashville and New York.
What advice would you give young bands who want to record and promote their music? (Other than putting something out on the Gubbey catalog).
You need to work very hard, there are thousands of other bands competing for the same audience as your band. You will need to outwork other bands if you are trying to be “successful”. This means making the best records that you can, contacting the media when you have important news on shows or releases, putting up flyers, blasting social media, playing tight and interesting shows and touring in your regional area. In short, just when you think you have done enough, do more. All the while, you need to set yourself apart from the other bands while remaining true to your identity as a band, everyone can spot when a someone is not being genuine. Also, no one owes you anything, so be gracious for any help provided to your band in any way, building strong relationships is the key to the music game.
What is your favorite non-musical thing about Louisville?
It is home… I have lived in a lot of great places, but keep finding my way back here… It is a town like no other. From the many parks, great eats and deep history, I don’t know of anywhere else like it. I think it is impossible for you to be bored on weekends, there is always something going on. Also, I love the DIY entrepreneurial spirit that emulates from this town as well, it is pretty infectious.
Who // What are you listening to the most right now?
I have been on quite a bluegrass kick as of late, listening to a ton of old Stanley Brother and Bill Monroe cassettes. Also, here are some other non-local records that I have been listening to: Fella Kuta -Original Suffer Head / I.T.T, Priests- Bodies and Control and Money and Power, Shannon and the Clams-Gone By The Dawn, Crazy Al’- Indiana Punk & New Wave Compilation1976-1983.
Thanks very much to Dave for taking the time for this interview – if you’re interested in finding more about Gubbey Records and their releases, you can check them out in the following ways:
Ben Southworth – January 10th, 2016 – Mount Horeb
October 17th, 2015 – Gubbey Records
The Mechanical Hearts EP is the product of Louisville’s hard driving trio, Satellite Twin – the EP is a collection of five spacey, angular songs that tie together sounds from both prog, post, and punk rock. Most of the songs start with extended instrumental sections that shuffle back and forth between off-kilter phrases, and even when they get to the lyrics, they’re usually not around for too long. The instrumental ability of the band is the most important part of the album – two of the three musicians can be doing something fairly repetitive, keeping perfect time while the third goes off on some sort of totally outrageous pattern. Satellite Twin would play well in a live setting – I imagine that the show would only amplify the intensity and excitement that the band is able to capture on the tape. The final track of the album, “cracks and stains (on the marquee slogan)” is the obvious stand out here – you can feel the song getting more and more anxious as it heads towards the chorus, bursts forth into an incredibly catchy recitation of the song’s title, does a quick coordinated turnaround, and heads back into the song’s main groove. Other tracks are good too – the breakdown that happens towards three minute mark of “raise the sign” feels like it comes out of nowhere, and it’s an incredibly satisfying way to end the song. The Mechanical Hearts EP is has a way of being simultaneously atmospheric and hazy while feeling intense and relentless. Another strong release from an inventive Louisville band, this is worth checking out.
Tracks I Liked: raise the sign!!, mechanical hearts!, cracks and stains (on the marquee slogan)!!!
Ben Southworth – November 15th, 2015 – William T. Young Library