Examining media, computers, cars, and music of the past and present.
Stories and opining surrounding current Portland indie culture, legacy Houston rap, and solo piano improvisation by way of a former experimental electronic musician from the angry edens of Midwestern punk.
I knew better than to skip out on Haley Heynderickx’s recent live show in Portland while I was still around, but friends from home were able to see her here, where she apparently slipped up on a line once or twice in the most charming way — you know the kind of worry that’s spurned by brute force earnestness in the present day: it’s a panic that screams protect the fucking sweetheart! The mad world is coming! Though even if one should wish to belittle her so, the challenge would be a steep one. Any human being responsible for blending such sincerity with meticulous theory and 100%-fresh songwriting is of a quality your lazy ass would be bonkers to deride.
I’m not here to review I Need to Start a Garden, because that’d be futile and redundant. The establishment music media managed to see the magic — even NPR published an album review along with Pitchfork, PopMatters, The Young Folks, and Haley’s hometown Mercury. I am here only to make sure those of you like me who are made very uncomfortable by most indie folk — especially from the Northwest — set aside your assumptions for at least a few minutes to give this LP a chance, because it is absolutely brimming with the substance I spent a whole year whining about never being able to find in Potland. Ms. Heynderickx proves through her songwriting, alone, that she has a place among the circle of folk storytellers and river sages remaining contently in the bilges of rural America, but this thing is so much more. She has clearly suffered, but the insight she’s able to effectively convey so ethereally is not something young human beings should ignore or take for granted.
I just spent a good portion of the night preparing a condensed mix of the album for a friend’s school album analysis presentation. As we scrolled through 7 of its 8 tracks, the true technical mastery involved in the production of the work became much more apparent than it had been at first listen, just after its release all those months ago. Not that I’m trying to suggest that the indie scene needs “technical polish” — the money is in those words and arrangements, babies — just that I hadn’t recognized the scent of obsession until I sat down in front of the waveforms to rearrange the lot. It seems to me that most indie folk in the United States right now is coming from trust fund hippies and associated cousins of their particular hypocrisy. From my perspective, there’s no way to be a worse musician, and far too much young white breath is blown on a complete waste of time, but Haley Heynderickx has something to say which I can stand behind with zero cynicism or reluctance. Instead, it’s important that we uplift artwork like I Need to Start a Garden so that the people’s music can resume aspiring for better health.
For over a year, I’ve been working on an essay entitled something like “Celebrating Two Decades of Chordophone Symbiosis,” in which I’ve been attempting to explain an argument developed over my lifetime relationship with the piano: I am distinctly not a musician, which is not self-deprecating, nor irrelevant as it sounds — especially to professional musicians. The fundamental (and ill-discussed) truth in the distinction is that a musician results from a primary focus on disciplined training with an instrument, whereas [title needed] like me cannot be made by anything but lots of time spent just fucking around.
I don’t remember the original moment of discovery, but there are three distinct elementary school-era instances in my mind of blistering my fingers from whole afternoons spent pounding away in my first two octaves. In all three cases, I refrained from stopping even after noticing them, and — in all three cases — blood was the end result. The sound itself was very rudimentary. Duplicated hands on a single-octave spread was all I was capable of. C, E, G, Middle-C, E, G, in the beginning. But to coax my developing brain to pipe a trickle of even the most basal unconscious information to the developing muscles in my tiny fingers so that old instrument could translate it into something I could hear… It’s called improvisation, and — for me, then and now — it is entirely irresistible. It is serene.
After discussions with musicians and enthusiasts across the spectrum — including one especially-stimulating all-nighter hanging with the exceptional Columbia Jazz Orchestra — I believe this conversation is one of the most important insights I have to offer. An intense physical, emotional, and intellectual relationship with one’s instrument like those experienced by (especially) professional musicians requires maintenance, and the “art” of improvisation has tremendous potential for reflection and healing.
but when he’d finally play, I’d pity because he must ask first and his fingers are well-read but they must ask first and every little passerby draws away his eye so delicate, his attention for she that loves him
After returning to my early adulthood home of Columbia, Missouri this weekend after my year spent in Portland, I realized that my own relationship with the instrument has been neglected more than ever before, simply because I’d had less access to the keys than I have in any other period since I began playing as a toddler. For my (underappreciated) following on Periscope, I streamed my first time sitting down at my own childhood upright Baldwin in far too long, and found the session quite reassuring. It’s certainly not an important listen — if you really want to hear my improvisation at it’s best, stop by my Bandcamp — but it got me thinking about what I might offer in future works within this subject. To begin, look for an upcoming review of the newest album release from the greatest living champion of the improv process, Keith Jarrett, and (eventually,) a completed draft of my aforementioned essay.
In the meantime, I’d love to read any thoughts you may have on the matter, however you’d like to deliver them.
I have to just fucking do it — I’m going to start writing about music in this space. There’s virtually zero chance that I’ll shout over other voices of music criticism as long as Bilge remains so poorly optimized for SEO, and Portland, Oregon has been far too confusing to deprive myself the opportunity to work out any understanding of its youth culture. It’s not a lack of talented musicians in the area — the opposite is true — but a severe drought of the kind of tragedy and trauma which ultimately give acoustic American musical expression its whole shit. What I caught of the weekend’s invasion with Santa Cruz musicians were all praiseworthy, tight and confident performers who’d obviously invested heavily in their equipment and their presence here. Joe Kaplow arrived with a sort of bespoke magazine rack containing 20 neatly-arranged effect pedals, leading me to wonder for a moment if I was about to witness banjo powerviolence for the first time, but he explained that he simply preferred their availability, and wouldn’t use “more than a few at once,” and seemed almost genuinely perturbed by my attempt to explain the specific industrially-influenced involvement of audio hardware in hardcore punk and grind performance which I was referring to with the term. (“Powerviolence” has apparently become an ambiguous one around these parts, and I’m sure he was actually just utterly uninterested.)
No more than two dozen guests made up their peak crowd of witnesses, yet Joe and his band certainly made good on shear effort expended in laying down a hearty, back-to-back recital for us at an unusually protracted rate, though apparently either they, the Getaway Dogs, or The Curfews had insisted that a “cover charge” be collected at the door of the house show. It’s not my business to to dwell on or attempt to investigate an unsubstantiatable rumor, but I understand this could have been a breach of house show etiquette. What I do know is that one of the visiting musicians stole 4 flat AA batteries out of my COOLPIX and apparently attempted to jack its ancient Compact Flash card, which is only hilarious because they didn’t succeed. Regardless, it should be said that Joe Kaplow’s songwriting is more flattered by Indie mags than my own ears, though one still wishes for a more substantive topic than “I thought it’d be cool make a corn cob pipe, so I did.” Then again, much of what you’ll find at this URL reads a lot like “I thought it’d be interesting to make a WordPress blog, so I did.” White people have truly run out of shit to say, haven’t we?
The inspiration that sparked ‘I Said’ moved me like a puppet. So much so that I had to pull over at the top of Altamont Pass, by the huge windmills, and write the song in the back of my van.
Joe Kaplow for Glide Magazine
Reflection upon just about anything can have personal meaning, but no amount of musicianship can mask a stark lack of context. I do wonder if Indie Folk should just return to the megachurch, where songwriters like Joe and musicians of his crew’s sort are literally handed a gigantic audience of trained experts at finding profound meaning where it probably isn’t, along with great salaries, from what I hear. Otherwise, all that taxing preparation and expenditure will only lead to more forgettable performances. Or perhaps I am simply misguided in my assumption that artists work exclusively to communicate something lasting to someone. Every conversation I’ve had with Portlanders about Portland music has been predominantly about what artists and their audiences wear and how they behave instead of what they’re trying to say. There’s nothing inherently wrong with leaving things petty, lyrically and choosing to remain content with established sounds, musically, as long as your work is advertised as entertainment, not performance.
Before I came Northwest, my fiance had been exposing me to a variety of its music, which I mostly tolerated politely. Dozens of albums and EPs were played through once and forgotten forever, but when I arrived at a demo tape recorded by her long time friend’s band, The Cigarette Burns, I finally heard something familiar, yet vitally compelling: pissed off punks having fun. That said, I should admit that I only attended Saturday’s show because he was on the ticket, and I’m still glad I did.
After what felt like hours of drowsy corn cob pipes, Christmas sweaters, and old sweethearts at fifty beats per minute (there were literally two young men sleeping within 15 feet of the bands for the duration,) Ricky sat himself on a stool in the midst of Kaplow’s sprawling gear load at 2:30AM with only his guitar and his voice. Unfortunately, I’d squandered the Nikon’s batteries on Californians (the lighting was not ideal anyway,) so I thought I’d share his set on Periscope. Though Ricky had been patiently present and attentive for the entire night (unlike myself,) those who were left of the entertainers bolted to the porch for a lively discussion about unicycles and quinoa while Ricky told us about hate, jealousy, and feeling like shit in a somber elegy. Any further adjectives may edge dangerously close to a half-assed “concert review,” which I am not yet qualified for, but I will say that Ricky’s sincerity made him most engaging part of the night, and his frustrated, conclusive nod to The Cigarette Burns was the first real punk sounds I’ve yet heard in Portland.
I realize sharing this small experience does little to grow the conversation, but this isn’t a magazine, and I am desperate for answers about the bizarre reality in which I find myself. When Ricky dedicated a song to Courtney Love, one of the male musicians(?) yelled “Courtney Love fuckin’ killed Kurt Cobain!” which was such an unbelievably cliche happening/decision that I’ll surely spend the rest of my days in this city unsuccessfully attempting to work it out, aloud. I can’t quite recall who it was last Fall that responded to my frustration by challenging “what if there’s nothing to understand?” While this may be a reasonable conclusion, I suspect it’s not one I could accept as long as I remain here without losing my mind. If Portland is truly the dimensionless bastion of apathy and intellectual stagnancy for young Americans, I must blog my way out it as soon as possible (for Pete’s sake, just give these kids some antidepressants,) but I’d still like to believe the idea too oxymoronic to actually exist.
I was trying to figure out why The Queen’s death hit me so hard today — I was embarrassingly upset for much longer than I would’ve expected, but the answer for me is likely the same as it is for you: she made up so much more of the beautiful rays of American existence which now seem so impossibly far away. Let me just simply say that she gave so much of the music which I have depended upon most thus far, even as wide of a span it is.
The truth is, she spanned far beyond me; far wider than anyone else has done. I spent a good few hours combing misty-eyed through the massive list of Aretha samples which have conscripted that particular form of affection which only samplers can express in such a huge cut of the best Americans have done in the past century: from Outkast to fucking Drum & Bass.