New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: antiwar music

Volcanic Antiwar Instrumentals from Sleep Maps

Postrock/dreampop instrumentalists Sleep Maps have a ferocious, politically spot-on new antiwar album just out, titled Medals. Inspired by the 1971 Winter Soldier protests – led by Vietnam vets who publicly disowned their medals as a repudiation of war crimes at the highest levels of power – the long 4-track ep sets smartly chosen samples of commentary from across the decades against a backdrop of blistering, murky guitar-fueled swirl and roar. More bands should be making music this powerful and relevant. The whole thing is streaming at their Bandcamp site.

Frontman/multi-instrumentalist Ben Kaplan played all the instruments on the band’s previous, more metal-oriented album, Fiction Makes the Future. Although he’s got a full band now, it’s not clear if the latest album is all him or not. Whatever the case, he’s a tremendous guitarist. Tremolo-picking is his thing: he’s got a right hand that Dick Dale (ok, if Dick Dale was a righty) would kill for. Wailing up and down on the strings, his amp ringing with reverb or smoldering with distortion, he sounds like a one-man guitar orchestra, something multiplied many times over as he multitracks himself. Immediate comparisons that come to mind are Mogwai and My Bloody Valentine; Kaplan is also obviously into the more interesting side of metal, and will occasionally reference an atmospheric indie band like Explosions in the Sky. And unlike the previous album, this one goes in a goth direction when Kaplan puts a watery chorus box effect on his guitar.

The first track, The Final Weapon opens a la Siousxie’s Icons with muffled cannon-fire sonics, followed by a brutally disingenuous Lyndon Johnson sample. Kaplan taps and then tremolo-picks over a tricky tempo, rising and falling and then bringing in the watery 80s jangle. The dirge Blackout Eyes looks at the alienation and disillusion faced by veterans, with quotes from the January, 1971 Winter Soldier demo interspersed among moody atmospherics spiced by savage picking and what sounds like a string patch on a guitar synth. The Heavens Gaze Empty explodes with eerie MBV-style close harmonies and macabre chromatics, lush and ominous, as much a dismissal of the insanity of war as the samples of the vets throwing their Purple Hearts and Distinguished Service Crosses into the pyre. The final track, Horror in the Telescope  is the most careening and haphazard, and maybe for that reason even more powerful, at one point revisiting a gothic riff from the second song as crunchy Pantera-style metal. This album ought to pick up a lot of fans on both the metal and indie side and makes a killer reel for Kaplan in the event that he’s looking for film work.

Today’s Free Download

“Don’t drive your chariot drunk,” Spottiswoode wants all you St. Paddy’s Day clowns to know. That’s what the uncompromising literate rocker calls his latest free download, available at his Noisetrade page. The title is a mashup of the antiwar classic Chariot – from his mammothly exhilarating Wild Goosechase Expedition album that came out last year – and Drunk, from the Building a Road album.

The youtube video of Drunk has been taken down. Maybe Spottiswoode got sick of people googling “spottiswoode drunk youtube” – the kind of thing you’d expect a nosy corporate HR clerk to do.

NYMD Does Unsilent Night

Think of your favorite free only-in-New-York musical experience: the Philharmonic in Central Park? Wait – the orchestra doesn’t do that anymore. Hearing a Biggie Smalls classic blasting from a SUV with blacked-out windows as it moves up Essex Street? Wait – that doesn’t happen much anymore, ever since the NYPD brass deemed moveable hip-hop feasts more of a menace than, say, the eardrum-shattering reverse-gear alarms on Time-Warner Cable trucks. But Unsilent Night still comes around, year after year. Although the annual celebratory procession – the inspiration for this year’s first Make Music Winter – went global a long time ago, it remains an indelibly New York-flavored event. This year’s New York participants were a mix of kids along with older folks who might have been part of the parade twenty years ago, when composer Phil Kline decided to debut his dreamy, ethereal electronic “boombox symphony” on the streets of the Village.

It was an anti-Gulf War protest at the time, an honorable tradition to maintain in a year where hopefully the last shellshocked, depleted-uranium-poisoned Iraq War vets are staggering home. The music, recorded as four separate tracks that sync up and mesh into sometimes ambient, sometimes percussively gamelanesque, sometimes raptly mystical tones, is comforting and genuinely hypnotic, a wonderfully crescendoing composition that begins and ends on an enveloping, atmospheric note. The shortest member of the posse that NYMD assembled for this event, hungover and completely lost in the music, tripped over the curb crossing Cooper Square as the procession headed east from Washington Square Park to Tompkins Square Park. While she went sprawling, somehow she managed not to lose her grip on the small handheld device which had been playing one of the many cassettes that Kline and and his merry co-conspirators had handed out before he gave the signal for the entire procession to hit “play.”

From a perspective that moved closer and closer to the front of the line – it was cold out last night! – it was hard to tell how many people might have been involved in one way or another, but judging from how crowded the sidewalks were, it wouldn’t be a surprise if there were a thousand, maybe more. A rough guess is that maybe one in four actually contributed to the collective sonic swirl; the rest simply took the opportunity to walk along with the marchers who’d either taken one of the dozens of boomboxes that Kline had provided, or, more likely, had brought their own, less powerful digital device. The piece is recorded so that playing it at full volume on a ghetto blaster is loud but not earsplitting, although those who’d brought an ipod deck, or a phone, or for that matter pretty much anything smaller than a boombox, were more or less drowned out (then there was the member of the NYMD posse whose batteries died by the time the parade reached Second Avenue – another lesson learned). Your best bet if you want to be a prominent part of the merriment is to have a booming system.

To add a level of meta, there were also dozens of marchers who were recording the procession rather than contributing to the sonics with a tape, cd or mp3 player (check youtube tomorrow – there’s bound to be footage). After reaching Tompkins Square Park via St. Mark’s – where the marchers, who’d kept a relatively brisk pace to this point, were finally slowed by tourist traffic – the crowd lingered as the piece unwound gracefully and calmy with mesmerizing melodic overlays, some hinting at the carol the piece takes its name from, others slightly more bracing and microtonal like much of the rest of the work. From a perspective outside the parade, there’s bound to be some sort of doppler effect as well. But at that point, a little more than 40 minutes into the 45-minute tape, it was time to rush north to catch another indelibly New York performer, LJ Murphy, who turned in an intensely lyrical set of blues, jazz and ferocious rock at Otto’s minutes afterward in a duo set with pianist Patrick McLennan.

Next year – if there is a next year – NYMD will be there with an even bigger posse of people who were jealous that they didn’t get to participate this time around!