Agitated Atmosphere: Joshua Abrams, Ringo Deathstarr, A. Spencer

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As major labels continue to exist behind the times, artists and labels with little capital and lesser reputations are producing some of the most innovative, interesting, and inspiring music. Whether it’s creating a new niche in digital technology or looking to once obsolete formats, Agitated Atmosphere hopes to pull back the curtain on a wealth of sights and sound locally, regionally and globally.
Joshua Abrams & Natural Information Society – Simultonality
(Eremite; LP)

Existing somewhere between free jazz and motorik, Joshua Abrams has created yet another stunner within the compositions of Simultonality. Yet Abrams is not fashioning music from established genres, he and NIS are creating something wholly new and untethered. In a world of tumult and uncertainty, music that challenges our norms and places outside comfort zones may scare away those who need it most. But within chaos is calm, and Simultonality finds that Zen center in repetitious melodies and freeing exploration.

Abrams’ instrument of choice is the guimbri, used in Gnawa ceremonies. It’s rich bass reverberations, caused by slapping its strings, creates a unique sound for Western listeners. And considering how Western scales have invaded musical cultures the world over in the last 100 years, it’s interesting to hear an instrument designed for different time signatures and melodies to be placed into Western contextualization. Yet Abrams isn’t trying to wrestle the guimbri into our expectations, but is rather creating a bridge between the rhythms of Africa and the Western world. Perhaps its why reviews of past Abrams work have been centric on its jazz-like stylings; perhaps it explains that when these drastically different cultures merge within Simultonality, the results are best without words from our bastardized language. For all our invention and slang, it’s still hard to describe the feeling of utter freedom that is found in any work of art, yet it’s here.

It should be noted this is not a cheap purchase, and yet I can’t help but feel the price tag is not asking enough. Not because artwork of this caliber demands more from us monetarily (though it should, as it also asks for our patience and ability to cast aside what is expected for what just is), but because it is worth something more than music-pressed-on-wax. It took three spectacular albums for many of us to catch up to Abrams, but as my lungs burn and muscles cramp, I’m glad to have expended all this energy to be a part of Abrams and NIS’ latest phase.

Ringo Deathstarr – Mauve
(Self-Released; DL)

It began with a 20 year absence, making our hearts grow fonder, but mbv from My Bloody Valentine seemed to bring back the necessity to stare at our shoes. Since, we’ve had the re-emergence of Lush, Swervedriver, Ride, Slowdive and countless others who helped pioneer what became known as shoegaze.

But it’s often what new, young bands are doing within the confines of a now borderless genre that is piquing much interest. Mauve is a noisy explosion of those ideas. Borrowing from the MBV wall-of-noise, Ringo Deathstarr embrace the louder experiments of the genre. Yet Mauve is not beholden to the Kevin Shields philosophy, even as the band get hung with the “Pearl Jam of Shoegaze” banner. But much like PJ, just because they were using the tools of one genre doesn’t mean they were trying to build a doppelgänger of the best. Rather, when an obvious keystone is going to be ever-present, it’s best to take what they do best and work it with your own strengths. In the case of Ringo Deathstarr, it’s the ability to turn shoegaze into poppy, fuzz-laden hits. No song dares to wear out its welcome, but each delivers a healthy dose of the electricity amongst its jangle. How this is not pressed on vinyl by an up and coming label is beyond me – I guarantee it’d sell 500 copies for the right label, and with a band that is just one tour and album away from that legit next step. They may never become a pop culture stalwart a la Pearl Jam, but Ringo Deathstarr have delivered an album in Mauve that shows they are more than just copycats clinging to a genre and a monolith for a bump in popularity.

A. Spencer – A Secret Spell
(Self-Released; DL)

Andrew Spencer Goldman is nearly 20 years into a career, and his latest phase finds him stripping bare a lot of his older guises (Maestro Echoplex, John Guilt, Fulton Lights) to almost embrace his own identity. A Secret Spell is the most alt-country of Goldman’s releases, featuring a handful of Nashville players (including former Wilco drummer Ken Commer). But anyone with a handle on “traditional” country ethos will find that dressing up his work in a well-worn Nudie suit does suit Goldman’s works. Even as he borrows a line from “Come as You Are” for the album’s eponymous track, it still feels inherently southern, even drenched in some of the production values that have littered recent Fulton Lights albums. Yet, in its own way, A Secret Spell works as a mini-retrospective of Goldman’s personas. “You Can Lie to Me,” is a polished version of some of his Maestro Echoplex ideas, and “Good Night and Good Luck” reminds of the airy, open world of John Guilt. But A Secret Spell also seems to be a reminder that more is to come from Goldman, even as his daily life (work, marriage, et al.) has slowed down his musical output.

Justin Spicer is the editor of Cerberus at Tiny Mix Tapes and has bylines all over digital and print media. You can follow him and his work via Twitter.

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