Susan Alcorn - And I Await the Resurrection of the Pedal Steel Guitar / Bryan Eubanks/J.P. Jenkins - Split (Olde English Spelling Bee LPs)
A tag team of sexy new Olde English Spelling Bee LPs made their way to me recently. You may recall the label from their fairly recent, handcrafted, split LPs featuring Mouthus/Cousins of Reggae and Yellow Swans/Grey Daturas. I'm sure they've got a couple more to their name too, but I dare say these particular editions are their most triumphant turns to date. Not only do they make for good eye candy on your shelf, but the sounds have been heralded from here (well not yet, keep reading) to the high seas. And I understand that's a pretty important thing too.
It's a given at this point that you've heard all kinds of good things re: Susan Alcorn's newest long player, "And I Await the Resurrection of the Pedal Steel Guitar". And rightfully so. I wasn't quite sure what to expect going in (having heard, I must admit, none of her prior works) but "And I Await" is an alarmingly unique brand of lap steel (didja guess?) worked tunes from this Texan songstress, definitely not in the way of virtuostic ragas I was readying myself for. Which is not to say, of course, that Alcorn isn't talented or doesn't know her way around the instrument - very much the contrary in fact. It's just that the songs here (all solo) are filled with such a vast amount of intense spaciousness. Solitary notes are plucked and Alcorn lets the sound tumble up skywards over itself to dissipate in the air before making so much a move as to the next one. There's so much breathable space in fact it's hard to tell the difference from when she's playing a lengthy, continuous piece (the 16-minute title track) and when the shorter, individual pieces on the B-side begin and end. However, "And I Await" never even borders on the mundane. Alcorn has a knack for weaving such intricate and compelling yarns that it's impossible not to find yourself hanging off her every chord, waiting for the next one to hit. The end result is a personal, almost clausterphobic listen of an ordinary lap steel guitar transforming into some kind of spellbinding musical storybook, wrapping the listener up in a delicate cocoon of worrisome/hopeful Americana mesh. Think the desolate sensibilities of Houston, Texas' native son Jandek (with whom Alcorn has apparently collaborated?) and a soulful, dusty, psych/folk bedroom set from Houston-cum-Austin, Texas' Charalambides (longtime champions of Alcorn; Heather Leigh Murray in fact received her first pedal steel guitar from Susan herself)...add maybe a touch of Hisato Higuchi and his great "Dialogue" disc from last year and that's as close as I can pull it. Do yourself a favor: hear it yourself. The 750 pieces these are limited to come wrapped up nicely in a heavy gatefold with beautiful hand-rendered notes from Susan detailing the stories and inspirations behind every song, which is about the only thing I won't spoil for you here. But at 750, these aren't going to be around forever either.
Now I thought after Susan had gone and laid down an exquisitely tranquil atmosphere in my bedroom that these two miscreants were gonna come along and ruin things with their hip noise music but I was wrong again! Oh sure Bryan Eubanks (he of Collective Jyrk cohorts GOD) plays electronics on his side, but it ain't like that. "Multi-Key Coming" is a side-long black hole, a singluar pulsing drone birthed out of some kind of homemade synth modulator no doot, quietly but persistently quivering like the Blob with a hard-on, or thereabouts. As soon as the needle hits it's nary impossible to wrench your head away, much like Susan Alcorn before, 'cept rather than charm and intrigue this one just straight up gnaws through the brainstem and into the minds of all those it comes into contact with. All I can say is turn it up real loud because that's where all the action takes place in this concrete slab of noise minimalism. For fans of Hive Mind, Zbigniew Karkowski, Yellow Swans, Damion Romero and sweet, sweet death.
Jean-Paul "J.P." Jenkins' side, "Rough Metaphors", is all guitar based, but again not in the matter you'd probably anticipate. It's a long n' weird slab of barefoot around-the-house acoustic guitar improvisations (I may have heard a sitar?) played in generally loose and sparsh fashion with all kinds of background clatter and oddities to make you wonder just what the hell was going on when this was laid to tape. J.P.'s style is pretty all over the place, with Derek Bailey as the prominent figure but Fred Frith, Keiji Haino, Loren Connors and Eugene Chadbourne all springing to mind when drawing comparisons. Which is to say it doesn't sound like much else, at least. On the other hand, I can't help but think it sounds kinda slapped off 'cause it isn't always an attention-grabber, and it's also got a heavy sense of "well, what should I do next?" experimentation to it. And I spose that could be a bug to you if you were in a hurry. I dunno, I'm conflicted on the whole, maybe I need to spend more time with it. I do like it as an offset to the Eubanks' side, it's so different it made me forget what record I was playing - I caught myself trying to remember if I was on side one or two and if I had another side left to go before I realized it was a split and I'd already heard Eubanks' stone soup. This one's limited to 300 all told and has individually screened covers, not to mention an innard xerox that registers a 10 on the "what the fuh" scale.
As of July 2007 there were supposed to be two new OESB's to speak of, one from PussyGutt (?!) and another from Squim. Dunno if they came and went already, I don't think so, so those'll probably be worth paying mind to as well.