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Lightless and Water Black: Ethereal. Surf. Doom.

 

I had not previously heard of Ethereal Surf Doom, a new genre emanating out of the rain-soaked U.S. Pacific Northwest, prior to inventing it out of whole cloth for this post.  The preeminent purveyors of this new sound currently taking the room from which I write by storm are Blackwater Holylight, who hail from Portland, Oregon, the ecofriendly coffeehouse-as-city best known for its setting in the literal and figurative shadows, respectively, of snow-capped Mount Hood and better-branded Seattle, Washington.

T’were the Doom Charts first caught me into the black water.  As is my wont, sometime back I was scrolling through the site’s then latest month’s rankings, reading the descriptive blurbs and selectively adding albums to my Spotify library.  Mentions of “resounding riffs, enchanting vocals” and “dream(s) of witches” were sufficient to win Blackwater Holylight’s self-titled April 2018 debut a place in my digital listings.  Gratification was unwittingly delayed however as – once again down to my wont – I added too many albums on top of the too many albums I had added the month previous and the month before that.

In fact, my actual going into the (holy) light would not occur until March 2019 when, having scored a ticket for the 4/20 Psycho Smokeout to be held in Los Angeles, I dedicated myself to becoming acquainted with any bands on the bill not already familiar.  Blackwater Holylight then, already poised for a quick clicking, broke my research cherry.  And what a clicking it was… after the quick smoke and long nap that followed that first listen, I scarcely lifted the album from its virtual turntable for weeks.

Knowing nothing of the band, and having totally forgotten the Doom Charts blurb, I was pleasantly surprised to hear fragile female vocals as first track ‘Willow’ radiated out of the speakers.  The Ventures-like picked guitar, relaxed-but-forward-mixed bass, and spacey keyboards all surfed atop waves of doomy atmosphere seemingly spawned from the Quaalude-infused hollow emanating the music as much as from the music itself.  This, then, was the Ethereal Surf Doom of which I had so much not yet christened…

A bit of crunch is added to second track ‘Wave of Conscience’ via ponderous drums and more prominent chord-play.  Next up, the note plucking and rhythmic strumming of anti-lullaby ‘Babies” fools us into deluding, “hey, I could play that,” when in fact it is not played at all but rather exuded, while the subsequent heavy psych space noodling of ‘Paranoia’ suggests a bizarro-world “Mulholland Drive” soundtrack.

Side B opener ‘Sunrise’ (spoiler alert: I later scored the vinyl) is almost jaunty in relative terms, somehow finding the gaiety in melancholy; indeed the official video for this one fantasizes a jolly, drug-induced homicidal winter’s romp.  ‘Slow Hole” seems grounded in latter-day Earth, albeit with a few brief trips into orbit as the song evolves.  ‘Carry Her’ is, for me, the least substantial of the musical freight offered here, although it gains some heft via an unusual-for-this-album touch of dissonance and distortion.  Finally comes the cavernous dirge of ‘Jizz Witch’ in which muted-theremin keyboards create a barely-there void-scape where quiet-loud-quiet guitars traverse in elegy for I dare not guess what.

Mine own.

Which brings me to my sole complaint about this excellent debut: A dinnae unnerstaun.  I often cannot suss the lyrics, save for occasional words and phrases.  I love the mix.  I love the haunting vocals.  I would wish none of that changed.  But I do want to know of what they sing.  I mean, you can’t call a song ‘Jizz Witch’ and not tell me the words!  Hopefully for album number two, the band will opt to include a lyric sheet.

Seeing Blackwater Holylight at Psycho Smokeout was fantastic.  While I didn’t know it at time of purchase, experiencing them live turned out to be a main motivator for making the six-hour drive to attend the festival.  I situated myself right at the front of the general admission crowd and awkwardly bopped, swayed, lurched, and grooved to the music not three feet from the band and with nary a trace of self-consciousness.  Had they any reason to notice me, the BH women would have solely seen a dorky elder-dad creating a barrier between them and their coveted demographic, but in my mind I was a cosmically connected fellow traveler on their musical expedition.

Snapped by me from where I lurched, 20 April 2019

I grabbed my LP and long-sleeved tee from the merch table before the show, ignorant to the fact that bassist/vocalist Allison Faris was selling them to me.  She was quite pleasant but my obliviousness was likely a good thing; at my age a fanboy reaction might have come off more Aqualung than endearing.

 

How the West Was Lost

I’ll be departing Arizona and heading back east in a few months.  It’s not what I would have chosen, but it is what’s right and responsible.  I’m slowly setting the resentment aside and accepting the necessity of the move.  Work, eldercare, children and a beautiful, sociable spouse all push me eastward and up, while the desert, isolation, and lazy puttering that I covet hold me back and down.  “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one,” as a logical friend says.  I strive to ponder less, embrace more.

Of all the versions of me that have existed over the years, I think it’s the one who sported a jeans jacket, cowboy boots, and a leather belt with his name on the back that I miss most.  He lasted for a few years, from roughly junior year in high school through Mormon mission and college until fading away gradually as graduate school and career took him east.  He wasn’t a put-on as he’d been raised in mountains and forests, regularly fishing, hunting, gazing at campfires and riding in pick-up trucks.  It was at the age of 16 or 17, however, that he really came into his own.  It was then that he bought his own pick-up, a ’56 Chevy, and settled in with a small group of like-minded friends, a few of which had horses, lived up in the valley, or boasted brothers who competed on the professional rodeo circuit.

  Queries unwelcome as to which of the horse’s asses is me…

Since coming to Arizona in 2017, my love of the western novels of Louis L’Amour, which had been teenage favorites, has seriously rekindled.  I’d never set them aside completely, picking up one or two every couple of years when seeking easy airplane reading or whiling away the time in some troubled land, but they certainly weren’t top of the reading list.  I imagine it’s their fit with the landscapes that surround me here, coupled with their endless availability at every local thrift store – often at less than a dollar a pop – which has coaxed me back.  The stories of quiet, honorable men and strong-willed, independent women standing up against dire challenges, both villainous and natural, are a salve against the worst of human motivations with which we are bombarded daily.  I find it easy to lose myself in their lonely gulches and solitary plateaus.  They’ll go with me back to Virginia.

With the Ferguson rifle in my right hand, I drank coffee from the cup in my left.
       — Louis L’Amour, “The Ferguson Rifle”

The young me would have never pretended himself a true cowboy, but among the high school cliques I guess that is how we were categorized.  While trucks, boots and leather belts were shared standards, we fancied ourselves rugged individualists.  Save for one head-spinning attempt, I never joined my friends in the enjoyment of Skoal, their preferred chewing tobacco, although I did work my way through a few boxes of Wolf Bros. Rum-Soaked Crookettes.  Our nights were spent either dragging the boulevard in search of girls to bother or drinking coffee and playing pool at the Tamarack Restaurant in the old Flying J Truck Stop.  More than once, some old trucker would spring for a round of baked potatoes in return for us letting him share his tales.  Another draw was my eventual senior prom date Cindy, who was a waitress at the Tamarack, although during most of that time she was the girlfriend of my buddy Patrick.

I’ve been spinning my Chris LeDoux records quite a bit of late.  His straight-forward songs of rodeo life and western living, with their rough rides, longing for home, and simple goals have always appealed to me but had not really been part of my regular music rotation since my early 20s.  Chris was the real deal, having won the World Champion Bareback Rider title at the 1976 National Finals Rodeo.  One of my major music-related regrets is never having seen him live.  My high school buds and I bought tickets for a Charly McClain concert in the early 80s only to learn she’d been snowed in at Denver and wouldn’t make the show.  Having been all revved up to ogle Charly, we opted to get our money back rather than stay for an extended show by opening act Chris LeDoux.  Chris was always putting on shows in Utah and I figured there’d be a million future opportunities to see him on the cheap.  Unfortunately, I never did get around to seeing him and, with his death from cancer in 2005, I never will.  His records will definitely go with me back to Virginia.

Life back east is going to be good.  I miss my kids and being close enough to embarrass, harass, and hang out with them will be a pleasure.  My noble wife will have siblings nearby who can grant her an occasional break from eldercare demands, and Mamá Lidia herself deserves to be surrounded by children and grandchildren as she plays out her story.  There seems to be a broad spectrum of work positions available for me to choose from, and, as long as I spend the next couple of months sticking to my exercise routine and eating better, I shouldn’t have to buy any new suits.  Yep, I’m sure that this is the right move.

Amarillo by Morning by Chris LeDoux

Caballo Diablo by Chris LeDoux

Musing Magnetic: The Memory Remains

Pakol Magnetic

It was hard to stay connected with loved ones during the yearlong stint.  There were a couple of VOIP phones that we shared among the Base occupants and could use when bandwidth allowed.  I tried to talk to my wife and daughter back home roughly weekly. I also rang up my son, who was in his first year away at college, maybe biweekly.  The combination of a highly inconvenient time difference and my exceptionally poor telephone performance meant that the calls were seldom satisfactory.  I regularly heard myself inexplicably leading unnecessary inquests into whether yard work was being done and vehicles serviced or conducting ad hoc financial audits and unsolicited remote arbitration of minor disagreements.  I missed my family immensely and wanted desperately to send and receive love across those fleeting airwaves, but I too seldom found the correct frequency to carry that tune.

My kids grew up hearing music played constantly; in the car, in the house, and everywhere else.  With me, they’d hear rock and metal, and with their mom it was salsa, cumbia, and Top 40.  While I encouraged their own interests in “whatever the kids are listening to these days,” I also actively sought to cultivate in them an appreciation for the head-banging strain.  I loved it when my son caught Metallica fever in his middle school years.  I quickly bought him music lessons and a beautiful flame-top Ibanez SZ-series electric guitar, and then annoyed him endlessly to play Metallica riffs for me as he showed himself to be an incredibly fast-learner.  In later years, watching him rock the axe in high school bands would be some of my proudest vicarious musical moments.

So, when my boy mentioned during one of our globe-crossing calls that Metallica’s World Magnetic Tour would come through his college town, I told him he had to be there.  Unsurprisingly, he did not bristle at the command, accepting happily my instruction to use Dad’s credit card to score the tickets.  (Now that I think back on it, I actually had to give credit card guidance twice as he somehow inadvertently bought Jimmy Buffett vice Metallica tickets on the first online try.  How does one confuse the ‘Margaritaville’ dude with the purveyors of ‘Master of Puppets’?  I’m still flummoxed…)

The upcoming concert became the main topic of our much-improved phone connections through the fall.  As gig day neared, I was as excited as he was, if not more so.  When the actual day hit, I had calculated the time difference and knew just when he would be in the arena.  I got little work done as I daydreamed about the glories he was witnessing.  I felt close to him; I put on headphones and listened to Metallica and believed I could somehow sense his elation.

Within hours of the show ending, I was on the internet looking for reviews or a set list or anything else I could find.  What a wonderful surprise when I found that Metallica’s own site not only put up a set list, but offered for purchase an actual recording of the concert itself.  I double checked; it wasn’t a concert, it was the concert, the actual one my boy had attended.  I couldn’t type in my payment details fast enough.

We had strict rules about our communal satellite internet connection.  There was absolutely no streaming or downloading allowed.  It simply was not fair to use up that much bandwidth given the number of us that had to share it, a point I made to my colleagues regularly.  But I was the boss and I had a special family-related need, right?  I chose the poor-quality, but significantly smaller 128 kbps file option so as to slightly moderate my hypocrisy and started the download at about 0200 hours in hopes it would finish up before the morning online rush.  (Note: It didn’t.  Even opting for the lower bit rate, the full download took over six hours.)

I put the show on my iPod and listened to it repeatedly over the next few weeks, fantasizing I could hear my son within the crowd noise, yelling and singing along throughout the two hours of live metal.  Even though I was alone and using the headphones to block out the real world, it somehow felt like a two-way connection.  I burned the full gig onto a pair of CDs and sent them off on a protracted mail journey to him, but I doubt my son ever really understood how important that “shared” concert experience had been and remains for me.  In the middle of shit, those imagined two-hour turns rocking out with my beloved boy were a much-needed, emotional escape.  We’ve attended many fantastic concerts together before and since, but Metallica in Charlottesville, Virginia, on 17 October 2009 is, to me, the most special of all.

My boy is a man now, and once again we are separated by both distance and demeanor.  He is making me very proud on the other side of the country, achieving much and making his own mark.  He has unfortunately inherited my substandard telephone manner, however, which means the airwaves once again carry an insufficient charge when we speak.  I miss him dearly and worry he’s not as happy as I would wish him to be.  I want him to know how often I think about him, and I want him to know that the vast majority of those thoughts are thankful and loving, vice judgmental and prescriptive.  Most of all, I want him to know how deeply I pine for our next Metallica moment.

Metallica- Seek and Destroy (live), Charlottesville, Virginia; 17 Oct 2009:

Torn on the Fourth of July

I’ve decided against going to see Ted Nugent play when he comes through Phoenix next month.  It was a tough decision to be honest.  After two decades living in places with limited such opportunities, I’ve been taking advantage of this area’s robust concert scene to see a ton of shows.  Besides a slew of newer bands, I’ve also rocked and rolled to plenty of yesteryear heroes as they’ve come through, enjoying most every one of them immensely.  Guitar-slinger Ted is someone I’ve wanted to see dating back to my youth and I was initially thrilled when I saw his name pop up on www.phoenixconcerts.net.  However, as I’ve thought about it over subsequent days, I’ve realized I just can’t do it.

Lest anyone jump too hastily to conclusions, let me make clear that my decision is only indirectly related to the Nuge’s partisan blathering.  While I doubt Mr. Nugent and I would find much common ground in the political realm, for better or worse I’m generally able to mentally partition the music from the bigotries, chauvinisms, or otherwise unshared values it or its creator may espouse.

At risk of tanking my chances to ever competitively vie for the Presidency – although maybe not nowadays – I admit that I love listening to Sleep’s hour-long masterpiece Dopesmoker while fantasizing about giving in to the lyrical invitation to ‘Drop out of life with bong in hand’ and join the Weedians on their stoned trek to Nazareth.  However, this musical empathy doesn’t imply much sympathy for parental-basement-dwelling potheads journeying nowhere.  Similarly, I’ve been known to laugh out loud listening to Steel Panther, and have even enjoyed the highly-talented and horribly-inappropriate band live with my son.  Nevertheless, as the incredibly proud father of a beautiful 23-year-old soon-to-be professional woman, I am adamantly anti-sexist and actively oppose any political party, cultural bullshit, or old boy network that would seek to keep my daughter from being all that she wants to be.

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Judge:  Is it true that the band Carcass played songs called ‘Embryonic Necropsy and Devourment‘ and ‘Vomited Anal Tract’ when you traveled over 2400 kilometers to see them live in 2013?

VotF:  No, it is not.  But they did play ‘Incarnated Solvent Abuse’ and ‘Exhume to Consume.’  And man, those are some highly-skilled and creative musicians crafting mesmerizingly aggressive music.

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Nope, my opting out of seeing Ted isn’t about his rhetoric, it is about geography.  I know where I live now, and I expect that, in this overwhelmingly red state, too many concert attendees will care as much about Ted’s politics as they do about that guitar of his, which can blow the balls off a charging rhino at 60 paces and just refuses to play sweet shit.  I simply don’t want to be in the middle of a crowd that will yell louder when the Nuge mentions his guns, his disdain for our last president, and his love for our current one than they will when he announces that all-time classic ‘Stranglehold’ is next.

I absolutely don’t care what Ted says from the stage.  For me it is about the fantastic rock and roll he offers; it is about the music.  Unfortunately, I’m convinced that, in these angry times and in this angry place, many concert-goers will view their attendance as a political message more so than a live music event.  I don’t begrudge them that.  After all, we are celebrating the birth of our democracy and the freedoms it provides on this Fourth of July as I write this.  I’m just not going to be joining them.

Prickly Ted

For now, I will continue to solely enjoy the Motor City Madman’s musical output in its analogue and digital forms, regularly and without apology.  Hopefully the day will soon come when the victimhood and outrage fetishes shared across the spectrum of today’s political divide will be relegated back to their dark corners and fade from the national consciousness (as well as from the endlessly yammering co-dependent media).  Then, if old Ted can avoid getting offed in some hunting or BBQ accident in the meantime, maybe we can once again experience the joy of liberals and conservatives side-by-side pumping their fists and banging their heads in unison to the magnificent chug of ‘Wang Dang Sweet Poontang.’

Do Not Waste Time Blocking Your Ears

Do Not Panic!!

It was billed as Nik Turner’s Hawkwind, which the angry internet ensured I knew was controversial, legally speaking.  But if leveraging his old band’s name really was the cynical cash grab that the indignation enthusiasts claimed, it can’t have been an especially successful one.  On 6 November 2017 at The Rebel Lounge in Phoenix, Arizona, there were no more than 35 of us contributing funds to Nik’s coffers to the tune of just US$13.00 a head.  And, truth be told, the actual paying number may have been less as the venue issued each ticket buyer an additional free pass “to give to a friend” a few days before the gig in an attempt to bulk up attendance.

What those of us that turned up that Monday night received in return for our modest financial outlay was the opportunity to watch and hear an animated, eccentric, and contagiously happy man play and sing songs that irrefutably carried his DNA in their genes.  Backed as he has been for some years now by prog-psych rockers Hedersleben, Nik performed a set of Hawkwind masterworks from albums dating to his epic time in that epic band.  ‘Sonic Attack,’ ‘Orgone Accumulator,’ ‘Master of the Universe,’ ‘Brainstorm,’ ‘Time We left This World Today,’ and even ‘Silver Machine’ all got served up, along with six or seven additional Hawkwind tunes and a couple of new songs from Nik’s 2017 solo album Life in Space.

 

Having commendably achieved “elderly gentleman” status now, Nik nonetheless was a ball of cosmic energy up there on stage, albeit a relatively stationary one.  (Maybe more a “column” of cosmic energy then?)  He handled all the vocals himself, dynamically singing or speaking each song’s trippy lyrics as warranted.  More thrillingly, he unleashed those signature saxophone blasts, bleats, and squonks as if he’d been grooming them for decades, while also enticing melody and radiance out of both that instrument and his loyal flute whenever the flight path demanded.  For their part, the Hederslebeners demonstrated both their talent and their affection for the legacy.  This was neither a Hawkwind nor a Hawkwind-tribute show; it was a Nik Turner show.  The band soared and shined impressively – and extended interstellar journeys were most definitely taken – but always in a way that subtly and lovingly kept the focus on the venerable hero out front.

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An aside on Hedersleben:  Led by UK Subs founding guitarist Nicky Garratt, the group emerged as a touring/recording entity out of the band that backed Nik Turner on his 2013 album Space Gypsy.  It has gone through many members since, but always with Garratt serving as the center post around which the others revolve.  They played a progtastic instrumental-heavy opening set prior to Turner coming on stage that successfully bobbed heads and temporarily freed minds from earthly worries.  Introducing one suite of songs from 2015’s The Fall of Chronopolis, Garratt called the album “all you could possibly want from an epic progressive rock record.”  Based on what I heard live, I added the digital LP to my Spotify library shortly after the show, and have enjoyed it occasionally a few times since.  Whether the relatively polite album – inspired by the 1974 sci-fi novel of the same name by Barrington J. Bayley — is all I could want is debatable.  It is without doubt, however, a pleasant way to spend 40 minutes with headphones in a darkened room.

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Despite playing for an audience of less than three dozen, Nik showed no signs of disillusion or disappointment.  I think we all got our individual share of smiling eye contact with him over the course of the night.  I’ll also admit, sincerely and without shame, to being truly moved at the way Nik repeatedly turned to Garratt with almost childlike pleading in his eyes to seek permission to keep going each time the small crowd yelled for more at every attempt to finish the show.  Once Garratt finally exercised parental authority and the band started packing up, Nik still continued, blowing extended solo sax versions of ‘Tequila’ and ‘The Pink Panther Theme’ to the hunkered-down crowd.  Even after that, he simply put down his instrument and stepped off the front of the stage to enjoy excited back-slapping and round-buying with the congregation.

As I departed the venue, I happily plunked down $30 additional for a concert tee and a CD copy of Life in Space.  I am a Hawkwind fan, but I am no Hawkwind expert.  That said, I cannot imagine any but the most Brock-blind fanatics not enjoying this Nik Turner solo offering on its own merits.  Ignore the over-stated marketing nonsense about “guest appearances by Hawkwind alumni” and the nothing-wrong-with-it ‘Master of the Universe” re-recording.  Instead, seek out this album for the great new songs played by all-in musinauts who are willing and able, if you’ll simply allow them, to merrily teleport you out to where your beloved Space Rock is no longer bound by the constraints of time, whether past, present, or future.