Lungfish – Indivisible

Lungfish
Indivisible
Dischord

Confession time. I wasn’t always a Lungfish fan. The story goes as such, a friend of mine was selling CD’s she wasn’t into and part of that stack included Indivisible by Lungfish. I asked if I could take it home and listen to it and if I was into it, she said I could have it for a few bucks. I went home, dropped the disc into my player and sat back confused at the weird “art” music that was being made. I managed to listen to all of it, annoyed at the number of instrumentals and backwards interludes and decided that it wasn’t for me. I returned the disc, none to politely, remarking that this “art rock bullshit” was what was wrong with music in the mid to late 90’s.

The only thing that was wrong was my filter. I saw Lungfish open up for Fugazi a few years later and was still off put but curious. Sometime after the release of Artificial Horizon was I turned in to Lungfish. I became obsessive. I desperately searched the bins of the used record stores I went to in search of their albums.

I don’t remember the chronology of when I re-discovered Indivisible. It was not one of the albums referred to me (most people seem to think Sound in Time is their masterpiece in my experience) by the many people I obsessively talked to about this band. But at one point I did stumble upon this album and remembered the dark, depressive, artless cover. It sat in my hands like a cold stone, shifting my comfort. I would have to confront this album, my past judgements against what I had built. I was afraid everything would come unwound and my new devotion would be for not.

Chronology is also a problem with these reissues. On the one hand, some of my favorites have already hit the shelves in my home. But its hard to go back and contextualize these superior presentations with the CD’s I have from the past. And as Indivisible can easily be seen as a the mid-point in the Lungfish output, it’s difficult to feel honestly without referencing other records (something I have tried to avoid since Dischord began this project).

As it stands, Indivisible is my personal favorite Lungfish album, it’s weirdness intact even amongst a most esoteric band. The album is cold and seemingly lifeless. It has musical tones not unlike Joy Division, but it’s also when Dan Higgs starts losing grasp with the reality the rest of us know. Yet it’s not the space and time re-con mission that Artificial Horizons would be or the mind origami give in Unanimous Hour. Instead, Indivisible was kind of subdued.

This album always was subtle, a collection of Lungfish ballads, if ever Lungfish were to write a ballad (they did, a few times actually, they are quite beautiful). But there was almost something old world about this album. Though it hits at all the points a Lungfish album should, it sounded and felt like it was made in another time. There was nothing contemporary about Indivisible. It doesn’t sound like anything anyone was doing at the time.

It remains, to my ears one of the most repetitious albums to date. Filled with lots soundscapes (“e=fu” and “William Fuld” named after the Baltimore native who launched the Oujia board into a household name) these atmospheric breaks make the other tracks stand out more. Anchored by “Tick Tock” and song reminiscent of Joy Division’s “Digital”, where in the concept of time leaves us and we are left frustrated, Lungfish created something wholly new and different. But fuck if that song also doesn’t have a groove, the verse and chorus only separated by Mitch Feldstein’s change in the beat. But rather than follow this up with something powerful and rocking Lungfish fall into another odd instrumental jam “Cut To Fit The Mouth”, where a layer of toy Casio piano sits harshly over a quite little jam. The album is quite frantic, manic-depressive maybe, like Wish by The Cure, but in Lungfish’s unique pallet.

Of all there albums, Indivisible is probably the Baltimore quartet’s most inconsistent. Never finding that groove and layered with way out sound escapades, Indivisible is not an easy listen, despite a band that is pulling back. Here we find Lungfish experimenting. After establishing their own sound, Indivisible finds the band stepping back and playing around. Much of what they would produce would weaves its way quietly into their songs later on. The white noise, the piano plunks, the use of space in different ways. Indivisible took context and twisted it, making it a turning point in an unpredictable career.

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Lungfish – Talking Songs For Walking

Lungfish
Talking Songs For Walking
Dischord Records

Sitting down this morning, no coffee, cobwebs in my eyes, a pit in my stomach and too much already on my mind, listening to Lungfish’s second album, Talking Songs For Walking, I am truly hearing it for the first time. This was back when Lungfish was raw and still sort of resembled a basic band. In fact as “Kissing” rings out as I write this, I see just how pedestrian of a band Lungfish was in their infancy. Yes, the beginnings of their own style were emerging, but it was still soaked so thoroughly in that DC energy, reminiscent of the mighty Rites of Spring, the gritty Ignition and the pummeling of early Fugazi. The repetition or hypnosis doesn’t feel so pronounced here in their infancy (though it’s certainly there).

What is great about these reissues of all these Lungfish albums is that we get to reconsider them. During their height I was a Compact Disc addict. I rarely bought vinyl and it hasn’t been until recently that I have succumbed to the mp3 hoarding nature prevalent among us nerds and assholes. My interaction with Talking Songs for Walking was on CD and thus also included their debut Necklace of Heads in one, very long package. The distinction between the two were not always easy to find. But now as Dischord remasters these great albums, I am compelled to take the time and sit here with Talking Songs for Walking.

A true rock record, the spit and sour of punk rock rests firmly in the veins of this band. John Chriest, the original bassist is most pronounced here, driving the songs into sonic fury where soon the band would step back into a more hypnotic groove. But here, the band is typical in giving just ten songs, but they shave a good ten minutes off the running time. It is only now I realize how economical Talking Songs for Walking was. Confined and compressed by speed, the band delivers a true rock record, made in their own recipe.

As Lungfish is presented here with more urgency, the same riff patterns from our man Asa Osbourne that normally sooth and calm the beast suddenly become more feet shuffling and fist pounding. Here, Lungfish is more of a war cry then a meditative om. It isn’t until we reach the lovely “Put Your Hand In My Hand” that the band slows down to the laid back groove they would become known for. And yet somehow, Asa lets the main riff rule space, somehow showing a complex dynamic. This song also has one of the most dynamic bridges that Lungfish has ever written. In fact, all over  this album moments of great change can be found, making this a rather unique entry into the known Lungfish canon.

We also get a young Dan Higgs, more poetic with his words, not quite embracing the bombastic military bark he would become known for. At this point he was more beat poet than psychic head trip, telling odd ball stories. I am immersed for the first time in the song “Descender”, delivered in a slacker cool that Higgs seemed to embody but never project later on. The weirdness is there, but the crazy hadn’t quite emerged. It’s an interesting contrast, a band known for being relatively laid back (in theory, not always in practice) and a front man being “out there”, Talking Songs For Walking gives us a rather subdued Higgs. Of course, what the remaster does is give us a better presentation of some of the accompanying vocal work, hinting at the bark and yell we would later find.

Unfortunately, the remaster process isn’t all kind. The deficiencies in the recording, obviously caught in the trends of the day unfortunately resonate more. The bass is muted and the drums sound far too treated, an insult to Chriest and drummer Mitch Feldstein, but unfortunately this was par for the course back then. More labor intensive and possibly even unattainable, a treatment of the original masters, stripping down the added effects and giving the bass it’s proper due might make for a powerful re-imagining. This is the first time a remaster does very little to bring forward the nuances and instead shows the deficiencies more.

To this guy though, that doesn’t matter. I am happy to have a second look at my favorite band once again (this was also remastered in conjunction with Indivisible, this writers favorite Lungfish album which we will write about very soon) especially the earlier part of the catalog I have not spent as much time with. It’s nice to find a Lungfish that was once interested in kicking faces in with some foot stomping rock instead of tearing them off with hypnotic, esoteric leanings. As Dischord continues this project, and hopefully unleashes more from the vaults like A.C.R 1999, us fans and devoted “dum dums” can find more nuance. For me, it reminds me to listen to music. To pay more attention and consume less. I can assure you for weeks, maybe months I will be entrenched in Lungfish.

Zomes – Earth Grids

Zomes
Earth Grid
Thrill Jockey Records

I was totally without the internet for like a week. Now, it was kind of okay, because I was sick and just watched a lot of TV anyway, but the problem was I really wanted to order the new album by Asa Osbourne under his Zomes moniker. And this is a problem because I love Zomes. This lo-fi, minimalist music is some of the greatest music I have ever heard in my entire life. And somehow I knew, that in the four years since his eponymous titled debut, Asa would have the sonic qualities of this new project tightened up and presented in a cutting and crisp  new way. The Baltimore native did not disappoint. Earth Grid is beyond stunning.

The details of how this music is made are important. When I saw Asa perform, sadly only once and once is probably all I will get, it was Casio keyboard and tape player hooked up to a massive bass amp. It was loud and pulsating and moving and vibrating and it took away my soul from my body and put it somewhere else in the universe. It was like getting lost in an episode of Dr. Who or falling deeply in love with Douglas Adams. In that dark theater, nearly alone, I was transfixed on a point of sound, but also removed from my temporal being.

So the arrival of said majestic sounds to my tiny apartment in Northwest Albuquerque was beautiful. It emerged in my life as the respiratory infection began to ungrip itself from my insides. And though the congestion and irritation lingers, it’s made so much better as the hums and bursts emit from my speakers. Earth Grid is much of the same, much of the expected patterns played on a keyboard with a hollow echo of electric drums as the only accompaniment.

Occasionally, Osbourne augments the pounding kick with a soft tink of hi-hat. That’s about as crazy as the drum beat gets. And yet it’s perfect, that small clink infecting and perfect in time. Over top is the far out sounds of a most fucked up keyboard the world has ever known. This time out the recording is not studio precise but balanced and cleaned up, focusing more on the sounds than the method. Though the occasional tape hum and hiss adds an element of ghost like atmosphere to certain songs. The pause in “Stark Reality” hints at another tune all together.

This is not pop music. You aren’t going to hum and sing along to this, but you are going to be transformed. Earth Grid has the ability to transfix your being and take you away from the so-called reality you inhabit. There is another space of consciousness possible on this earth that does not require the use and abuse of substances. It can be found in the power of sound. Asa Osbourne has once again, graciously, unlocked that for you.

Dischord, Old and New

Dag Nasty
Dag With Shawn
Dischord

25 Years Ago, four smelly dudes went into a studio and recorded their nine songs. One of those dudes was in Minor Threat and it was probably a big deal to hear on the streets of DC. Seeing as most post-Minor Threat activity was not quite up to par or that long-lived, the prospects of any of those dudes doing something new and potentially dangerous was probably quite stirring. Among those four dudes was a lanky kid named Shawn Brown. He could yell, boy could he yell. A pair of pipes had not been heard in that town since Ian Mackaye to be sure. They made something awesome and epic. Then Shawn Brown left the band.

In the years following, Dag Nasty would record a few more albums with a couple different singers that would have an undefinable and lasting effect on untold generations of punk rockers, some of which who would measure a lot greater legion of fans than Dag Nasty. Shawn Brown joined up with Swiz that is beloved by those in the know, but feels relatively unknown as time’s handles continue to churn. But what of the music these people made together?

These tapes are kind of legendary in the DC circles that I have wandered in for the past two decades. A very odd, crappy bootleg CD existed and has been copied by many completists. I even recently saw said disc at a used store in Seattle, proof that the legend extended beyond our little backyard swamp. But now, Dischord records, quickly proving the doctrine of archivists Ian Mackaye has stated for years, has pressed this fine bit of history onto vinyl.

Never seeking to be confused with being verbose or chatty, this nine song album is presented with no frills, and no tales of the humble beginnings of this seminal band. The Dischord website itself has just one short paragraph on the subject with an end post stating, “This is essentially the same album that was later re-recorded and released as Can I Say.”  This nearly undermines the project almost completely, if it weren’t for the strength of the record itself. For the first time Dag Nasty sounds like a gritty, no holes barred punk band, and it isn’t only thanks to the gruff stylings of Shawn Brown, whose approach was not mimicked by future vocalists. Instead, the song writing chops of Brian Baker are showcased in their rawest form and we get a powerful, aggressive and fast punk rock record. In fact, this is the link between the early years of DC hardcore and what would follow, in large part thanks to Dag nasty themselves.

The Can I Say album showcased a more polished, oiled sound with a dynamic singer in Dave Smalley. It has often felt, in hindsight to encapsulate a more career minded Brian Baker whose musical history includes a hair metal band and the inclusion of being a hired hand in Punk Rock grandfathers Bad Religion. Here however, we find a version of Dag Nasty that was hungry to be heard. As the music scene of DC seemed to slow and calm down, Dag Nasty still wanted speed and fury to be a part of the equation. And it isn’t just a repeat, because Baker’s catchy sensibilities are showcased in perfection.

This is Dag Nasty as I always wanted them. True, had they stayed the course and had Brown continued along with the band, they probably wouldn’t have had the impact they did on the legions of followers. Dag Nasty’s influence seems so often unnamed, but is so obvious to my ears, even now, when new bands add harmonies and slick riffage. But Dag With Shawn is a truly great piece of history and thankfully not lost.

Zomes
Improvisations 1 & 2
Imminent Frequencies

About a year ago I dropped fucking astral, metaphysical science on you by introducing you to Zomes. But you didn’t fucking listen to me. I know you didn’t listen to me because somehow Asa Osborne is still not on a cosmic tour about the galaxy and beyond throwing down his sonic awesomeness from a fucking space ship. Because if you did what you should have, you would have bought the CD, told your friends, they would have bought the CD and so on and so on and then he’d have like ten billion dollars to build an intergalactic space craft with amplifiers and speakers and shit and he could just fly around in the vastness of the celestial offerings way up in the sky. So seriously, this rant is a FUCK YOU. Why? Because you can’t get this fucking tape anymore, because some dude only made 150 of them and their aren’t gonna be anymore made. And yea, I did in fact transfer this tape to digital, but I’m not gonna share it with the internet. You know why, because you don’t deserve it internet. You don’t. You fucking don’t listen to me, and because of that really cool shit, like Asa Osborn in a space cruiser playing keyboards, doesn’t happen.  And that disappoints me. It disappoints me a great deal. It gets my blood pressure up. Which I don’t appreciate. I’m glad this tape is rare, I am glad it’s on a dead format that only shit heads like me care about, and I am glad I get to be withholding to you internet, because you pissed me off. You can redeem yourself, barely, by purchasing his full length that is still available from Dischord records, right now.