Released around the same time that David Lynch’s acclaimed film Mulholland Drive came out, Blue Bob is a one-time collaboration between Lynch and his sound design friend and musician John Neff engaging in bizarre, electric blues-inspired jamming with a industrial/machinery aesthetic saturating the whole thing, literally (Check out the cover art, while keeping in mind Lynch’s frequent comments describing his inspirations from machinery and smoke). Blue Bob mostly showcases the effects-laden guitar work of both Lynch and Neff, with Lynch often providing most of the leads, along with hard-hitting drum machines, locked-in bass guitars, and the warped, distorted vocals of John Neff.
A couple of the tracks are quite goofy, such as the opener “911” and “Thank You, Judge”, but fortunately don’t overshadow the highlights of the album, such as “Go Get Some”, “Blue Horse”, “City of Dreams”, “Mountains Falling”, and “Rollin’ Down (To My House)”. The whole “industrial blues” aesthetic really comes to life on these highlights, mostly in the instrumental arrangements. The two sultry instrumental jams, “Blue Horse” and “Go Get Some”, showcase Lynch’s surprisingly capable guitar sensibilities. He doesn’t plays fast or flashy, but rather the opposite, oozing out slow, effects-saturated solos that go down deep and nasty, exactly what fans of his films and their composer Angelo Badalamenti would expect. The best part is, Lynch nails his own guitar sound almost too well, while sounding like he is barely trying. (Recent interviews have shown that Lynch is quite humble about his instrumental capabilities, and he doesn’t consider himself to be that great at all.)
It is a shame that this particular album has been very overlooked since its release, since for the past decade Lynch’s creative output has not been film, but music and painting, from writing a couple tracks for Inland Empire (2006) to releasing two solo albums in 2011 and 2013 (Crazy Clown Time and The Big Dream, respectively). The Blue Bob album should be viewed as a crucial moment in David Lynch’s musical career, since it marks his first appearance on actual instruments (It is important to note that Lynch had composed and recorded the Eraserhead (Lynch’s first full-length feature) soundtrack back in 1977 along with sound designer Alan Splet, where they pieced field recordings together to form the musique concrete collage that would serve as the score to the film).
Gaspare Sammartano is the drummer for the underground Italian duo Cannibal Movie, which features just a distorted organ (played by Donato Epiro) and drums, channeling feverish homages to vintage Italian exploitation films of the 1970s (especially the ones featuring “cannibals”) through their loose, droning jams. Apparently there is a whole little music sub-genre in Italy today going under the label of “Italian Occult Psychedelia” which Cannibal Movie are unmistakably one of the leaders of. The sub-genre is a sort of esoteric experiment into the so-called Italian collective subconscious, influenced by everything from vintage film and art to the overall mystique of the Mediterranean area.
Sammartano’s first solo album under his own name is a welcome addition to this esoteric Italian music scene, although it is probably more American-influenced due to his explicit homage to hip-hop, especially the Wu-Tang Clan. The 30 minute album is predominantly a sort of warped, industrial sound collage utilizing hip-hop samples at its murky core, reminding one of the 90s’ electronic music of illbient/trip-hop artists like Scorn, Spectre/Slotek, Req, and DJ Spooky.
But although Sammartano’s “Low-Pitched Italy” is stylistically not original, he manages to sound genuinely inspired throughout every song. The album, although extremely bizarre, noisy, and lo-fi, has an almost breezy quality that makes it engaging from start to finish. Maybe the fact that whole album barely reaches 30 minutes helps, since it is very easy to listen to in one sitting. Sammartano stated the album is influenced by being a “Son of the outskirts, cellars and ruined buildings of Taranto, maybe the toughest and weirdest city in South Italy”, and the record sure does reek of some sort of nasty architectural decay, and paints many images the listener’s mind the of spirits rising up from the dirtiest sewers imaginable, comparable to the best work of DJ Screw. The implied “hip-hop” beats that are scattered appropriately throughout the album evoke much more of a mechanized feel more suited to the dehumanizing nature of vintage industrial music ala Throbbing Gristle.
Overall, the album is most definitely a welcome addition to the record collection of any connoisseur of warped, filthy experimental music, and remains a highly enjoyable and vivid release.
Purchase the Vinyl and digital download directly from Sammartano’s bandcamp page below:
Within the past ten years there has been a resurgence in the influence of legendary horror director/composer John Carpenter’s work, but especially in his excursions into music, where many of his own films were scored and performed by himself, sometimes with the help of Alan Howarth. Carpenter’s iconic scores for films like the Halloween franchise, They Live, Escape From New York, Big Trouble In Little China, etc. featured Carpenter’s iconic style of layering minimal synthesizer patterns in a heavily stylized way that was very much reflective of the aesthetic of the late 1970s and 80s when the films were produced. The average American is sure to recognize the haunting, paranoid main title theme to 1978’s Halloween, with its pulsating sprinkler-like beat and malevolent piano riff pounding on top.
Mutant Video were a short-lived project from Seattle, Washington that may have produced some of the most interesting John Carpenter tribute music. This album, “Head Scan- Part 2”, features what sounds like loose, improvised basement jams that have more in common to the modern American noise and drone scenes than other Carpenter inspired acts like Umberto (or Carpenter’s recent two solo albums, “Lost Themes I & II”). Made up of of just two guys, Nic Schmidt and John Lukeman, they utilize only synths, a drum machine, and a bass guitar, but that bass guitar is really the what makes this act sound fresh and worthwhile. Nic Schmidt plays long, sustained drones on his bass that sound mournful, distant, and grotesque all at the same time. Often he jams his way into pure sludge oblivion underneath Lukeman’s pulsating layers of synths and drum machines. Imagine The Melvins or Godflesh performing lo-fi improv jams inspired by old VSH horror films, then the tapes getting sent to DJ Screw to well, screw them up.
This cassette-only release is sold out, but you can download this 70 minute tape for only 4 bucks on the bandcamp page of Iron Lung Records! Absolutely Worth it.
This is one of the most sought-after “library music” records, one that for decades was nearly impossible to find until recent years, where Itunes has offered a $7.99 digital download and Light In The Attic Records reissued it in 2016 (already sold out). If you are already familiar with the common attributes of this genre, then expect the same funky beats and basslines, sensual orchestral arrangements, wah-wah guitar riffs, crisp flutes and horns, an audiophile-like production, and an overall cinematic atmosphere. And it was recorded in the mid-70s’ of course, the golden era for this type of production music, which at the time was really only meant to be used in future television and film programing (quite a different time from today!).
One special attribute to this record is how well it has aged. Every track glistens with a sheer beauty, all the while covering a wide range of emotions, from joy and melancholy, to suspense and playfulness. The recording of the bass guitar and drum set is pristine, with the deep resonating notes of the bass sounding borderline contemporary. The drummer used for the sessions sounds absolutely rock-solid, and gives each track a deep, in the pocket groove that is to die for.
But overall, this is an album that must be heard to be believed, in coercion with all the hype it gets. It has the rare quality of leaving an extremely strong impression on first listen without any effort at all.
What is essentially the Memphis-born trumpet player’s “acoustic” album, Fascinoma proved to be one of his very best, despite having built an entire career of processing his trumpet through an assortment of otherworldly effects to create his signature “fourth-world music”. Hassell’s signature style is a mixture of his jazz background combined with his love for world music and experimental endeavors that first came to critical acclaim when he collaborated with like-minded producer/musician Brian Eno in 1980 for their album Fourth World Volume One: Possible Musics. This album stabilized Hassell’s and Eno’s stance as two of the most influential figures in the entire musical world of anything ambient-related, deservedly so. Hassell and Eno still continue to write and record to this day.
For Fascinoma, Hassell stated how he was inspired by his half-remembered experiences as a child hearing old exotica and film melodies on the radio and TV. This whole nostalgia stance on the album proves to pay off, for the music on Fascinoma comes off like an extremely surreal, fragmentary take on vague exotica melodies, complete with a deeply hazy and somewhat disquieting atmosphere, hence the quietness of every song on the album. One could call says it sound like Angelo Badalamenti recording exotica-inspired fever dream sequences for a David Lynch film that never got made.
The entire album was recorded in Christ the King Chapel in Santa Barbara on homemade analog equipment, which sounds like a little bit of an indulgent, audiophile-like move, but works exceptionally well for the atmosphere conveyed on Fascinoma. Ry Cooder produced the whole thing and played a warped, reverb-laden guitar on about half of the album. Hassell showcases some of his best, yet most discrete playing, often evoking the graceful sound of a flute. There was also an actual flautist present on 4 of the tracks (Ronu Majumdar), and he blends perfectly in with Hassell, the listener barely even noticing.
Absolutely serene live dub reggae jams performed in real-time by an ensemble of musicians from Denton, Texas. Every song stretched way out (the shortest being only about 9 minutes), enabling lots of improvisation from each band member. But Sub Oslo truly have their own unique sound, one that incorporate just as much inspiration from spacey psychedelia, trance, ambient, and jazz genres as it does with roots reggae music. Lots of unique instrumentation float in and out of the mix alongside the ever present groove of the bass and drums, such as flutes, analog synthesizers, tape loops, sparkling pianos, melodicas, etc. But the music always ends up being the most pleasant stew At the end of the day, there are really only a handful of modern dub groups that produce their music organically, such as Dub Trio, Twilight Circus Dub Sound System, Raime, Ted Parsons-related projects like Teledubgnosis and Necessary, and a few Bill Laswell side projects, and yet Sub Oslo still has their own distinctive sound and aesthetic. In 2014 the band remastered the album themselves and released it for free download on their bandcamp page, along with their self-titled EP from 1998! Fans of this type of music don’t want to sleep on this!
It is really unfortunate that this particularly profound blues record is gradually becoming more and more forgotten. This is a crime, due to the fact that the legendary bluesman Lonnie Johnson gives one of the most venerable, emotionally performances ever put to tape, both in terms of his vocal performance and his nuanced electric guitar work. Not only that, but this album was recorded in the legendary New Jersey studio of jazz recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder, who was an endlessly tasteful and hard-worker. Although Lonnie was mainly a blues player, he had deep roots in jazz guitar, and it was obvious in his playing here, as he utilizes a lot of elegantly strummed jazz chords in addition to the never-ending love of improvisation that is eternally ingrained in any true jazz and blues musician. Keep in mind that this album was one of the first comeback albums for Lonnie Johnson’s musical career after he had been working as a janitor for the past couple of decades since the Great Depression hit. In the 1920s’ and 30s’ Lonnie had been one of the most innovative and prolific jazz and blues guitarists, even being part of Duke Ellington’s band at a point, but unfortunately wasn’t able to afford being a musician once he was affected by the Depression. Blues and Ballads is nowhere near the gritty, greasy urban blues that is just as representative of the blues genre, for Blues and Ballads approaches a strictly pastoral, intimate, and ethereal stance on the blues.
Only three players were present for the sessions at Van Gelder’s studio: Lonnie on electric guitar and vocals, Elmer Snowden on acoustic guitar, and Wendell Marshall on upright bass. It starts off with “Haunted House”, a Lonnie original that truly showcases his vulnerable delivery on both vocals and guitar. The lyrics seem to point towards the intense grief experienced after the loss of a loved one, and how that same grief can impair the sufferer’s life, trapping him inside his own house, constantly “haunted” and unable to leave. The liner notes described Lonnie immediately breaking down in tears after the recording session for this tune, and apparently most of the other songs on this album were intensely personal statements from Lonnie that had him in an extremely emotional state.
This is made all the more apparent considering that the second track on the album is entitled “Memories of You”, and features Lonnie in an even more explicitly mournful mood than on “Haunted House”. Elmer Snowden and Wendell Marshall compliment Lonnie with a near telepathic grace, Elmer playing very elegantly rhythmic acoustic chords, shimmering alongside Lonnie’s gentle electric guitar playing, while Marshall provides discrete walking bass lines throughout the entire duration of the album. There are three instrumentals on the album which do showcases the improvising talents of all three musicians, and really brings out the jazz background of Lonnie. He prominently displays his signature singe-string soloing, every second of which is beautiful and never gets overplayed. There is only one cover song on the album, the standard “St. Louis Blues”, which proves to be the only semi-upbeat song on the album along with the extremely suggestive “Jelly Roll Baker”. Lonnie Johnson is truly one of the real bluesmen, because every note he sang and played convinced the listener that he really lived and breathed the blues.