wired for sound part 6: galena – grave news for you

October 21, 2010 at 2:31 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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SM011  Galena – Grave News For You

When I’m ill my enthusiasm for music, as for everything else, flattens out.  My state of mind is not robust enough to allow the ego-dissolving pleasure of surrendering to it.  Rapt attention is beyond me.  Music instead provides ‘mere’ comfort.  I tentatively stick on a well loved album to serve as a cushion whilst I type, or to derail a runaway train of thought whilst I’m out walking.  Often times music is simply too much and an audiobook, or inane chatter on the radio, suffices for company.

When I’m doin’ fine writing about music is difficult but fun.  It is a challenge to find ways of banging these awkwardly shaped experiences into a series of word-shaped holes, but I feel compelled to recommend the things I like to others and to explain why they might dig it too.  When ill, the futility of the exercise is hard to hold at bay: ten minutes with grooveshark will teach you more about what music sounds like than an infinite number of blog posts.

However, when I’m lucky, something turns up – in the boomkat newsletter, across the pub table or, as in this case, in the mail – which nods an acknowledgement to my illness then trots past in order to engage directly with my soul.  Writing about something like this feels vital.  My depression can delay things but, goddam, you people gonna hear about it when I finally work up a mood for typing…

Based in Oakland, California, Billy Sprague has been praised on this blog before for his art and for Sanity Muffin, the tape label he co-runs with his brother.  My burgeoning love for the guy is the talk of the no-audience blogosphere.  This cassette is his first musical release for five years and was put together in the aftermath of a very major life event.  The title is a very bleak pun.

So what have we got?  Double sided tape, packaged in Billy’s psychedelic (but neatly understated) art.  Monolithic, angry synth lines strung together with hard-attack, slow-delay basslines.  Played live and unquantized, but android-ish in an early-70s SF dystopia style.  Whispered, echoed voices – words on the edge of intelligibility.  Carefully controlled washes of feedback and distortion.  It isn’t all much-of-a-muchness though – the tracks are created using similar minimal resources but are interestingly differentiated.  Occasionally it calls to mind early Cabaret Voltaire but has none of their casual cruelty.  Not to say this is sentimental – far from it.  A surface simplicity belies a depth of complicated ambivalence.  This is the sound of Billy working towards the solution of a puzzle; slowly figuring out how to fit together those oddly carved blocks of grief and memory.  Some grate and grind against each other, some are missing or eroding away.  All, however, eventually fall into place.

Billy tells me he is (justifiably) stoked that another label is interested in a vinyl re-release but I can’t help thinking that the medium is an important part of this message.  Tape, the format of our childhoods, a poignant repository of memory, is absolutely ideal.  He has masterfully incorporated tape’s muddiness and hiss into the feel of the piece.  The swamping effect of pushing these basslines into-the-red is totally immersive.  Seriously – this is an overwhelming experience through headphones.  Stuff like this is what I re-bought a walkman for.

Buy this direct from Sanity Muffin here.

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