REVIEW: Jonny Trunk – Scrap Book (2009)

Scrap Book is the 2009 release by writer and Trunk Records founder Jonathan Benton-Hughes, professionally known as Jonny Trunk.

Disregarding greater compositional structure for works in miniature, Scrap Book is a showcase of dense textural collage. A series of vignettes, a pure charcuterie of sound. Notable standouts from which include the quaint K Piano, the mellow saccharine How Sweet It Is, and the deeply haunting and eerie Snowblind.

On Snowblind, Scrap Book’s clunky cartoon-ish revelry is displaced by the haunting, encroaching exterior world. To paint a mental picture, if Scrap Book was an ensemble-casted cartoon Christmas special in which everyone was snowed in together, Snowblind is a haunting foray into the cold and eerie outside. Disney could never.

While each track is its own little nugget of joy, Scrap Book as a whole will delight you with unease throughout the entire journey.

You can read a magnificent interview with Jonny Trunk over at Aquarium Drunkard.

For fans of: Raymond Scott, Robert Drasnin, Will Powers

Like Jonny Trunk? Give these a listen: Barbed, Mike & Rich, Krypto Grotesk

REVIEW: Pulp – This Is Hardcore (1998)

“Pornography is simply the most familiar visual language through which we appreciate the disparity between the intensity of imagined experienced and the disappointment or disgust of its realisation.” – Hugh Aldersey-Williams on This Is Hardcore from the article Living Dolls, which appeared in New Statesman Magazine, on 8 May 1998.

Riding on the intoxicating waves of britpop and cinema-chic, Pulp’s 1998 release This is Hardcore is an intoxicating ride of pleasure and disappointment. An entire essay could be written about the album’s depiction of consumable sex, narcissistic dissatisfaction, the album’s place in the conversation of sexism within media, and arguing points over intent, self-awareness or lack thereof. That said, I’ll spare you any bigger questions on life and morality in favor of getting on with it.

Almost immediately, This Is Hardcore showcases a tendency to crowd itself. There is little space for songs to breath, which shows both in its ‘don’t bore us, get to the chorus’ song structuring (understandable/forgivable/expected) and corner-cutting song endings.

Opening track The Fear, like much of the album, is much too indebted to this way of song writing to allow itself the room to see its moody composition to fruition. There’s choral arrangements, layers of guitar and then some more layers of guitar, leaving the recording feeling crowded, busy, and at the same time a little flat. Regardless, the actual songwriting across the album is incredibly well crafted. As a result, front-man Jarvis Cocker and crew’s songwriting is, to recontextualize a quote from journalist Edgar Nye, ‘…better than it sounds’.

I feel slightly sorry for the teenager buying this album in a second hand shop, expecting something more, well, hardcore, and hearing a song like Dishes: a mellow pop piece on the doldrums of being 33. But This Is Hardcore makes a lot more sense once having worked one’s way in. It’s an album of repercussions wallowing in melancholy and want.

Uh, hello? Teen angst? Ever heard about it?

The album’s energy takes a step up with Party Hard while simultaneously dating it alongside 90s alternative rock groups EMF and Spacehog. The following Help The Aged does a much better job. By balancing wailing power pop choruses with soft psychedelic lounge-pastiche verses, Help The Aged gives itself room to breath while continuing to apply layer and layer of sound.

Music video for title track This Is Hardcore, directed by Doug Nichol.

The album’s titular track may be the best singular work on this album. This Is Hardcore is an incredibly dark song. Taking a steady 2 minutes 30 seconds to reach its first chorus, its repetitive motif does more to help the song breath slowly and fully until reaching a magnificent… er, climax, nearly 2 minutes later before its emotional downward spiral: a clearing of the fog of fame and the burnout which succeeds it.

Jarvis Cocker has been on record about the song’s meaning a few times, albeit different angles: a song literally about porn, about fame, society’s aggressive appetite for ‘new faces’, the thrill of burning bridges and so on and so forth. Regardless, the emotional sleaze and excitement of excess followed by destructive fallout is a transition perfectly exemplified in the synthetic melting tones of the song’s outro, which leads into the introductory cold drone of following track TV Movie.

Even across its Beatles-inspired pop rock, TV Movie’s bleakness further reveals the emotional fall-out of narcissistic-consumptive pleasure: the depressive sense of isolation and dissatisfaction.

A Little Soul, however heartfelt, is too cheesy for me to be caught listening to. And from here This Is Hardcore seems to drift out of focus, until its rallying finale. This could have been an album of exemplary pop writing had it reallocated some of its space to letting its songs breath, and perhaps trimmed the fat. Even with a stream of fairly consistent hitters, This Is Hardcore is bloated, which makes the work susceptible to becoming banal. That is to say, from A Little Soul to The Day After The Revolution should have been lifted and reconfigured to their own release, leaving Like A Friend to close the album after TV Movie. Perhaps in this process, the masters to songs like A Little Soul and Glory days could have been destroyed in a fire, leaving all traces of the songs lost to time…

The age of the CD lead to the exploitation of new possibility, which in turn lead to occasional negligence of the art being created for that medium. This tends to happen whenever there is a new medium or fashion of doing things. But this was only the first step in the slow expedition of digital possibilities. More recently, Kanye West – Life of Pablo (2016) became infamous for this very neglect. Having taken advantage of digital possibility, the album was only finished months after its release. This brought into question the criteria of what finished or completed an album and if we had possibly surpassed the age of the solid album.

This Is Hardcore‘s recording sessions spanned from November 1996 to January 1998, and upon its original release didn’t feature one of my favorite songs on the album, Like A Friend. For clarity, I reviewed the non-deluxe version of This Is Hardcore that was available on the Apple Music store (can’t we just call it iTunes?) in October of this year. But what does this mean for reviewing work? What constitutes an album in the post-artifact age? Going forth, how do we group parts of a larger work? What IS mu-… no, I said I wouldn’t go there. Right then. Getting on with it;

There is absolutely amazing work to be found on This Is Hardcore, but as a collection of work it has a tendency to get in its own way. I’m (figuratively) curious what the outtakes of this album have to offer, but I sense the truth is they’re still very much present.

For fans of: Blur, Portishead, Spacehog

Like Pulp? Give these a listen: EMF, The Good The Bad & The Queen, Sparks

Vulture Industries: Damian Keyes, Big Joel and Small Music Culture

For both clarity and legal reasons it should be stated upfront that the entities and individuals discussed in this article are not scams or inherently fraudulent. The Damian Keyes Music Business Academy, for one, claims to be “the World’s Number 1 Online Music Academy for Independent Artists, so you’re in safe hands.” I have no proof this isn’t the case, nor do I feel a need to create any. For more, read Resident Sound’s disclaimer page.

Look! A Dollar

1998, The American Way of Death Revisited, author Jessica Mitford’s follow-up to her 1963 exposé on the American funeral industry and written shortly before her own passing, details the abusive practices common within the American funeral industry. A sort of “Consumer Reports of death” as described by author Bess Lovejoy. The American Way of Death Revisited was the first instance in my life of an approachable, open door to American cultural critique. 

“The undertaker, who pockets slightly more than half of the funeral dollar, has generally drawn the spotlight upon himself when the high cost of dying has come under scrutiny. But he is not the whole show. Behind the scenes, waiting for their cue, are the cemeteries, florists, monument makers, vault manufacturers. The casket-manufacturing companies, to whom the undertakers are perennially and heavily in debt, are often lurking in the wings like ambitious understudies waiting to move in and assume control of the funeral establishments should financial disaster strike.

The cast in this drama is not always one big happy family. There are the usual backstage displays of irritation, pique, jealousy, a certain vying and jockeying for position. There are lawsuits and scathing denunciations which arise because of the stiff competition. These can be submerged in the interests of a common endeavor, for the show must go on, and the common goal must be served: that of extracting the maximum admission fee from the paying audience.”

Mitford calls these adjacent businesses “allied industries;” businesses more or less reliant upon each other to extract as much money as possible from their targeted demographic. We see a similar albeit different practice in the music industry. 

The immense world of music is not so united in its efforts. While the “big 3” of the casket making industry, Batesville, Aurora, and York, rely on their allied industries to push profits, the music industry’s big 3, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Sony BMG don’t rely so much on their industrial underlings. These juggernauts of the recorded music world have little to no interest with the well-being of instrument manufacturers, road crews, small or independent efforts, the like, and have most recently disregarded the entire realm of physical media. But the revolving door of talent needs only so many bodies each cycle; With so many rockstar hopefuls left commercially unfulfilled, who is to profit from the array of musicians left over?

Those damn vultures, that’s who. Those who aren’t above taking a musician’s hard earned money can turn to the scrapheap of hopefuls who, in the eyes of snake oil salesmen, are waiting to be exploited. 

Irrelevant to the top of the commercial music food chain, these business entities instead constitute a vulture industry, coming behind and scavenging missed dollars in the pockets of musicians and creators too useless or irrelevant to the larger music industry’s business, all under the guise of helping these musicians become a relative success. 

We may see the hard work that goes into running a business and try to be forgiving, but at the end of the day these practices rival that of snake oil salesmen: hustlers selling the idea of hustling and profiting from the insecurities imposed on their market demographic.

Countless Backs of Sad Losers…

If you haven’t seen them, a quick search of the word “Spotify” on Youtube shows results such as How To Get Onto Spotify Playlists For Free (Andrew Southworth, Apr 24, 2020), THE END OF SPOTIFY: What Next (Damian Keyes, Nov 12, 2020), How To Grow More Spotify Streams! Release Radar & Discover Weekly (Boost Collective, May 23, 2020), and many other clickbait titles. 

These business entities come in many forms, of which Boost Collective’s might be the most direct. Providing the “power of an agency in your hands,” Boost Collective offers a list of services that can be purchased with “Boost Credits” ($39.99 will get you 25 credits) and range from “Spotify Promo” to “Song Improvement.”

Andrew Southworth, on the other hand, is “an independent, very DIY minded, music creator.” A down-to-earth everyman, connected to your mindset, and currently selling a $97 an hour video consultation service.

While courses, services, and consultations are how many of these entities may make their money, they’re actually the up-sell to something much more detrimental. Yes, before you can even think of saying ‘mom’s credit card’ these entities have already sold you on the anxiety inducing mindset of success versus failure. 

A good example of this is music business teacher Damian Keyes’s personal site; a gaudy display of career accreditation and indoctrinating affirmations. It’s good business, if not a bit tasteless.

Everything you need to make a success of your music is right here.”

No guarantees. The ball is in your court, you don’t want to be a failure, right?

“…I wanted to establish a community where musicians can have more access to me & my training.”

Anyone can say they care, but only some of us can create artificial scarcity.

“Building in the music industry isn’t easy, you don’t want to do it alone.”

Edward Bernays would be proud.

The Damian Keyes Music Business Academy is former session musician and music industry guru Damian Keyes’s outlet for his courses in music business strategy. For $24 monthly, or the “pro” plan at $199 yearly, a customer of the DKMBA can have access to various video courses as well as live streams and other perks.

Outside the DKMBA, Damian Keyes offers private consultation. The Mentorship Plan, at a measly $1,495 “every month,” comes with enlightening perks, all described with legally vague terms, such as “accountability and support,” “super priority for music promotion…” and “super priority for working with Damian on YouTube challenge videos.” If paying a little more than the average monthly cost of rent for a single bedroom apartment is concerning to potential customers, they can purchase the Single Consultation Package: a “1 hour Skype consultation with Damian Keyes to discuss your goals, career & strategy” for $495. That must make Southworth’s consultation a steal.

But a different form of vulture-practice, and perhaps more egregious than faux-managerial support, is perfectly exemplified in the overabundance of alleged-scam record labels on sites like Soundcloud and Instagram. Let’s look at Beige Records, as detailed in youtuber and producer Trakk Sounds’ video Fake Music Gurus & Record Labels?! (Beige Records) (Trakk Sounds, Apr 27, 2021).

Beige Records grew in notoriety for its extensive cold outreach to SoundCloud accounts informing users that Beige Records was looking to add new artists to their roster, going as far as offering to sign SoundCloud users who hadn’t uploaded any music. Due in part to this, many have raised concerns over Beige Records’ perceived ‘scam’ practices, from charging €70 music uploading fees to accusations of bot-plays on streaming services.

“What is wild about this, and what’s an obvious, obvious sign it’s a fake playlist [using bots to generate plays] is you get automatic placement. You could probably send them a song of you singing ‘back that ass up’ in the most opera style you could, and without a doubt it’ll get placed on the hip-hop playlist with 25,000+ reach. If a Spotify playlist guarantees you placement, it is 100% false. I couldn’t even find these playlists [on Spotify]. I tried to research to see which ones they were, I couldn’t even figure out which playlists they were because they hide it so much.”

But isn’t Trakk Sounds, in a way, just another vulture of small music culture? Trakk Sounds is undoubtedly selling something. His videos, many about music business and directed at the small music community, earn royalties through Youtube’s paid-partnership program and are a direct ‘sell’ to the small musicians trying to make it (the ‘sell’ being one’s attention to advertisers). [Upon further investigation, Trakk Sounds does link to his Beatstars account, “a digital production marketplace that allows music producers to license, sell, and giveaway free beats.” But nowhere did I see any commercial copy suggesting Trakk Sounds’ production work would free you from working a day job or give you the ‘tools to success.’]

How do we differentiate someone like Trakk Sounds, whose content targets the same demographic and who carries a degree of perceived authority and public sway, from the vultures?

Gates of Steel

It would be hypocritical and perhaps a bit cynical to accuse Trakk Sounds of the crime of vying for your time and attention. We’re all doing it, be it a youtuber, a blogger (such as myself), or the very musicians which this conversation surrounds. Many of us are unsatisfied with our day jobs and would love to work on what we’re passionate about or at least something adjacent to our passions, much like Trakk Sounds, Oliver Kemp, or Anthony Fantano. So when things get difficult, when the money is out of reach, would you not turn to someone who may have the answers?

Enter video essayist and cultural commentator Big Joel. On May 11th, 2019 Big Joel released the video Small Youtube Culture as an exploration and comment on Youtube user Avrona’s floundering attempts at success and negative relations with various Youtube-success forums.

“…these forums were always a very anxious place. By their nature they’re filled with people who don’t want to be there, who want subs and aren’t getting them, and who don’t know what to do.

…I mean, I don’t want to graft my personality flaws onto everybody in this community, I don’t know if they’re all as motivated by external validation and attention as I am, but I have to imagine that a lot of them are, and that can be very painful.”

We see this same thing happening within small music. And seeing a vulnerable demographic, a vulture industry will swoop in to exploit it.

Hobbyists and dedicated artists alike are encouraged to game the algorithm, molded under an intoxicating bombardment of hustle culture aspirationalism and fear of failure by these business entities. It’s an ever revolving cycle that up-sells itself with each rotation. Watch the video, buy the class, sign up for the paid newsletter, ad nauseum with the promise of giving you the tools to succeed. 

So what separates the hustlers and helpers from the gurus and vultures? What is in good faith, and who is there to solely make money? There are some things we can do; For one, gauge if what they’re saying is even true. Do they state a certain dichotomy is definitive, and if so what does it mean to go with either side? Are they completely dismissive of those who disagree with them? Do they talk down those who don’t put money before their craft? Do they support musicians outside of their own image? Does Damian Keyes buy music?

Where small music culture differs from small Youtube culture is in the latter’s disguise of craft. As Big Joel says, “Youtube, as a medium, tends to disguise its nature as art. Vloggers, commentary channels, ‘let’s plays,’ all the most important stuff tends to feel like a guy just pressed record and acted like himself. And sure, you can kinda learn to be like that, take an improv class or learn public speaking. But Jacksepticeye is not good at improv, Markiplier isn’t. They’re just goofy, heartfelt boys with faces you kinda wanna squeeze. Their talent feels unnameable, effortless and organic. And that is a shitty thing for a new creator. Because if you wanna do what these guys do, the name of the game isn’t ‘get better at the craft;’ There is no clear craft to get better at. Instead, you’re left talking about what strikes me as window dressing: Trying to improve your audio, releasing the optimal number of videos, making eye-catching thumbnails and descriptions with good keywords. You’re left running on this treadmill hoping that someday something will maybe take off but all the while the substance of your work remains roughly the same.”

As one of the oldest art forms, there is undoubtedly a craft to music. But under the pressure of vulture industries, what we see happening to the craft of music, with centuries of input in the forms of theory, philosophy, and cultural dialogue, is quickly forgotten for these “window dressing” solutions.

A predatory entity will perpetuate a ‘success vs failure’ dichotomy that induces a fear-based approach to crafting music that can then be manipulated into creating further engagement and sales with the entity’s own brand. Being signed to a ‘label’ that doesn’t actually help you, getting on a playlist with some slick or flashy name, having the right content to post; You’ve been convinced you need these to succeed, but what you consider success was sold to you by those who stand to make a profit off your mindset.

Maggie Nelson said in her book The Art of Cruelty that any dichotomy irrelevant to the next generation is disregarded by that generation. What is success in music- in art? How do we avoid ‘success posturing’ and how do we stick to genuine artistic expression, creation because the work must be created? In our age of virtual space, with our curated identities and multifaceted motivations, is a dichotomy involving authenticity irrelevant? More importantly, how does a dichotomy that gauges success and failure by commercial means become irrelevant?

Perhaps now the question should be ‘how do we differentiate art for art/artist/audience’s sake from art made for capital’s sake?’ Because art made solely in the hopes of making capital (be it financial or social) is about as fulfilling as being a dishwasher, but is dishonorable in its contribution to cheap cultural runoff and general uselessness.

What does our collective culture get out of your work? What do you hope to get out of it? If the answer to the latter is solely money, your choice to make music was the worst business decision you’ve made so far.

It is more than okay to search for help in the arts and in the business side of art, but remember that they cannot sell the success they describe. There are no guarantees, and it is this very uncertainty that vulture industries use to manipulate your buying habits. It’s important to find the desire or joy to create music from outside financial or social capital. Your work may be the only thing you’ll ever get from it, and that is a reward no one else can give you.

Again, from Small Youtube Culture, Big Joel states:

“The joy I got in learning to make better video essays, in improving my writing, in finding out what I really like to talk about, it’s just a lot harder to get that, when it feels like the bulk of your job (the difference between your channel and a successful one) has nothing to do with your art.”

“It can be pleasant to think that Youtube is… Not governed by mysterious forces, rational, coherent, tangible. But, it’s not really like that. It’s not ever really like that. …It helps me now to just try to make whatever I want, because if I didn’t I’d just be confused and worried all the time. …Maybe the algorithm, this odd and metaphysical feeling thing, is kinda cursed. Maybe we all have a lemon tree growing in our backyard and sometimes it blooms and sometimes it doesn’t and nobody knows why. And maybe anyone telling you otherwise is trying to sell something, to you or to themself.”

REVIEW: King Kashmere – Soul Calibur (2021)

He’s back!

Iguana Man is back with his first solo material since 2010’s Galaktus LP! He hasn’t been sleeping though. With projects like Strange U, Gawd Status, and features galore, Kashmere is seemingly busier than ever.

Work ethic not wasted. Kashmere has refined his sound over the past decade, and it shows on Soul Calibur. His delivery is stronger than ever and displays the calm control only an MC two decades deep could. Soul Calibur is a beautiful work of music and it makes me excited to listen to hip-hop again during a period of my life in which I’m too glum to get into much of anything.

Soul Calibur’s instrumentation was produced by Alecs DeLarge and brings the criminally smooth lounge sound. Vibraphones, flutes, snappy snares and kicks; it’s perfect. Watch the music video, then go cop this bad boy on Bandcamp or stream it on Spotify.

For fans of: Kool Keith, Strange U, Danny Brown

Like Kashmere? Give these a listen: Third Sight, Organized Konfusion, buddy.not.bud

REVIEW: Family Fun – Record (1981)

You read that right, folks. Record is the 1981 release by Boston avant-aware new wave group Family Fun. A project of Arf! Arf! Records owner Erik Lindgren, the band consists of Sara Goodman (vocals), Russ Smith (bass, vocals), Erik (Moogs, keys, theremin) and Rusty Lindgren (guitar, vocals),

Family Fun kicks off Record with opening track Games. Surf-y guitar and bass reminiscent of The B-52s is punctuated by agile drum-machine patterns. It’s fun, if not a little predictable at first.

Sara Goodman’s rock vocals are somewhat reminiscent of Missing Persons, while Russ Smith’s bass playing is notable across the entire album. This provides some steadiness to the avant garde antics of the Lindgren siblings, a necessary contrast keeping things from going too far one way or the other.

This contrast in steadiness and chaos makes Family Fun stand out from others’ forays into new wave. Family Fun is part Devo, part Suburban Lawns, and part outsider music. It’s interesting and exciting to hear the risks taken by Family Fun, as they have held up incredibly well.

That’s not to say Record is a masterwork waiting to be rediscovered and put atop the throne of music revisionism. The a-side comes with the trappings of new wave in 1981. Its compositions in rock can be a little predictable for the time, while tonal aesthetics haven’t aged well either. Simply put, often the song writing isn’t quite strong enough to break away from the rabble of new wave.

That is until we get to the b-side: EZ Listening Music.

“WARNING: Do Not Listen To This Side.” The behemoth of a track totals out with a 16 minute run time, the b-side’s label adorned with the aforementioned warning. EZ Listening Music slowly swells into being like the beauty of day break underscored by looming anxiety of life. Sara Goodman’s spoken monologues pin an all too real human element. Guitar strings are held on, agitated more than strummed while blips of Moogs and other electronics tweak in and out of ear shot. All of this underscored by slow swelling bass guitar. Ultimately, the song’s direction finds itself much like a movie score.

“Elevator music for 1990. Right, Erik?” is etched on the b-side runout. I can’t even imagine.

For fans of: Devo, Missing Persons, The B-52s

Like Family Fun? Give these a listen: Suburban Lawns, The Waitresses, Tones on Tail

Rethinking Southern Gothic Music: 10 Songs You Need To Know

Southern Gothic is, first and foremost, a literary genre that seemingly no one can define; a series of broad themes, stereotypes, and general ‘vibes’ often interpreted through the lens of the untrue many, regurgitated back into a self-affirming echo chamber of aesthetic cheesiness. In many ways, what people view to be southern gothic music is more of the steampunk approach to being poor wHite (with a capital “H”) country folk with an alcohol problem. So take it from a southerner who’s seen their fair share of weird occurrences; that ain’t southern gothic.

Here to correct course, flesh out your southern gothic music knowledge or at least your spooky Halloween playlist, here’s Resident Sound’s Guide to Southern Gothic Music.

Bill Frisell – Tales from The Far Side

Originally the theme for the hard to find Gary Larson’s Tales from The Far Side 1994 TV Halloween special, The Bill Frisell Quartet’s lengthy opening statement takes cartoon oddity to a macabre and haunting place. The song’s eerie and haunting motif is slowly twisted and transformed into a grotesque and wild semblance of its origin, giving Tales from The Far Side more bite than its ‘Denver sound’ contemporaries.

Porter Wagoner – The Rubber Room

From Porter Wagoner’s vaguely uneasy What Ain’t to Be, Just Might Happen (1972), The Rubber Room is the oft overlooked and much needed addition to any southern gothic or spooky country playlist. On the non-cinematic side of additions to this list, Rubber Room sings the malady of the minds and the confinement and isolation imposed on the mentally ill, all located in “a building tall, with a stone wall around.” The whole song could’ve started with ‘on a dark and stormy night’ for all I’m concerned…

Rowland S. Howard – Dead Radio

What’s more southern than the southern hemisphere? Okay, that’s a copout, but Australia has given us The Birthday Party, and with it the solo careers of Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, and my personal favorite Rowland S Howard. Rowland is the Lee Hazlewood of goth music, and in turn Hazlewood’s southern gothic counterpart. While his earlier work alongside Nick Cave in The Birthday Party may have embraced southern gothicism to a T, Rowland S Howard’s solo record Teenage Snuff Film (1999) is a must for anyone looking to dive right in.

Hank Thompson – I Cast A Lonesome Shadow

Let’s get it straight: the best version of this song is on Hank Thompson at The State Fair of Texas (1963) bar none. The spacious feel of its environment only sneaks into mind all the negative tropes of carnies and fair. Besides that, Hank Thompson at The State Fair of Texas offers a more uptempo version to the song’s slower single release from the year prior.

Foetus – Spit on The Griddle (The Drowning of G. Walhof)

The lush orchestral arrangement from composer J.G. Thirlwell more or less speaks for itself. Thirlwell’s high anxiety sound lends itself perfectly to the dark edges of perception. Perfect for night drives in the backwoods or stumbling upon a mutilated dead body. Looking for more? Try the Foetus track Rattlesnake Insurance.

Reverend Horton Heat – It’s A Dark Day

Perhaps the only person using ‘reverend’ in their band name that I don’t hold disdain for, Jim ‘Reverend Horton Heat’ Heath and crew usually deliver at least one fairly dark gem per record. 1990’s Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em may have the beloved hit Psychobilly Freakout, but It’s A Dark Day, a perfectly somber song drudging through the depths of depression and heartbreak, is our takeaway. 

These Immortal Souls – These Immortal Souls

These Immortal Souls was the brief side-project of Rowland S. Howard. A split from his work in Crime & The City Solution, These Immortal Souls may be the most interesting and overlooked branch in The Birthday Party lineage (to echo sentiment from Charles Spano). Rowland S Howard’s work may be the most consistently southern gothic while never falling to the try-hard cheese of dedicated ‘southern gothic’ music acts.

Mario Batkovic – Quatere

It would be remiss to go straight to the Red Dead Redemption soundtrack in a guide hoping to change your perception on southern gothic music, but Red Dead Redemption go-to-ers get some things right. We went with score contributor Mario Batkovic’s cinematic solo accordion work and, I guess, ‘hit’ Quatere. 

Patsy Cline – Crazy

C’mon. Do I need to explain this? If you still don’t hear it, go back to Tumblr fanfic or harassing children on the internet or whatever it is you do with your life. …Still here? Great. Try throwing a little extra reverb or delay on this song if you really want to trip out. I highly recommend it.

Eddie Noack – Psycho

Of course this song is on our list. What’s wrong with you? While plenty of murder country music should be left to the grave, Eddie Noack’s single Psycho is a bonafide classic in our ears. Sometimes put in comparison to the later serial killer Ed Kemper, Psycho is a twisted tale of black outs, murder and mommy issues. What more could you ask for?

An Interview With Grass Jaw

Grass Jaw is the solo recording project of musician and father Brendan Kuntz. The project’s 4th album Anticipation will be out November 5th, 2021 on vinyl and via digital download. Written and recorded while moving from Jersey City, NJ to Ithaca, NY, Anticipation blends elements of slowcore, alt-country and garage rock. The songs on this record reflect the tumult that happens during such a transition, covering depression, self-awareness, and super-anxiety that goes with parenting.

The following interview with Kuntz took place over email in September 2021.

You reached out to me through Resident Sound’s contact page, as occasionally happens with folks, and we started talking. Being an independent solo project you take on all artistic and business responsibilities yourself. What do you find to be the biggest struggle with getting through to people, be it artistically or promotionally, and where have you found success in this struggle?

Building an audience is something that took me a painfully long time to figure out. I played in a band in NYC from 2005 – 2015 and we didn’t play many shows (especially after the first few years) because shows usually were sparsely attended and seemed not worth the trouble. We all worked 9-5 jobs and had a hard time justifying being out until 4 to play to 5 or fewer people. After a while we mostly stopped trying, and would basically play only when invited by friends, which ended up happening more frequently out of town. During much of this time I was also in the process of trying to figure out how to function socially without alcohol, and it was very rare for me to go out and see other local bands, because it was uncomfortable to go out. In general, as a band, we weren’t really connecting with other people (and especially musicians) locally, so it makes sense that we didn’t have an audience.

Around 5 years ago, after my youngest son was born, I felt a strong need to get out of the house occasionally, and started seeing more live music. Going to a show, I would find I liked the opening band, or I would meet someone in the audience who played in a band or even just liked the same bands, and after a while it became shockingly clear what I had missed out on by not connecting with music people during that time. At first I felt a ton of anxiety about being the weird old guy at shows (especially basement shows!), but after a while it subsided. I lived in such a great music town, but for years didn’t really know or value local bands. It’s a little embarrassing. The other side of it is that eventually I did start going out more and more (of course still limited with a day job, 2 kids, and a wife who has her own interests) and meet a lot of people. Many of those people have been so supportive as I’ve started making my own music. I’m very appreciative of having music friends who share their own music with me, and will also listen to what I make. For family reasons I am not in a place to play live much or tour, and I know that’s an impediment to growing an audience much beyond where it’s at today, but I’m at peace with that (although I do hope to tour again someday when my kids are older, just to make more of those friendships in different places.)

Smaller musicians usually don’t receive the luxury (or burden) of having their entire catalog over-analyzed and ‘made straight’ by fans and journalists. What is the Brendan Kuntz / Grass Jaw narrative thus far? How did Grass Jaw come to be where it is now?

I’ve played drums for most of my life now (almost 30 years at this point.) I started playing with some kids in 8th grade in a band, and have basically played in some iteration of that band on and off since 1992 I think.  I went to school for recording and after college moved to the city to work in a recording studio.  I thought working in a studio like that was my dream job, but it ended up being one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had.  It left no time for playing music (or anything else) and also didn’t pay near enough to live on – it seemed like most of the people who were doing ok there had some other source of income or support.  After a while I gave up on it and found another job outside of music, and also started playing in a band again.

I love the group of people in this band, and love playing with them, but at different times in my life have felt like I wanted to have more of a voice than is typically afforded to the drummer.  Around five years ago I saw a show (it was Bad History Month) and the one guy in the band was singing, playing guitar and doing kind of a one man band thing on drums at the same time.  He’s one of my favorite artists and I was so excited to see him, but it was also kind of a realization that I could make music on my own and didn’t need to wait around or rely on any other people. So I basically just started writing some songs, and worked on recording them at home until I had an album’s worth. I asked for feedback on that first record from a trusted friend / bandmate and asked him to be brutally honest, and he helped me think about things like editing and crafting in a way that I hadn’t thought too much about as a drummer (like why am I bringing this part back, or what purpose does this section serve).

Listening back to that album now there are definitely some rough edges that can be hard for me to listen to, but I’m also proud of it as something that I set out to do and finished. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend about tattoos a long time ago – I was asking him if he still liked all of his tattoos, and he basically said he would probably make different choices if he were to do it over today, but he’s glad he has them to remember where he was at. On that first record I was really just figuring out how to do things. I made another one a year later that felt like it came bubbling out of me, like those songs just had to get out and I just needed to figure out how to translate them. And with each record I’ve made (this is my fourth) the process feels a bit more natural, and capturing sounds feels more natural, and it’s just amazing how things come together when compared with that first album where it felt like I was pushing a truck uphill.  

Many musicians have credited their environment (landscape, weather, crime rate, etc.) with influencing their sound. Do you find this to be the case with your music, and if so, how has the move from New Jersey to New York state changed your approach?

I grew up near where I live now and I’ve always had a bit of a country streak in me musically, so it’s hard to say when it comes out how much is from my current environment, and how much is just ingrained, but it is there. I think one of the biggest things that’s pretty easy to hear in the newest record (after the move) is the effect this past winter had on me. It was probably the bleakest winter I’ve ever experienced, and it affected my mood and songwriting deeply. There was one stretch of about a month where I was literally shoveling every day, often 2-3 times a day just to keep up, and it seemed like it was never going to relent. I was in a cold dark place physically and emotionally, and I think it’s pretty apparent when listening to it. 

For you, what has your identity in being a musician given you that you don’t find else where? How do you approach the dissonance of daily life (responsibilities) and the art life?

I remember being in middle school and feeling deeply unhappy and lonely, just feeling like I didn’t know where I fit in, and hating going to school and being ignored (at best) or bullied. Towards the end of middle school grunge became a thing, and there was a lot of rock music on the radio and on MTV, and I would come home every day after school and play (drums) along to some of those albums. After a couple months I heard about some other kids that were trying to start a band, so I asked if I could try out. The next year as a freshman in high school was so much better, because there was a thing I was good at and I had some friends who liked some of the same things and could spend time with. I still had a pretty typical high school experience with bullying and struggling to fit in, but it was light years better than it had been before I found music. To this day, almost all of my closest relationships have some connection to music, and I’m very thankful to have found it.

Around the time when my wife and I were expecting our second child we decided we needed more space to raise a family, and we decided to do some renovations to our apartment. We were fortunate enough to be able to also add some extra space for a music room. For the first time in my adult life I had a drum set and other music gear in my home and could play without having to travel an hour and a half to the practice space we’d been renting for years. Ironically, having a space to make music at home came just as our 2nd child was born and all of a sudden it became harder than ever to find the time to make music. That said, my wife and I have always been really good at giving each other the space to pursue individual interests and maintain friendships. Up until last year we both have tried to give each other a free weekend 3-4 times a year. I also work remotely, and have been fortunate over the years to be able to sometimes (when my schedule allows) spend my lunch hour working on a new song. But of course it’s hard trying to fit inspiration into those little windows. There have been lots of times when a melody or lyric idea will come to me when I’m with the kids or working, and if I can manage it I’ll pull out my phone and quickly record it into voice notes and hope it translates later on. Or sometimes there’s just too much else happening and it’s lost, and I have to just trust that more ideas will come.

You’re far from the first parent musician, but maybe that’s a journey one takes alone. Do you see your struggles and stresses in the work of past musicians? How has becoming a parent shaped your view of your own artistic work?

I honestly haven’t put too much thought into this, but I’m having a hard time coming up with many artists where there’s a clear connection between parenting and the music. I know there are lots of great musicians who had kids – one that comes to mind is Neil Young, I know his son had special needs that took a huge amount of focus and dedication, and it’s amazing that he was able to make any music for all of those years, but he was putting a record out almost every year, for decades.  I think he comes to mind first because we both had kids with special needs. It’s something that can take over your life, and it can be hard to maintain perspective.
One thing that is surprising to me is that I can’t think of much music that directly focuses on the feeling of being a bad parent, which I think is strange because it’s an extremely strong feeling that I think most parents experience. Or maybe it’s not being a bad parent, but not the right parent for your kid and working through that and trying to do better. It’s complicated, and it’s hard and it seems like a shared experience that could help other people with kids.

On a related note, I struggle with how much I should share about my own personal life, especially when it relates to my kids.  How are they going to feel about some of these songs when they’re older that are obviously about them, or about our relationship?  In a lot of ways, songwriting is a form of therapy for me.  When I’m writing music, it helps me process and think about what I’m feeling, what’s bothering me, what I want to change.  Sometimes it just helps me get a bad day out of my system.  I worry about how my kids might take those songs when they’re older, but I also want to be open and honest with them, because I want that kind of relationship with them.

A little question for people to nerd out on. What are you listening to? No cool answers!

Hmm, this is probably a “cool answer” but I am such a big fan of Exploding in Sound, and love almost everything they put out. It’s just automatic at this point that I buy every single thing they release.  The records they put out this year from Floatie, Thirdface, and Stuck have been in heavy rotation.  Last year it was Shell of a Shell, Dig Nitty and Knot. And the year before that there were records by Human People and Maneka that were amazing.

Non EIS records I love, Thalia Zedek – Perfect Vision, Squitch – Learn to be Alone, The Chives – THE CHIVES, Writhing Squares – Chart for the Solution, Frank & The Hurricanes – S/T

Regarding less cool stuff – lately almost everything I listen to is “new”, so it’s hard to say. I’m in my 40s, I don’t know what’s cool 🙂 As far as older stuff I just started to get back into Q and Not U. I always loved that first record but never really connected with the follow ups. A month or two ago someone suggested I go back and give the other albums another chance, and it’s just crazy how I missed it. I love it, especially Different Damage. As far as really old stuff, I can put on Thin Lizzy just about anytime and it’s an instant mood enhancer.

Hmm, what else? There was this one track thing a few years ago that I hope more people will listen to, it’s on Bandcamp, the artist is “Debbie” who I think is the primary singer / writer from Human People. I love just clicking through Bandcamp and finding new stuff.  It’s funny how many times I’ve wasted an hour scrolling through Netflix or whatever service looking for something to watch before bed. If I decide to instead spend that hour clicking / scrolling through Bandcamp, it is almost always a better use of that time. I also remember getting weirdly into Hawaiian teenage pop-punk around the time I turned 40.  There was a band called Aura Bora that had one amazing record.

Last thing –  my kids also love Weird Al (I’ve always had a soft spot for him as well) and it’s super fun to put on some of those records and just have fun with them and they are so catchy cause they’re based on radio hits that of course have great melodies, etc… I think one of my favorite lyrics of all time is actually from Weird Al’s I Think I’m A Clone Now; “I can be my own best friend and I can send myself for pizza” is hilarious but also kind of strangely dark and unsettling.

Last but not least, run what ya brung! Tell the people about your latest record Anticipation and where they can find it!

Thanks! Yeah, I am so excited about this record.  This is the first one I’ve done where every song is extremely personal, every song is part of my story, there’s no fiction or even really exaggeration.  This all happened to me.  There’s a lot of dark stuff on this record, but it does end on a hopeful note, and anyway, what kind of psychopath would be making a happy record after the last 18 months (or the last 20 years)?

It’s coming out on Nov 5th in all the usual streaming places, it’s also on Bandcamp and there is vinyl available as well for those who would like it.  I’m hoping to have a couple more features / premieres before the official release, and I will usually post that kind of thing on Twitter (@brendankuntz)

You can find Grass Jaw over at their Bandcamp, or find Brendan Kuntz on Twitter here.

Gone Fishin’: Self-Investment for Lifelong Music Fans

15 years into Spotify’s reign of terror the need to take control of one’s own cultural influence has never been greater. There’s never been a better time to invest in yourself, so why not get started on the thing that brought you to this site in the first place: your love of music.

Own, Don’t Owe

To pull a quote from Joe Steinhardt’s 2021 pamphlet Why To Resist Streaming Music & How, “They say streaming is a ‘don’t own anything’ paradigm, but it’s actually a ‘you’re always buying things’ paradigm. Spotify uses the same predatory business model as a store like Rent-A-Center to ensure you are paying to rent something for life that you used to be able to just buy once for a much lower overall cost.”

It wasn’t cheap convincing people to rent for life, but that’s how they’re going to make their money back.

Paid streaming subscriptions for music and movies are a hostage negotiation that only ends when you stop paying. Album taken down for any reason? Too bad. Album get’s altered after its release? Too bad. And let’s not get started on the reinvention of cable TV.

When you buy a record or movie, be it digital or physical, it is yours for life. Play it forwards, backwards, upside down. It’s your copy and it will always be there for you. Spending 10-20 dollars a month on Bandcamp or at a mom-and-pop record shop puts the money in the hands of your community and the artists you patronize, and out of the hands of problematic megastars skimming off pro-rata payment systems used by Spotify and other music streaming distributors.

Step away from endless playlists

I, for one, would argue that a 23+ hour ‘exotica essentials’ playlist has a lot of fat to be trimmed. It makes sense to be hesitant to switch to a so-called ‘limited’ listening model like owning your own music. But what’s more important: access to ‘everything’ or embracing what matters?

You’ll never come to fully embrace good work if you’re slogging through a sea of soundalikes. Sit down with an album, an EP, or a singular song and let it tell you its worth. Step away from the mindless streaming of soundalike tracks and embrace your own curated world tailor-fit for you, by you.

Don’t be afraid of albums

Knowing a little about a lot is a great way to explore culture and tastes, but don’t be afraid to commit to buying albums. In the digital age, every song is now a single. No longer encumbered by needle dropping or blindly winding tape, we have a world of b-sides and gems hidden across massive discographies that are ready to be unearthed. Yet many of us never listen to the full album. 

Maybe the idea of spending 7 to 10 bucks on a singular album is daunting. What if the album isn’t all that worth it? While sites like Youtube are a great way to discover and decide if you like an album before buying it, they’re not an ethical substitute for owning music. Aside from an onslaught of ads interrupting the music, the streaming royalties through Youtube will never reasonably be enough to support the artists whose work you enjoy.

The truth is many releases aren’t worth the money for the full album. That’s why we leave reviews, share with friends, and read blogs. But I say where there’s smoke, there’s fire. If you’re a deep fan of a select few songs on the album, you’re most likely going to enjoy the rest. So instead of checking out another bloated playlist, try revisiting albums which you already enjoy a few songs from.

Really enjoying 3 songs off Kimono My House? Trust me, buy the album. Only heard 2 of 5 songs on the EP but you enjoyed them? Trust me, buy the album. You don’t need to know the artist’s full discography, a good album stands on its own.

Consider an external disc drive

While Steinhardt’s accusation of Apple phasing out disc drives to force people into supporting a streaming model is seemingly unsubstantiated, the likelihood of computer manufacturers bringing them back any time soon is slim.

CDs are incredibly cheap for any artist to produce, and with a massive (and inexpensive) second hand market CDs are financially accessible for many people. Many albums have only ever existed in their initial release, and while the vinyl resurgence is allowing hidden gems to be re-discovered, there’s still many albums only accessible in their original compact-disc release.

Why let ‘the man’ hold you back? Invest in a $20 disc drive and open the door back to an entire world of media. 

Find what you really care about

Finding the music you really care about takes time. In our culture of fast fashion, Instagram posturing and trend following, taking time to cut through to what you truly care about is an important investment in yourself. Learning to be adaptable and open to new things allows us to become our best selves over time, but we need to learn how to do so in spite of fast-fashion trends: be it clothes, music, attitude, or the all encompassing ‘subculture revival’ trends.

Enrich your life by investing time and money in the music that suits you best. What songs do you get the most out of? Feel it through and accept no substitutes. Artists, albums, and songs that resonate with you shouldn’t be sloshed about in a sea of imitations, knock-offs, and general ‘sound-a-likes.’ Reel ‘em into your life, and keep on fishin’.

REVIEW: Bronx Irish Catholics – Eponymous (1987)

I will refrain from calling it one of the worst records I’ve ever heard only 30 seconds in.

Perhaps high on the fumes of possibility, Eponymous is a slathering of 80s cheese processed through the band’s take on new wave hard rock. It’s got keytar, out of place sax licks, masturbatory guitar noodling, cowbell, and a bunch of other stuff we gave up on as a culture 30 years ago. With even the slightest air of authority, anyone could convince me that Eponymous was an avant garde novelty record, made this way entirely on purpose. The unbridled audaciousness of Bronx Irish Catholics goes past respect, past disdain to a new level of respect.

There’s almost too much to bite off to even begin a rundown of individual songs. Eponymous is litany of crimes against the arts. Typically championed on this site, artistic exploration should be balanced with doing at least a few things well. Instead, Bronx Irish Catholics fails to claim merit in any of the directions they’re pulled towards.

Both presenting and sounding like Julee Cruise on PCP, Irish Bronx Catholics consisted of core members LaRaine Warfield (vocals, synthesizers) and John Jansen (synthesizers, vocals), along with a slew of session musicians. To give credit or fault to either member would be nearly impossible, as all points of instrumentation blend into one unattainable slurry of sound. While the tonal qualities of the instruments work fine together, the composition is so busy with inconsequential instrumentation that it all means nothing.

LaRaine Warfield’s barked vocals are possibly the only memorable part on the album. But even Warfield’s performance as a powerful front person isn’t utilized well. As the instrumentation flounders on, Warfield is left exposed to criticism. While the lyrics are still a point of contention, LaRaine Warfield’s vocals are at least delivered with bold confidence.

Be it hard rock, new wave, ballad, synthpop or even the broad yet recognizable ‘rock n roll’, no one angle is played well enough to warrant a sense of accomplishment.

Closing track Ulster Defense is a surprisingly good turn of events for anyone having held out long enough. It’s stripped of most bells and whistles, with exception to Warfield’s gated reverb vocals. Distorted guitar overlays a heavy undercurrent of pummeling drum machine gallops. A quasi-psychedelic cacophony of vocals twist and melt from their barked origins. Ulster Defense could have easily worked on a split 7” with Alien Sex Fiend or even Paul Barker-era Ministry.

Perhaps they really were high on the fumes of possibility. At their most raw, Bronx Irish Catholics not only make-do but make something quite enjoyable. It pains me to think of the overwhelming facility granted to beginner musicians in today’s digital era. It’s clear we aren’t pushing the artistic limits of our newly granted facilities but obsessing over and creating a smorgasbord of inevitably dated ‘must have’ sounds.

Cut the crap. Learn to set healthy artistic limitations and remember: don’t get high on your own supply.

For fans of: Nonnie and The Onnies

Like Bronx Irish Catholics? Give these a listen: Cobra Man, Jaguardini, Frustration

The Crumb Pile + Brief Thoughts on Adding Value as a Music Commentator

Is this all I am to you? Words on a screen? Consumable content? If so I’m delighted you’re reading this, for one. And two, I would be achieving the basic goal for contemporary music media.

Contemporary ‘music media’ is an extension of the music-based lifestyles we buy into. Much of the time it’s forced positivity in the age of hype; a digital onslaught of quick consumable media reassuring our tastes, opinions, and associations to the point of borderline enforcement.

Hype-content, alongside its contrasting partner hate-reviews, is vapid. And this vapid content flows through our social channels at a torrential rate.

We’re consuming crumbs out of couch cushions to sustain ourselves culturally. While my love for the obscure and irrelevant has allowed Resident Sound to stand apart from other outlets, it only adds different crumbs to the pile.

How we reject our crumb pile outputs as music commentators is up to personal direction, but relies on one core element: providing value.

I know, I know. The bar is incredibly low here. You could say that’s the basis to almost all writing. But how to provide value as a music commentator in the most effective way possible still alludes me. I turn to critics, thinkers, and just about anyone who is smarter than me. Who brings value to my life? How do they do it?

Of all music commentators, a favorite of mine (and many, I hope) is music thinker and taste-maker Oliver ‘Oli’ Kemp, better known as Deep Cuts on YouTube. Kemp has slowly built a catalog of artist discography guides, genre introductions, reviews and discussion topics among other work. His passion and intellect surrounding his choices are both thrilling and insightful while remaining accessible for nearly any viewer.

DeepCuts is “a channel dedicated to music, for lovers of music” and is essential viewing for any would-be music commentator. Whatever lesson is to be learned here I’ve yet to fully embrace it to my own liking, but I hope to get there soon.

But like DeepCuts, the output at Resident Sound has dropped significantly, in part due to the jobs that pay the bills (or pay anything). It is more or less a 1-being team at the end of the day. But with this time I hope to discover what brings value to my life as a consumer and what I can in turn offer to you, the reader.

If you enjoyed this, consider checking out more +Brief Thoughts pieces on the Resident Sound blog.

Looking for a music recommendation? We highly recommend these:

REVIEW: Kaputt – Carnage Hall (2019)

REVIEW: Susumu Yokota – Symbol (2005)

REVIEW: Oxbow – Serenade in Red (1996)

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