Duster – Stratosphere

Stratosphere is the title track off Duster’s first full-length album, which was released in 1998 on Up Records. Around the same time the members of Duster released an album called Hier Kommt Der Schwartze Mond under the name Valium Aggelein, which has a very similar feel to it and is also excellent from start to finish.

The group didn’t leave much behind in terms of an online presence and its members don’t have too many credits once the group disbanded with the exception of drummer Jason Albertini, who would eventually join the lineup of Built to Spill. Duster released one more album called Contemporary Movement in 2000 and from the looks of Discogs you’d be lucky to get your hands on any of them but if you do and don’t snatch it up yourself please be in touch. On a side note, there has to be a specific German word for the feeling of discovering a group like this in the post-What CD era, as the Valium Aggelein material doesn’t seem to be accessible anywhere.

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F.J. McMahon – Black Night Woman

F.J. McMahon recorded Spirit of the Golden Juice following his return from a tour in Vietnam with the U.S. Air Force. The record rarely made it outside of California and even within the state the distribution was minimal so he stopped trying to make it as a musician and starting repairing computers. Over time it became something of a cult classic for fans of folk rock from that era. His story is similar to that of another artist I’ve written about here, Robert Lester Folsom, and in fact the largest and most accessible reissue of both McMahon’s only record and Folsom’s come courtesy of Anthology Records.

In June 2017 McMahon performed all of Spirit of the Golden Juice with the band Quilt in support of the re-issue and also gave an interview where he talked about his career and life after music. He had played up and down California with various groups, and in the interview he talks a little about that scene:

I started playing a few old clubs and getting with some old friends to play bar-band gigs for weekend money. But I was also heavily involved in the anti-war thing, so I was trying to get my buddies who hadn’t gone yet not to go in the military. I didn’t want them going over there, so I was involved. Music was a big part of that movement. Everything was music at the time. There was a feeling in the ’60s that, if you saw somebody else with long hair, you knew they felt more or less like you did. There was a feeling guaranteed between the two of you that music could change the world. That may be naïve, but it was an honest-to-God feeling we had.

When asked whether he is surprised that the songs resonate with contemporary audience, he had this to say:

The overwhelming feeling I get today is that all these kids who are going out to the far corners of the earth and getting themselves killed, they’re doing it because there are no jobs. That thought devastated me when I was singing that song. I wrote [Five Year Kansas Blues] 50 years ago about guys who went to jail instead of going to war. That was their choice. But now I’m thinking about the kids who can’t get a job, so they go into the Army and they get shot up. That’s not okay. So things haven’t changed very much at all.

He hinted at future performances in the interview, though there’s no indication he’s got more songs to record. At the very least we might start hearing more of his stuff in Vietnam movies instead of the ubiquitous Creedence Clearwater Revival.

Pete Drake – Forever

Pete Drake had been playing steel guitar around Nashville since the early 50s in his own groups and as a backup to others when he began experimenting with connecting a talkbox to his steel guitar. In 1964 he released Forever, which peaked at #25 on the Billboard charts and introduced this innovative method and his skillful playing to an audience outside of country music. Though I certainly didn’t know his name before hearing this song, I had definitely heard him play on Bob Dylan’s Lay Lady Lay, Dolly Parton’s My Blue Ridge Mountain Boy, and George Harrison’s Behind That Locked Door. That’s certainly not an exhaustive list and doesn’t even get into his work as a producer and label owner, which he continued to do until shortly before his death in 1988. You can see more of his credits over at Discogs.

Pete Drake wasn’t the first to experiment with the combination of steel guitar and talkboxes. The bandleader Alvino Rey had electrified his banjo back in the 1920s and worked with Les Paul on the development of early electric guitar pickups. That’s all well and good, but perhaps his most important accomplishment is his involvement with this nightmare-inducing video featuring Stringy the talking guitar:

Yamasuki Singers – Yamamoto Kakapote

This track comes off of a concept album called Le Monde Fabuleux Des Yamasuki developed by composers Daniel Vangarde and Jean Kluger. While both had been active songwriters and producers before then and since, this album has been a cult classic since its release thanks to the idiosyncratic combination of a children’s chorus singing in Japanese over fuzzed-out guitar and drums. It’s definitely worth listening to the whole album, as what seems like a bit of a gimmicky setup produces undeniably catchy songs, provided you can get past the Orientalist overtones of the whole project. Some other fun trivia: Another song from the album, Aieoa, was covered by Bananarama on their first album Deep Sea Skiving under the name Aie-A-Mwana. The song Kono Samurai from this album was sampled by Erykah Badu on her track The Healer. While the name Daniel Vangarde probably doesn’t mean much to most people, his son Thomas Bangalter is probably a bit more well-known at least by reputation, as he is one half of Daft Punk.

Damien Jurado – A.M. AM

This song has been stuck in my head ever since I heard it in the Netflix documentary series Wild Wild Country about the Rajneeshpuram commune in central Oregon, which I guess is no surprise since that series has been all I could think about since I finished it. This song appears underneath some of the sequences showing the commune at its most utopian, which of course is only one part of the story but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t sort of see why people went there when I saw all those people hugging and smiling while this song played.

I hadn’t heard of Damien Jurado until now, but he’s been performing and releasing music since the 90s. His debut album Waters Ave S was released on Sub Pop in 1997. This track comes off his most recent full-length album Visions Of Us On The Land, released in 2016 on Secretly Canadian records. Cloudy Shoes, the first song off his 2010 album Saint Bartlett, appears at the very end of the series. I may not have heard of him before, but I’ll definitely be going through his back catalog now. You can purchase Visions of Us here.

The original score from the series is also excellent and is going to be available at the end of April through the composer Brocker Way’s bandcamp. Though I doubt I’m the only one, I did make a Spotify playlist with all the songs from the series I could find in case others are interested.

Carlton Melton – The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse comes from Carlton Melton’s most recent release Mind Minerals from Agitated Records, which was released just at the beginning of February this year. While their earlier records had more of a psych sound (see Peaking Duck from their 2015 album Out To Sea), Mind Minerals is much more minimalist, blending improvised guitar and rhythm with dense drones, though tracks like Electrified Sky are definitely a little more psychedelic. I’d been getting away from drone and experimental stuff recently, but this release has pulled me right back in and I couldn’t be happier. I’ll confess I didn’t know much about Carlton Melton until recently, but I’m definitely going to try and keep tabs on them in the future.

The Durutti Column – Red Square

The Durutti column take their name from an anarchist military unit in the Spanish Civil War named after the Buenaventura Durruti. The group was originally formed out of the ashes of a Manchester punk group by Chris Joyce and Dave Rowbotham, who would go on to form another post-punk group called The Mothmen, but by the time this album was released the group had become essentially a project of Vini Reilly, who also gives his name to this album.

The original Durutti Column was one of the first groups signed to Tony Wilson’s Factory Records and they released their first album The Return of the Durutti Column in 1980 right around when Factory released Joy Division’s Closer. Though the lineup around Reilly has changed over the years, the group continues to record and perform, releasing Chronicle-XL in 2014 on Kooky Records.

The use of effects on this song reminds me a little of the Fripp and Eno records, and apparently Eno has said that The Durutti Column’s second album LC is his favorite album of all time. I found a pretty cool video of Reilly and drummer Bruce Mitchell jamming live which I think shows why Reilly and this group have such a sterling reputation as musicians: