I. Polished Rods Emerge From The Horizon.
Hidden away in an undisclosed desert location in New Mexico and only accessible via a reservation system that sells out the year’s allotments in a couple of hours on one day in February, Walter DeMaria’s “Lightning Field” is by design a destination site that requires some logistical hurdles to view. And while I’ve had the opportunity to see many site-specific pieces of land art over the years, this one required more planning than most. But after years of waiting, things lined up in 2017. It is an amazing experience, wing to wing, and begins by driving through the village of Pie Town (it is what it sounds like, and you’d be a fool not to stop at one of the shops) before getting to the meeting point - an open storefront with a couple of chairs to sit in while you wait for your host to show up. When he does, with very little communication, you and your cabin mates pile your gear into his truck and drive through 45 minutes of ranchland, deeper into the desert. You are dropped off at a cabin, told there are meals in the fridge, and “I’ll be back in the morning.” Explore. And so we set out across the land, an expansive grid that spans one mile by one kilometer with 400 evenly spaced polished poles. Despite its name, the field does not typically attract lightning, nor is it inherent in understanding the work. But as you walk the field, the poles form a grid system to navigate and engage with as the terrain and sunlight change with space and time. While you’d suspect the poles would be the focus, I found myself noticing the land and its changes as we walked along. Brush and dirt become an oasis of green grass, back to cactus before battling the head-high grasses in the south west corner of the grid. When the sun rises and falls, the lights off the poles are particularly striking, really unlike anything else.
++ Saw some other great art, too, including: “Lost Merchandise of the Dreamlanders” at La Galleria, Mark Mothersbaugh “Myopia”, Louise Bouergois “Holograms” and “An Unfolding Portrait”, Raymond Pettibon “A Pen of All Work” at New Museum, “Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952-1965.”
II. Elm City.
Things have been fertile in the noisemaking underground community in New Haven, CT, for many years now, but it feels like 2017 brought a bit of focus with four of the more established artistic entities releasing albums this year: Stefan Christensen’s “Shake Off The Village”, Mountain Movers “S/T”, Headroom “Head In The Clouds”, and Alexander “S/T”, masterpieces all. Although there are only 6 or 7 players total on all of the above, members lend a hand on each other’s releases and complement the vision of each particular project. It’s a remarkable community effort. In addition to these remarkable albums, Stefan also released a single on Gothenburg’s IDDB label and a pair of guitar-noise collabs with Nagual and released a slew of releases on his C/Site label by New Haven based artists (or likeminded foreigners).
III. Ten Long Players (Alphabetically).
The Cowboy “Album”
Haram “When You Have Won, You Have Lost”
Heron Oblivion “The Chapel”
Kaleidoscope “Volume 3”
Milk Music “Mystic 100’s”
Patsy “LA Women”
Protomartyr “Relatives in Descent”
Taiwan Housing Project “Veblen Death Mask”
Weeping Icon “Eyeball Under”
IV. Please Don’t Make Them Sad.
Penned by Emmy, the creative force behind the fantastic Cretins Of Distortion zine, “33 1/3: Bunnies b/w Spin Age Blasters” is perhaps the most perfect tribute to the electric eels that I’ve seen. In a few short pages, it manages to tap into the attitude of this legendary single in a way that makes this a most pleasant accompaniment.
++That new issue of Cretins Of Distortion is swell, too! In other 2017 paper reads, I urge you to pick up Rock’n’Roll Forever by Ben Trogdon, the Emma Kohlmann/Heather Benjamin collab zine (plus all of their individual works, always) , and even an actual 33 1/3: The Raincoats by Jenn Pelly.
+++Related to the Cretins Of Distortion media empire, Loathed Sound has been a favorite over the last year, cranking out sharp-looking cassette bootlegs of diverse and consistently innovative and avant garde music. Prices are cheap enough that you should probably just take a chance and order up one of everything.
The return of Lebenden Toten, who haven’t released anything (besides an impossible to find local-only demo) in nearly a decade. This year brought three new releases - “At The Window” flexi, “Static!” 12”, and a new album, “Mind Parasites.” “Static!” in particular stands out as a single 12 minute track with the band pushing their formula to some thrilling new places. I still often find myself daydreaming back to their New York show in 2011, which was one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.
VI. From The Gut.
All Hüsker Dü is great, but early Hüsker Dü is just sublime. Take the legend of the band leaving Minnesota to tour out west where the combination of constant gigs, competition with West Coast bands, and an acquired speed habit brought a new intensity to their songs, such that their homecoming show left the locals picking their jaws off the ground and wondering what happened. That show, of course, was recorded and released as “Land Speed Record,” and remains a truly unparalleled gem. Numero Group’s “Savage Young Dü” box set does a remarkable job capturing the early years of the group. Over four albums, it’s a fairly complete portrait of this period. Beginning with an album of demos and live tracks showing the formative early years and another with the first single and tracks recorded around that era, there is plenty of material only previously heard among diehard tape traders. Curiously, LSR is not contained in the set - apparently held hostage by SST - but they do assemble an alternate version of the album using live tracks taped around the same time (including some from the same night). Disk four reissues “Everything Falls Apart” and adds some more live/demo material, including a couple of tracks from the Tuscon 1982 gig that was bootlegged as “Ultracore” (which is my favorite HD release). This is pretty essential stuff and could not have been executed better.
++Couple other reissues that I couldn’t get enough of: Reptile Ranch LP, Neil Young “Hitchhiker”, “Welcome To Zamrock” Vols. 1+2, Velvet Underground “The Legendary Guitar Amp Tapes Vol. 3”, Mayhem “Next Stop Nowhere”, Paul Major’s “Feel The Music" book and accompanying LP.
VII. GBG 2017.
Sweden’s fantastic Neutral found themselves in New York last winter for a one-show tour of the USA. Can’t argue with their choice of cities, and I count myself as lucky that I was there to witness. I’ll go ahead and christen their hometown of Gothenburg as ‘The New Haven of Scandinavia’. Like NH, GBG seems to have a small and intermingled scene with members crossing over into each other’s projects with stunning results. Check out this 2017 output: Neutral 7” (IDDB) and “När” LP, Leda “Gitarrmusik III-X” LP, Skiftande Enheter 7”, Enhet For Fri Musik “Det Finns Ett Hjärta Som För Dig.”
VIII. Celebrating the music of Jonathan Richman.
We found ourselves on the west coast last winter - trying to get away from the east coast snowstorms and nearly succeeding. Our trip out was delayed by a couple of days when a blizzard struck right as we were set to fly out. But we made it eventually and even managed to catch a few gigs when we were out there. Most memorable was KAN KAN/Fred Thomas/Tyvek at the Soda Bar in San Diego. The opening band KAN KAN were a real young crew and one of those bands that catches you by surprise and makes show-going so much fun. They had impeccable taste and style, their set hit all the right notes and included a nice lil’ Modern Lovers cover. Apparently I was not the only person who walked away from their set with those feelings as Fred Thomas opened his solo set with a pair of ML covers, then closed his set with another. A nice tribute not only to Mr. Richman but also KAN KAN. Tyvek, by the way, played with a five piece, three guitar lineup. There may have only been about 20 people there, but wow, what a show. [Speaking of Fred Thomas and Tyvek, shout if you’ve got a copy of the Saturday Looks Good To Me/Tyvek tape!]
++Couple other cool gigs I saw: CHEATER SLICKS! 9 Shocks Terror! Mdou Moctar! Hot Snakes!
IX. Portland Rock City.
I am never happier than when presented with evidence that the folks up in Maine are still cranking away. In 2017, I got CDs from: Jumpin Beans & Willie “Milwaukee Sessions” & “King’s Medley”, Celebrity Handshake “As Celebrity Handshake” & “Death In Aisle Twelve”, Daytime Drugs “Waitin For the UFO” & “s/t”. It is all SO, SO good.
X. Ten Under Twelve (Alphabetically).
Home Blitz “Live on WFDU”
Mordecai “What Is Art”
The Pornography Glows “Demo”
Trendees “Go To Town”
Warm Bodies “My Burning Love”