November 12, 2013

Today's Hotness: National Park Service, Francisco Franco, Spectre Folk

Filtered detail of the art from The National Park Service's I Was Flying

>> Not since the early days of file sharing or the rugged heyday of affordable used-record stores has this reviewer experienced so much adventure. Adventure with what, you ask? The contemporary, underground cassette culture, that's what. It's no news that the tape scene is experiencing a renaissance, as the present disheveled state of the music industry has encouraged artists and consumers to reconsider the medium. The colorful, home-grown masterpieces one can find when navigating the wide-open possibilities of plastic cases and spooled reels both delight and abound. Take, for instance, our happenstance discovery of The National Park Service, an anonymous, Cleveland-based experimental artist (not to be confused with the LA- based Americana concern) whose soundscapes dazzle the ear. The outfit's first publicly issued cassette I Was Flying, released via the lovely Lily Tapes and Discs label last month, presents a tastefully pastoral twist on dream-pop and ambient music. NPS here employs many of the methods of loud shoegaze, including feedback washes, loops and backwards guitar tracks, but manages to temper its aural explorations into sculpted instrumental pieces that suggest autumnal introspection as opposed to delirium. "Community Sunburn" inserts the listener among field recordings of what sounds like a seaside marketplace; one can almost feel the crisp coastal air biting at woolen sweaters as looped guitar erects a motif of knotty whirring and distant booming. NPS proves a master of the greatest tool of the ambient artist: the fade-in. One is employed to great effect on "Road Dog," a piece that transitions effortlessly from a collage of pitch-shifted mumbles, distant percussion and stray noise to a front-porch acoustic guitar exercise and then again to trippy, reverse-guitar dive bombing. The set's twangy acoustic guitar work provides some of the most arresting moments on I Was Flying. On "1993," "Stormwatchers," and the absolute highlight "Quick, Before It Rains," the instrument's rural timbre shines when set against the electronic textures. It has not been since Van Dyke Parks' 1968 masterpiece Song Cycle that this reviewer has felt the resonant power of this very particular and category-defying fusion of the Antebellum and psychedelic. "Put it in your Walkman and take it for a walk through the park with a cup of coffee," urges Lily Tapes and Discs, and we couldn't agree more. This is modern outdoor music, as attached to a sense of place as it is to its own joy and wonder. Stream all of I Was Flying via the Bandcamp embed below, and buy the tape here before the limited edition of 50 cassettes sells out. -- Edward Charlton

>> Another subtle and powerful instrumental group has held our attention at Clicky Clicky HQ lately, the Philadelphia-based trio Francisco Franco. The pre-released single from the act's self-titled album that was released today on New Images Limited is a cool and moody analog stunner. Called "Three Cushion Champs," the tune is a masterful almagamation of crisp, minimal post-punk and steady surf rock. Francisco Franco -- a duo comprising principals Rob Francisco and Matt Franco -- utilize simple bass and deftly layered guitar loops like fellow instrumentalists El Ten Eleven, but the Philadelphians bring to bear more of a 1960s Factory-scene vibe that would seem an appropriate soundtrack to modern-day Fishtown gatherings. After establishing a dreamy, two-chord strum, the song cycles through several tasteful changes, transitioning from reverberated, single-note leads to a tasteful bass solo (!). The entire proceedings are swaddled in warm, vintage-sounding production but are still able to concoct a breezy, pensive atmosphere. Perhaps it's the sparse drum machine, or the brittle tone to the strings, but Francisco Franco remind this reviewer of many of the early '80s Martin Hannett-produced artists that weren't afraid to reveal some bruises within their rock maximalism. A video for "Three Cushion Champs" can be seen right here; it appears to feature a bunch of footage shot along the commuter rail lines stretching out from Philadelphia into our beloved Philly suburbs. Purchase Francisco Franco from New Images Limited right here. -- Edward Charlton

>> Ah, serendipity. While perusing the New Images Limited web site for info about the aforementioned Francisco Franco, we encountered the surprisingly little-discussed news that just last week the label released a new 7" from Spectre Folk. Spectre who?, you reply. Well, the act is the long-time concern of Magik Markers drummer Pete Nolan, and also happens to be a heavy-hitting NYC indie supergroup featuring both Pavement bassist Mark Ibold and Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, the latter of whom we assume has some more time on his hands following the much-lamented end of his iconic band. The A-side of the new Spectre Folk single, "Mothership," is a heady slice of wah-wah infused psych rock. While not expressing the more experimental bent that some of the members' other projects are known for, the veteran status and skill of all involved manifests itself in tasteful and vital jamming that never grows tiresome. Starting out with a loose classic rock jam, the song eventually showcases Mr. Nolan's reedy vocals; these anchor the structure with some lucid, groaning melodies. After some short incantations from Nolan, the song blossoms into eight minutes of saturated, neon guitar soloing and feedback. The superstar rhythm section shines, as Ibold's rich bass melodies and Shelley's ever-evolving snare vivify the frayed guitar shredding, which echoes the majesty of Ron Asheton's boneheaded six-string genius on the first two Stooges albums. "Mothership" is late 1960s Eastern-U.S. guitar rock of the purest, most undiluted grade, from a group of seasoned players that are not only enjoying themselves, but also reminding the psychedelic tastemakers of today where most of the contemporary trends originated. New Images Limited is clearly on a roll; support the label and snap up this great piece of wax right here. "Mothership" can be streamed via the Soundcloud embed below, and we recommend you do just that. -- Edward Charlton

1 comment:

Marites R said...

I have to say "I Was Flying" took more than 2 minutes before there was a change in melody, except for the background noise that was not that distinctive. I was glad that after 2 minutes there was a slight change.