Shamir, A Feminine Guy who Wears his Perfections on his Sleeve

Shamir Bailey was born in Las Vegas, Nevada on Nov 7, 1994. He is known mononymously as Shamir, an American singer, songwriter, activist and actor. Shamir was raised by his mother and was inspired to make music with the support of his aunt who was in the music business. He grew up being influenced by producers, musicians and bass players who frequently visited his family’s house and supported his aunt, who was a songwriter. At age 9, he received an Epiphone guitar on his birthday and began writing music. He started a punk band at the age of 16 but this was short lived due to a band mate’s intense stage fright (wiki).

Pitchfork Over/Under Shamir
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Essential Reissue: Yanti Bersaudara (LuMunai/Groovyrecord)

Reissues of women singers from the 1970s pop scene in Indonesia are few and far between. Luckily, LaMunai and Groovyrecord have teamed up for a re-release of Yanti Bersaudara’s incredible self-titled first record, which originally came out on Polydor Singapore in 1971. (“Bersaudara” is a Sundanese gender-neutral term akin to “Siblings”). The Yantis were a powerhouse sister trio, consisting of Yani, Tina & Lin Hardjakusumah, who sang in Sundanese, creating a beautiful spacey harmonic sound with psychedelic pop overtones. They recorded both solo and collaboratively until around the mid 70s, sometimes with folk outfit Bimbo. Today it is impossible to find these records in their original state. French-Algerian singer and musician Sofiane Saidi, owner of Groovyrecord, is an aficionado on the Indonesian pop scene of the 70s-80s, particularly recordings by women singers. While straight covers of Western pop songs were not uncommon, the really great Pop Indonesia records from the late 60s/early 70s era went beyond bland replication of existing hit melodies and instead synthesized the rich and varied local Indonesian musical traditions with sounds from abroad. Such is the case here. The backing band is uncredited, but, like many local outfits from the time (4 Nada, Eka Sapta, The Galaxies), they avoid overpowering the vocals with heavy rhythmic beats and instead focus on creating the ideal sonic palette for the singers to apply their craft. The interweaving and layering of Yanti Bersaudara’s voices is magnificent to hear. The mastering is excellent, and the packaging adheres to all of the original design elements. Jakarta-based LaMunai and Groovyrecord were also responsible for the acclaimed vinyl release of Harry Roesli Gang’s LP Titik Api earlier this year (see Karen Lee’s glowing review here), and we can’t wait to see what else they have brewing for future reissues. Anyone with an interest in psychedelic pop or women singers from the global south should buy this long-sought-after reissue now before it is gone.

Available at Bandcamp

Radio in the Time of COVID-19

A reflection on radio life mid-pandemic by Noah Fence. Images by dj brzy.

Having already made the decision to sit down and write something, I open up a new blank document, give it a vague generic title — which I will change later as the piece comes together and correct title suggests itself — and then I pause for a breath, pause for a beat of my heart , feeling my head turn to the left and look out the window. Out there is a portion of a green forest, being hit by the sunrise. The bright light presents itself in pockets between the leaves — like lens flares, as a bit of breeze stirs the foliage. I make a considered effort to keep my eyes open to the brightness. I like the sharpness of sunlight.

As I write this, the world is experiencing a global pandemic, a phrase I am sure with which we are all too familiar, but one that I did not give much thought to prior to this year. I do not feel like it was something that I was warned about in high school. My parents never told me scary stories of the overreaching global pandemic, in order for me to obey the rules and stay in my yard and not wander out into the street. I do not recall ever scoffing at a story of a man stocking up on provisions and building an airtight, germ-free home for his family, as part of a conspiracy theory. I was blindsided, as I assume were so many people, with whom I no longer make contact.

I lost my job on April 1st. Since that time I have been at home. Inside the walls of a townhouse. I have been cooking. Making sandwiches. Eating crackers with pub cheese. Drinking water. Making tea. Scrambling eggs, coupled with cheese and pepper, often paired with wheat toast, or fried potatoes. Baking banana bread. Baking chicken. Steaming broccoli. Boiling numerous pots of rice — in the morning with raisins, and plain as an addition to dinner. The days blur together, as do my functions, my place in these things. I have a sense of who I am, but I no longer have a sense of who that person may be to other people.

I have for the longest time considered myself to be a radio deejay, a person who goes on the air for a couple of hours, to share a selection of music with the public. Knowing that sometimes friends are listening, but being even more keenly aware that more likely they are not. Instead, the radio show I present is often heard by strangers, perhaps regular listeners or random people that happen to tune in, catch a song they like and stick around. Or, of course, maybe someone catches a portion of my show, dislikes it and tunes out. It is the nature of radio and I have no desire to please everyone. When I do a radio show, I try to please myself, and then focus on the fact that by pleasing myself, I am likely pleasing someone else.

With deejay being such a strong aspect of the person I believe myself to be, it was very difficult for me when Freeform Portland made the decision to shutter their studios due to the Covid-19 virus. I have been a part of Freeform Portland since 2016, and my weekly trips from my home to the studio, my time in the studio broadcasting my show, and all of the time mentally preparing my show, were the focus of my week. Once the show was over, the cycle would repeat, week after week after week. All while I would rise in the morning, go to work, make my way through a day of work, return home and repeat that cycle five days a week. Work was never my focus, it existed as a necessary component to my decided focus on my radio show. Without work, there was no money for food, rent, or cups of coffee. Without money, there were no trips on public transit, back and forth to the radio station. 

However, since the beginning of April, there has been no money. There has been no radio station to visit. April upended what I viewed as my life. I went from slow motion to deadstop. Starting in April, I sat myself down in front of my laptop, and I am still sitting there four months later. I am like a stone sitting on a windswept landscape. Dirt and debris pile up against me, sometimes threatening to bury me. 

As you may know, Freeform Portland never stopped broadcasting. Yes, the studio was shuttered, and the volunteer deejays — who present their shows and make the radio station entertaining, engaging and a vital part of the radio landscape in Portland — were no longer physically able to do live music programming. Out of necessity, the station moved to pre-recorded programming. The deejays were asked to record their shows from home and submit the sound files to be slotted into a program that would broadcast the files to the public. This change was made almost seamlessly — and I doubt that many people in the listening audience noticed the change.  One of the sacrifices the station made in this switch was the schedule; the programming utilized was set up to randomly select a music file, at the start of every hour. This had the advantage of switching up the music being offered to the public more often, making the station more interesting; however, there were some deejays who opted not to participate in the making of sound files.

When I was informed of the station’s decision to continue on in this manner until it was safe to return to the studio, I assumed my radio career, such as it is, had come to a halt. I was at a loss as to how to make a sound file. I had no idea how I might go about recording myself, speaking to the audience and informing them of the songs they had just heard, to which station they were listening, and what might be coming next. Despite now having all of my music on my computer, the music was all part of itunes. I had no idea how to access the music itself, other than to burn CD-R’s or put music onto my ipod. 

It did not take me long however to examine the program I used to join together the archived broadcasts from the radio station. The station has always been recording the broadcasts, archiving them into hourly increments. I had found a web based program that I used to join together the two hourly sound files into one two hour file. I thought, well, if I can join two things together how about three? Four? Five? And so on. Turns out, I could: easy peasy. All I needed to do a radio show in this manner were MP3 files of songs that I could put together to form a show. You can not imagine how pleased I was to discover that I already had my entire collection of music in a folder on my computer somewhere, in the form of MP3’s. I had no idea. 

There was a learning curve. Aspects of the program I used to join the files presented themselves with further use. I learned how to crossfade songs. I learned to add a fadeout to the final song of the mix, so that my show would not end with a cold stop. I learned that I could use the same program to cut out blank spaces of songs, such as there are at the end, to make better segues between songs. And after making a few of these one hour mixes without any spoken parts, I found an app I could use on my phone to record my voice. It was as easy as speaking into my phone, emailing the file to myself, and including that file into the mix I was preparing, just like I included a particular song. 

This way of putting together a radio show was new to me as well. Being at home, with my entire collection at hand, created a different challenge of what to select. And there was the aspect of perfection. Selecting one song, and finding just the right song to follow and soon on. I found at first I labored over each song, choosing and choosing again, happy with some and then changing my mind. Which led to me spending way too much time on each mix and never being completely happy with the result. It was only after forgiving myself my faults, that I was able to charge forward with this new process, knowing that none of my live radio shows had ever been perfect. Why then should my recordings be so? With that attitude, putting together a mix soon took about the same amount of time as it would to listen to the mix on the radio. 

Despite the fact that the station had deviated from having a schedule in place, I very much wanted to continue to present a weekly show. I decided to go ahead each week with a weekly episode of my show, “It’s a Nice World to Visit,” divided into two parts, the first and the second hour. I knew that once I submitted them, they would be played at random, never likely to play in tandem. But after having lost the routine of my daily life to the virus, I felt it important to impose upon myself some rules, and keep to the commitment I had made when I joined Freeform Portland, presenting a weekly show. 

With all of my new found free time, I also was able to put together a number of hour long mixes in addition to my regular show: mixes of old rock n’ roll, mixes of dub music, mixes of instrumentals, mixes intended to have a calming effect. These mixes and more were all randomly programmed and played throughout the day on Freeform Portland, along with other mixes put together by other deejays. In this way the station kept broadcasting, even though some people were unable to put together mixes, or chose not to put together mixes. 

While all of this was going on, there were a few people at the station working on a program that could be used to broadcast pre-recorded mixes at a particular time, instead of at random: a system that would allow the station to resume scheduled programming, a system that would add a little order to daily chaos, a system that would be of help to the listening audience who might be fans of particular shows, so that they could now tune in at the scheduled time and actually hear that particular show. 

This program was implemented about a month ago as I write this piece. I have returned to making a two hour mix, once a week, to be played when my show appears on the schedule, Fridays at noon. 

There are still a few gaps in the schedule I am afraid, and when there is no mix scheduled, the system selects a random mix to be played. Deejays are still encouraged to add the occasional one hour mix. With my free time, I enjoy doing so. Deviating from the self imposed rules I use to put together my own shows, these one hour mixes allow me to play a few random garage rock songs, psychedelic tracks, or put together my impression of a dance mix. 

Scheduled programming is the return of an aspect of normalcy to the radio station. Perhaps the station will also at some point be able to allow deejays to broadcast live from their homes, from their own turntables and mixers. This would allow even more of the deejays at the station to participate in bringing music to the public.

All of this, all of this goes on while I sit at home. While I become ever more familiar with the walls of my home. With the dust in the corners. With the cobwebs that appear at ceiling corners. While my wife and I make trips in the car, often just to get out of the house, to feel less trapped. I lost my job. I lost the reason to leave my house on Fridays. I have had to come to grips with the fact that I am in fact frightened of contracting the virus. Whether the fear is based on fact or fiction, the fear exists. It keeps me in my home. I look for work, and I have a fear of actually being selected for a job, knowing that would mean exposing myself more often to a chance of contracting the virus. 

So I go round and round in the rectangle that is my living room, only really getting out almost as a spirit or astral projection of myself. Using the medium of radio, I still interact and engage, I still speak and play. I turn my best cheek to the public and let them see, let them judge. Let them be. 

No one knows for certain when the Freeform studio will be open again. Not until it is safe. Safe means when there is a vaccine. It will be many months of this routine, this new way of living. And after the vaccine, some doors will open, and some will remain shuttered. The new normal we are looking down the barrel at right now is only anyone’s best guess. If we all treat each other with kindness, patience, and wear our masks, we will all be able to see what happens together. 

Portland Guitar – An Interview with Jay and Max Dickinson

Jay and Max Dickinson of Portland Guitar aim to build guitars where sustainable sourcing and quality craftsmanship are the vital ingredients.

How did you get into crafting guitars?

I bought myself a book! Studied it for about ten years or so then bought a kit (it looked like firewood) and then bought another kit and then I was off.  I have been a wood worker for as long as I can remember. When I was 3 years old, maybe a little younger, my family was living in Heidelberg, Germany and my father and I found a piece of wood from a fence, it was red, and we made toy boat out of it. My dad was quite an accomplished wood carver and I watched and emulated him over the years, then adopted him as one of my heroes. I started puttering around in his shop; wood working and carving for the next 45 years or so until I decided that the corporate world and I did not agree with one another. In the meantime I had started thinking about building guitars having played one since I was fifteen. The first kit I bought looked like a couple of pieces of firewood where I had expected something more like the model airplane kits I built as a kid. My first attempt was serviceable and I was definitely infected with the guitar building bug. After building the first and then the second kit, I made an offer to my friends that if they paid for the materials I would build them a guitar. I got five orders in a few days and was set. I essentially got my friends to pay for me to learn how to build a guitar.  They got nice guitars out of the deal, I gained loads of experience, and everyone was happy. My next gambit was to make the offer of a guitar for twice the price of materials. Once again I was set, and with ten guitars under my belt I was feeling confident. I am now up to a hundred or so guitars. I have lost count.

Why did you choose the guitar over other instruments? 

Guitars are easy to build and I am lazy. Violins are hard and the customers are picky, pianos are really heavy, and I don’t play trumpet…so. The guitar is a cultural artifact above all else. It embodies the ethos of free and easy music that is easy to play and is accessible to the common person while having the potential of eliciting virtuosic performances from the uncommonly talented. It sounds good, is easy to carry (ever see a piano at a beach party?) easy to play, easy to acquire (serviceable guitars can be had for a couple of hundred dollars). I also play the guitar myself, so I have an inside connection with the instrument. I am my most critical customer. I love wood and what you can do with it. It comes with a certain spirit to it that if you are careful the guitar embodies. This stuff was a living being once; standing in a forest perhaps for a hundred years or more and then some jerk comes along and cuts it down. I think about the tree and its environment and what we are doing and its viability. Well, I can rescue some of that wood and give it a new life that will bring enduring happiness and joy to many people. In the future we are anticipating what new materials we will be using, looking into alternatives such as bamboo and hemp. But in the end, it must still be a guitar.  

Is there a specific sound your guitars have over others?  How do you achieve that sound?

If you will, we are striving to build guitars with a modern sound that is loud, responsive, harmonious, and articulate. We work to create something new while maintaining the spirit of the guitar. To build a better guitar I looked for where the problems were.  

The first is called intonation. A fancy way to say that the notes from the upper frets are around 5% out of tune due to the tempered scale the guitar plays in. I’ve found a way to fix the intonation in a way that is nearly perfect. This creates a sound that is crisp all the way up and down the fretboard. This is great for audio engineers and musicians who need every note to be on target. 

The second is in the mass and stiffness of the top. We’ve created an optimized system where they can both can be tuned. This means in large guitars we can craft big bass heavy low frequencies and in a smaller guitar we can craft delicate high frequencies. This creates for a sound that is unmatched to the other high-end brand name guitars we have tried. 

The Portland Guitar Shop in SW Portland

Do you both play guitar?

Jay: I have been playing for about 48 years and am fond of saying that next year I will learn how. This year I am practicing playing without looking at the fretboard. I started out playing violin in my grade school orchestra, but that ended when I broke my arm. I picked up the guitar when I was fifteen and have been playing ever since. I have never taken lessons, but have studied music theory so I understand the mechanics more or less. Unfortunately in the past I tended to play very technically. In the last few years I have been striving to play more intuitively, by ear if you will, (no, I don’t read music, ack, next year for sure) and to let my expressiveness come out. I think I am making progress; at least I am having a good time. I am not a musician, I am a guy that plays guitar for fun and can make a few sounds that don’t annoy too many people, but if you aren’t paying, you can’t complain. My main thrust in playing is blues based rhythmic progressions; I like to set up a rhythm and then jam to it.

Max: I’ve played guitar on and off form a long time. It’s a hobby that I’ll spend my life slowly getting better at. I played my first chords in middle school in a lesson from my dad. Then I started playing again in college then put it down for awhile and picked it back up when I joined Portland Guitar.  

What sort of music are you tuning into these days?

This is so trite, but I really enjoy most types of music, but some more than others. My go-to tunes includes a lot of jam band centered music, Grateful Dead et.al., Phish, Allman Bros., Beethoven, Dylan, Zappa, JJ Cale, Beatles, Marley etc.. On the radio I have been listening to a lot of jazz these days. It confused me for so long, so I decided to immerse myself in jazz until I got a handle on it (a fool’s errand I suppose). We saw Herbie Hancock play at the zoo and he was fantastic, but I couldn’t figure out what he was doing… that dude is out there. Nonetheless I decided to teach myself some jazz skills and have been making a little progress. I can pick out a few chord progressions these days. What’s more important though is the music we make ourselves. We don’t have to be virtuosos or anything to have fun. A couple of people, a drum kit, a few guitars and amps, a song or two and you can have a real good time. I call it electric parlor music. Music is the best!

Noah Fence interviews King of the Slums

On the occasion of the release of King of the Slums’ new album, Encrypted Contemporary Narratives, Noah Fence interviews Charley Keigher and Clarissa Trees of the band.

From the band’s bandcamp page:

King of the Slums are probably the most ‘under the radar’ and important band to come from Manchester. They started up around 1985 in the Hulme area of Manchester, but never considered themselves a ‘Manchester’ band – just a band with an arty background, a little self-indulgent and gritty, story-type songs.

Noah: Thank you both, for joining me and agreeing to answer a few questions. As I write this,  your new album, Encrypted Contemporary Narratives, is only a few days away from being released. Can you tell me about the writing and recording process for this album, and what it means to be releasing an album during this current pandemic?

Charlie:  We wrote the album in late October last year, we had a break before mixing it, the lockdown kicked in and we couldn’t get in a studio to finish it. But the mixing went really well and sounded fresh. So we are very pleased with it. We wrote a load more stuff during lockdown and are thinking about developing all that.

 Clarissa: Hi Noah, thanks for inviting us! It seems like another lifetime that we started writing the album, back in March 2019. Because I live in Scotland, there were lots of fragments of ideas bouncing back and forth electronically for a while, until we had the chance to get together and finalise stuff. Recording happened between September and March, in fact Charlie got his vocals finished only a couple of weeks before we went into lockdown here in the UK. Then it was just a case of waiting it out until we could get back into the studio and mix it all, which finally happened at the end of July. Sometimes it felt very frustrating to have so much unexpected free time but not be able to finish the project, but that was minor compared to everything else that was going on. And once we were in the studio again it felt great to get back to work in a very focused way. Now I’m just happy that it’s ready and I hope our music will help to cheer folk up a bit…

Noah: The new album is being released on your own label, SLR Records. Are you happy with self-release and self distribution that is available to bands today, via the internet and web sites such as Bandcamp?

Clarissa: I’ll let Charlie answer this one!

Charlie: You can essentially finish mixing a song at midnight and have it available for digital download the next day. But the physical release still takes forever, CD/VINYL. 

We do have a distributor for physical releases, so it being in a record shop is great and I think it’s a whole heap more special when it’s a tangible product rather than a file on your hard drive. 

Noah:  This is the group’s third album since reforming. Can you tell me about the circumstances that lead to the band reforming?

Charlie: I got kidnapped in Mexico city, the guy had a King of the Slums T shirt on, I got released coz I showed him my KOTS tattoo, I felt it was a sign to finish what was started. Been at it since.

Clarissa: I got an email out of the blue late one night in 2017 asking me if I’d be interested in working with a tiny, under-the-radar band called King of the Slums. The message included links to some of the old-school stuff (including the famous Snub TV performance of Fanciable Headcase) and also the more recent Manco Diablo album. At first I thought it must be a scam, then after I looked at the links and realised it was a genuine request I still almost declined, thinking that with my age and my classical background I absolutely definitely wasn’t cool enough to be in a band like KOTS. Then I had a think and it was a “nothing ventured, nothing gained” kind of moment…I decided I was up for a challenge, it would be an experience far outside my comfort zone but there was no harm in going for an initial session to see if they liked me! Well that initial session went okay and within weeks we’d started proper work on the Artgod Dogs album…

Noah:  The band seems to be a well established going concern now…I am curious about live performances. Was the band playing live very often before the pandemic? With the release of this new album, do you think there will be any live performance opportunities in the future? 

Charlie: In the early days we played out a lot. But since the reform, it’s very seldom due to logistics of the personnel, we live all over the UK, and I am incredibly fussy about accepting LIVE appearances. But I personally wouldn’t mind doing more stuff, if only to create a LIVE album, which is what I truly would like to happen one day.  

Clarissa: We’ve only played live four times since the comeback gig (at Night and Day in Manchester in June 2018). Logistically it’s very tricky because the band are geographically distant from each other, with Charlie in Manchester, me in Scotland and Stu (drums) Nic (bass) and Dave (live guitar) all in Sheffield. (Snake Pass is an infamous road that connects Manchester with Sheffield, over the Pennines, so it earned a place on the album after several journeys to rehearsals late last year, often in atrocious weather!) In principle though, we’d love to play live again, I think some of the tracks on the new album would be amazing live, but there’s so much uncertainty about what’s going to be possible with music coming back in smaller venues… I just really hope the venues and the industry get enough support to keep going until we can all get through this.

Noah: I discovered King Of The Slums in 1989, with the release of the album, Dandelions, and was blindsided by the band’s unique sound. The standard guitar, bass and drums are off-set by the inclusion of the violin, which often cuts across the sound of each song, and makes the band’s noise one that you can hardly forget or ignore. With the changes in the line up, and the break up and reformation of the band, how have you managed to keep the band’s sound so consistent?

Charlie: We did an album with no violin, MANCO DIABLO, which did really well, but then Clarrissa, turned up, she kinda gets it, the whole KOTS sound, so she is rather brilliant at what she does, so Violins, distorted/discordant and sweet sounding are back in and going real strong….

Clarissa: Great question! Sarah’s were certainly big shoes to fill, I felt the weight of expectation from the fans before Artgod Dogs came out, and especially before playing live for the first time. I listened to absolutely everything KOTS on repeat for months, to try and distill into my own playing whatever it was that made the KOTS violin sound so unique, and learning the back catalogue for the gigs really helped with that (nothing was written down, and there are no surviving isolated violin tracks from the old recordings, so I had to work it all out by ear). Artgod Dogs is a little bit different because it’s all viola, and the viola is a lot mellower than the violin. But since the Peak Human Experience EP I’m now back on the violin, so we tried in this latest album to capture that rawness again, with the violin as a character in the songs, a character with a personality disorder perhaps?! I have to constantly remind myself that people aren’t expecting the violin to sound beautiful, which is always what was expected when I was part of the classical world, and it still feels quite rebellious to turn the distortion right up on the amp and use the violin in such a percussive and rhythmic way. 

Noah:  Another aspect of the band that I have long enjoyed are the lyrics. The lyrics seem to be wry, witty and observational. Telling stories about people one might not always be so lucky to have met. Have you always been a writer, and turned your focus towards songs? Or did your interest in music lead you to the necessity of putting words to the music?

Clarissa: Another one for Charlie!

Charlie: Originally, I was the guitarist and was looking to find a vocalist for a few words I had written, alas I had to make do with myself doing vocals. The lyrics are usually written to amuse myself on some level. I then kinda put them to the band, with no intention of changing them at all. Clarissa does help me with the phrasing…

Noah: Thank you both again for answering a few of my questions. Hope you and your families are all well and safe.

Clarissa: Thank you Noah, it’s been our pleasure, thinking of you guys in Portland too.

King of the Slums’ new album, Encrypted Contemporary Narratives, is available September 25 on bandcamp

Five Album Reviews

Lately it seems that the world has been put on pause. The situation with the Covid-19 virus grows ever more serious, especially so in light of our federal government shirking off their duty to act, suggesting that each state instead take charge. So fifty different approaches to a common problem. Please don’t blame me for adopting the ostrich approach. I have ducked my head and body into my home and rarely make an appearance. I am waiting for the vaccine to be home-delivered.

In the meantime, although musicians can longer play live on a local stage, they have found ways to give concerts and performances online, and also release new music. Here are some brief reviews of some new or recent albums that have been released, and that you might have heard on my radio show, “It’s a Nice World to Visit

  1. Sonic Boom All Things Being Equal

This album has been out for a while now, the first album he has released in a long number of years. It is well worth the wait. At the heart of each song, there seems to be a drone — a single note made constant, one which each song builds and dances around. It is both beautiful and dark. A record that answers your glance into it with a healthy dose of what you already have inside. If you want it to be dark, then that is what you will hear. But, if you open up your ears, you may well be transported.

I recommend the following tracks:

Just Imagine

I Can See Light Bend

Things Like This (A Little Bit Deeper)

  1. Bo Ningen Sudden Frictions

This is the fourth album by the band Bo Ningen. On this album the band experiments with their sound. The only way I can describe it is they have created more space between the instruments, while keeping something clinging to the necessary tension needed to engage the listener. The approach is less headlong, but never lacks in beauty. The lyrics are mainly in Japanese and although I have no idea what the band is saying, I do not find that to be a barrier of any kind. Music is universal. There is a groove of sorts to the songs on this record. Like one might have heard while listening to Can or The Fall. Not the sort of groove you find on the dancefloor, this is the sort of groove you find in a heartbeat.

I recommend:

AKA

Silenced

B.C

  1. Yo La Tengo We Have Amnesia Sometimes

This new release by Yo La Tengo is a five song EP, consisting of what appears to be ambient music. Much like bands that have inspired them, they have mastered the drone. Each track builds and separates itself slightly from the note at the heart of the piece. The instrumentation is minimal: organ, guitar bass, and almost incidental percussion. Pleasant to listen to, but distracting enough that it keeps my interest. Listening, I find myself waiting for the changes. 

I like the fact that while the pieces work as individual tracks, they also work in full; the EP builds from the first track to the next, with a satisfying conclusion. 

I recommend:

Georgia considers the two blue ones (Thursday)

James and Ira demonstrate mysticism and some confusion holds (Monday)

  1. Bdrmm  Bedroom

This is a new band, and this is their debut album. I think it is fair to say that nostalgia runs on a twenty year cycle; the noise generated by this quintet would fit well with your albums by My Bloody Valentine, Ride or Chapterhouse. Noting this does not diminish this album in any way; it is an album made with enthusiasm, love, care and craft. The sound entrances and intrigues. The melodic shimmer of each song is a pure delight. I have had this one on repeat for a while now and am already eager to hear more releases by this band.

I recommend:

A Reason To Celebrate

Push/Pull

If…

  1. The Psychedelic Furs Made Of Rain

 It has been a while since we had a new album by The Psychedelic Furs to talk about. In that time the band has gone through some membership shifts, while the brothers Butler — Richard and Tim — remain at the core. The sound on this album could well be just one step away, the follow up to their third album “Forever Now”. The band noise on this record has the necessary density to be recognized as their classic sound — front and center above the beautiful chaos is Richard Butler’s voice, as distinguishable as Dylan’s or Reed’s, with his imagistic lyrics, suggesting thoughts you wish you had had. A perfect return full of grand gestures and subtleties in equal measure.

I recommend:

The Boy that invented Rock N’ Roll

You’ll Be Mine

Come All Ye Faithful

200 Visits to a Nice World

Hello there. Come in, come in..

Welcome to my blog piece, in which I will discuss, as the title suggests, the 200th episode of my radio show, It’s a Nice World to Visit. Also, it seems fair to warn you here at the outset of this piece, that this is a self-congratulatory bit of prose — and I can barely get my fingers on the keyboard, after having metaphorically broken my arms in six places, patting myself on the back.

If you would like to adjust your goggles for the long view, you are welcome to do so… but I am only going to cover that ground ever so briefly here, as it has been well documented in prior blog pieces (feel free to check those earlier blog posts here). But out of kindness to us all, if you are going to leave now, exit the room quickly, so that the open door does not give us all light blindness — the period of adjustment for my pupils is getting longer every day. Now then, briefly: Freeform Portland began broadcasting in April of 2016, I was among the first group of people selected to be a deejay on the station. My show is a weekly broadcast, and seeing as how it is now 2020, simple math suggests we are now on the tea cup lip of my 200th episode.

Let me say to those of you reading this piece, that if you have been listening for a long time now: thank you! It may not be self-evident, but my show is a cooperative effort. I am the noise and you are the ears. I am the tree that fell in the forest, and you are on the other end of that vibration wave. When I am in the midst of broadcasting my show, one of the tricks I use is to imagine a person listening and focus my intent upon that imagined person. If, on the other hand, you have only recently discovered my show, I hope you are enjoying it. The show is intended to be musically entertaining, slightly informative and certainly distracting. No matter what the current circumstance, in which you find yourself, I hope the music I play will cause you to forget it all for a moment. Music should be a balm for the human condition, the busy inner voice that self-judges and pre-supposes our own decisions and choices. It should quell that voice so we can see straight — and get on with the things that make life worth living

I would also like to point out that my 200th episode will be the first episode since March that will in fact be broadcast at the regularly scheduled time. I am chuffed and visibly excited (too bad you can’t see me shaking in my seat right now) to have my show and all of the other shows on Freeform Portland back on schedule, for the first time since operations changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The return to the schedule is due to the hard work behind the scenes by a few people here at Freeform, who in addition to doing radio shows, volunteer their time and knowledge to ensure that the station runs. Sure, maybe not as precise and correct as an atomic clock, no. The station runs as well as a wristwatch, providing you remember to keep it wound. It requires a little bit of work and a lot of love to bring you all of the fine radio programs on Freeform Portland. I hope you will join me in a round of applause for all the hard work, past, present and future. 

(pause while the applause begins, builds, reverberates round the room, and grows quieter to silence as all return to their seats)

Circumstances with the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the shuttering of our broadcasting studio inside the Baker Building in North Portland for the safety of all of the deejays. Since that day in March, Freeform Portland has been broadcasting a selection of pre-recorded mixes, put together by a number of our deejays, both past and present. The trick with these mixes was, although we did have the technology to broadcast them for public consumption, we could only do so randomly. Like many of my fellow deejays, I did not let that fact deter me and I continued to produce my weekly episodes, comforted in the fact that they would be broadcast over the air — and perhaps due the random aspect, hook in a few new listeners to my show. Considering the time passed since the shutdown, I must have made a dozen episodes from home; along with a handful of extra mixes to be broadcast as well, to keep the radio waves filled with music.

Working from home and producing mixes presented a new set of challenges for me, as I am sure it did for my fellow deejays. I had to figure out some program that would allow me to put songs together, which in truth, was easier than I would have thought. Working with the program, however, took a bit of adjustment. The flow of doing a radio show live was interrupted by doing a show at home. Live, the songs would play from start to finish, and the beat, the rhythm, of the song would often select the next track. But working from home, I found that I would select a track and hear only the first few seconds of the track, before selecting the next one, and the next one, and so on. It took me weeks to discover I could listen to the selected songs with the program I was using to meld them from single songs into a mix. Once I figured that out, the flow of song-to-song got better, if I can be so unhumble.

One of the oddest things for me was a means by which to record my voice, to do station IDs and mic breaks, to let listeners know what songs that they had just heard. Being a bit of a luddite, I had never used the microphone or camera that came with my laptop. Using the microphone, though, proved problematic, as it resulted in too much ambient noise (the running of the washing machine in the background…). I settled instead on an app for my cell phone, and used it to record myself speaking, then emailing that sound file to myself and placing it in the proper place in the mix, just as I would a song.

These processes have all become second nature to me now, with practice becoming routine of sorts. Although I long for the day that we can return to the studio, and do live broadcasting. What really helped me, though, while I adjusted to this new way of doing things, was my fellow deejays. Using Zoom, we all began to communicate with each other, to offer help and suggestions how to do this or how to do that. We picked each other up and carried our weight together. The fact that Freeform Portland has been broadcasting 24/7, regardless of the pandemic, is due to everyone who volunteers their time and energy to the station. And if you have been tuning in, I bet you will have noticed that during these past few months, the station has offered some of the best programming in its short, but incredible, history.

If you tuned in on a Friday, you must have heard some of that top notch programming I just mentioned. One of our deejays, Tock The Watchdog, who hosts the show, Slow Poison In Your Champagne, Thursdays at 4 PM, had the brilliant idea of making Friday an event day. She suggested that the deejays make special half hour mixes based on a theme that would change weekly. These mixes and the day soon became some of the most fun bits of radio I had the privilege to hear. The deejay response became so overwhelming that the event programming took up the day of broadcasting, and the shows were repeated the next day, giving listeners a chance to catch all of the shows, should they wish to do so. Thus, it basically encompassed the weekend of programming for Freeform Portland. And behind the scenes, while the music was playing, the station invited the deejays to an informal Zoom meeting, where we could greet each other, laugh with one another, discuss music or movies, etc. I did not know it until I attended one such meeting, but I sorely missed all of these people. 

My 200th episode (remember now, this blog piece was supposed to be about this episode of my show…) will be broadcast on Friday July 3rd, starting at Noon PST, which is the tail end of the return of scheduled programming for the station, which began on June 29th. It has taken a while, but we now have the functioning technology in place to play shows at their given time, as noted on the schedule.  As it is a special episode of sorts, I am working on a theme for the episode. I will be featuring duos, rock n’ roll groups that feature two members. Bands such as Suicide, The Vacant Lots, The White Stripes, or Moon Duo spring to mind, but I will be perfectly fine including the likes Nancy & Lee, Dean & Britta, or Fripp & Eno. I am looking forward to it. Hope you will join me.

Thanks for reading this piece. Thanks for listening. Thanks for supporting Freeform Portland. I know, as you listen, the station may seem to be an anonymous voice, but trust me: we are your friends, we are your neighbors, and together we can all move forward, to make the world in which we live a better and safer place.

DJ Ducky Interviews Toronto Songwriter Three Headed Elephant

Like any good little millennial, the first obligation I had when I heard that my co-host and I were given a show on Freeform Portland last year was to create an Instagram.

With our measly 50ish followers, we don’t have much reach, but given the current state of the nation (awful) and a growing desire to use our radio platform for more than just the same Clairo/Phoebe Bridgers/etc. on repeat, we decided to put out a call to our small group for truly independent musicians to send us music so that we could play them on our show. 

With any call to action online, you’re bound to get a few weirdos and/or nudes. 

Luckily, I got neither! We ended up with an artist we like, who deserves to be heard and known, and kindly granted us an interview – our first one ever! Needless to say, I’m excited the whole process went much more smoothly than I thought it would, but I’m also very excited to introduce the artist: Wolfgang, AKA Three Headed Elephant. 

It’s truly crazy what the Internet is capable of… 

Sometimes kindness, sometimes awful, always mesmerizing. 

You can check out one of our new favorite Toronto musicians’ music here:

Listen to Three Headed Elephant on Bandcamp or Spotify, and Soundcloud for covers and tinkerings

Follow Three Headed Elephant on Instagram

And read what Wolfgang of Three Headed Elephant has to say about the creative process below…

Ducky: Tell me about your artist name and how you came up with it…

Wolfgang: I’m Wolfgang also known as Three Headed Elephant. The name Three Headed Elephant was inspired by Buddhism imagery.

Ducky: Where are you located? 

Wolfgang: I’m from Toronto, Ontario. 

Ducky: What/Who inspired you to make music?

Wolfgang: My father is an accordion player so I grew up always listening to music and surrounded by music always… I think subconsciously this is what inspired me to make music at a very young age.

Ducky: How would you describe the music you typically create and gravitate toward?

Wolfgang: I would say my music is blues/folk/soul/funk… it jumps from genre to genre. I don’t want to limit myself to one thing…

Ducky: I listened to “So Happy” first since you sent it to me and loved the way it captured the emotion you must have been feeling when you wrote it and feels like it nicely captures an exact moment in time. Definitely a great song for summer and spending time outside with the guitar riffs! Your sound reminded me of Eef Barzelay/Clem Snide mixed with lofi (obviously)/surf indie. Is that a totally inaccurate depiction? 😂

Wolfgang: I really love what you said about “So Happy” it definitely has a beach chill type vibe to it so that is funny you said surf indie. 

Ducky: What would you say the process is and inspirations are for your songwriting?

Wolfgang: I just write… My process is very simple. Whenever I feel inspired by anything I write about it and then I try to find ways to sing about that particular thing.

Ducky: If you could play on a stage at any festival, which one would you choose? 

Wolfang: I would love to perform at Osheaga one day.

Ducky: How do you feel the Internet has impacted the music business? (Good or bad?)

Wolfgang: I think the internet has impacted the music industry in a wonderful way because now anyone can put their music out there and the sense of community on social media is heartwarming, to say the least. 

Ducky: Speaking of the internet… Are you a vinyl/cd/tape or digital/streaming listener?

Wolfgang: I have a vinyl collection… but I mostly listen to stuff online these days.

Ducky: Which famous musicians do you admire and why?

Wolfgang: Some of my inspirations are Ian Curtis, Florence Welch, David Bowie and Brittany Howard. I really love Florence Welch and her energy. The way she dances on stage and sings, she is very captivating to watch. I also really admire Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes, the way she sings, you can tell she is singing straight from her soul… she really tugs on my heartstrings every time I listen to her.

Ducky: Do you have any hobbies or creative passions outside of music-making that you like to use to help you in your creative process?

Wolfgang: I love to dance. That definitely helps me in my creative process… lol

Ducky: And finally, what’s one song that changed your life?

Wolfgang: One song that changed my life… that is tough because I feel that there are so many songs that have really changed my life but one particular song I always seem to gravitate back to is “Giving Up” by Donny Hathaway.

DJ Ducky’s favorite song from the debut album by Three Headed Elephant:
Let Me Carry Something for You

This song, along with all others on the debut, have the ability to both transfix and calm the listener in their sheer simplicity. While there are lofi vibes and folksy lyrics throughout the entire debut (which a lofi lovin’ girl like me adores), “Let Me Carry Something for You” is the song that spoke to me most. It’s refreshing to hear something so bare bones and raw which reminds me of the indie folk artists in the DFW area I often listened to in college. And that raw emotion speaks to Three Headed Elephant’s desire to tap into those blues and soul inspirations. This song in particular has such a powerful emotional element in its uncomplicated lyrics and speaks to the true heart of a rock solid relationship – the willingness and longing to be a backbone and solid foundation for another human being, even when you have your own shit to carry. 

Let Me Carry Something for You takes a cliche relational notion and turns it into a beautiful portrait of that longing you feel when you empathize and sensitize to the plight of those around you. And I couldn’t think of a better song for the world today.

DJ Ducky and her co host DJ Petrie are the amateurs behind Invasion of the Indiesauruses | Fridays 6-8am.

Join the Harry Roesli Gang

Djauhar Zaharsjah Fachruddin Roesli (Sept 10, 1951 – Dec 11, 2004), aka Harry Roesli was born in Bandung, West Java. Roesli was raised in a privileged family, being the fourth son to parents of a father who was an army major general and his mother being a doctor. In middle school, Roesli was taught the basis of gamelan music using metallophones played by mallets and a set of hand drums called kendhang used to register a beat. As a teenager he was exposed to music by The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Frank Zappa and Gentle Giant, resourced from Hidayat record store on Jalan Sumatra, pirate radio, and from reading Aktuil magazine (Irfani, 2020). He later expanded his listening to encompass avant garde composers such as John Cage, Iannis Xenakis and Karlheinz Stockhasuen and mixed in poetry to avant garde compositions (wiki).

Photo courtesy of Aktuil magazine 1977

Roesli’s early compositional works were a blend of psychedelic rock music, blues, funk, jazz,  Sundanese gamelan and avant garde played with bands that mirrored Roesli’s personalities. He called himself a “janus-headed” man who upheld positive social Indonesian identity, plus Christian moral citizenry which included opening his home to street kids. He also was a radical who rejected authoritative regimes (LaMunai, 2019). Roesli lived in Indonesia during the fascist Suharto regime where free thinking ideals and protest music was mostly censored by the Suharto government’s New Order policies that were enforced to maintain political order, keep economic gains and constrict peoples’ participation in Indonesia’s political process. 

New Order policies infiltrated the arts by promoting beliefs for Indonesians to become participants in the future of the country which supported artists to use satire and mock politicians who were corrupt, had operations tied to drug abuse, crime, poverty, population illiteracy plus idolisation of famous figures, based on New Order standards. Roesli’s musical experimental and antithetical performances often divulged opposition to dominant state ideals to keep order and enforce hegemonic rules to include what Indonesians should like, how they think and behave. Roesli became infamous through musical parody, combining rock operas and lyrical satire, targeting Suharto and his predecessors. Roesli confronted Suharto’s nationalistic ideology, New Order patriot songs and verses, and called out Suharto’s lead government for maintaining instituionalized oppression, murder of communists, continued poverty for poor people, assault on free speech and persisting moral decay (Tyson, 2011).

The Gang of Harry Roesli Philosophy Gang 1973

Roesli started his first band, Batu Karang in high school. After graduating from high school, Roesli studied electrical engineering at the Bandung Institute of Technology. While attending university he started a band for fun in 1971 called Harry Roesli and His Gang with friends and band members, Hari Pochang, Indra Rivai, Albert Warnein, Janto Soedjono and Dadang Latiev. At this time, Roesli was also musically influenced by Remy Sylado who was popular in younger Indonesian culture. Sylado was a prominent author, actor and musician who promoted his own California hippie philosophy as well as freedom from Suharto standards. Harry Roesli and His Gang released their first protest album inspired by Bob Dylan, Philosophy Gang in 1973. The album is an enticing blend of blues, funk and jazz bossanova with proggy variations as heard in, “Don’t Talk About Freedom” and “Peacock Dog,” featured on the album (Irfani, 2020). 

Resissue LaMunai 2017 Harry Roesli Gang Philosophy Gang “Don’t Talk About Freedom”
Reissue LaMunai 2017 Harry Roesli Gang Philosophy Gang “Peacock Dog”

Harry and His Gang played at a music festival in Ragunan, Pasar Minggu, Jakarta August 1973. Their performance appealed to music critics and they received a review in the national Kompas (Compass) newspaper praising Roesli’s vocals for “Peacock Dog” and “Nyamuk Malaria.” In 1975 Harry and His Gang broke through to Indonesia stardom adapting an East Javanese legend, Ken Arok to an operatic “shock rock gamelan” performance, inspired by Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Jesus Christ Superstar (1970) and the work of Orexas. Orexas is an acronym for the Free Sex Organisation led by Remy Sylado. Harry and His Gang’s first show was held at the Badung’s Gedung Merdeka (Independence Building). They continued performing for several months at various large sold out venues in Bandung and Jakarta, playing to sometimes 800+ people. Ken Arok was an opera of protest satire where musical pitch and tone were composed to make listeners feel on edge, much like their response to the everyday environment which was saturated by government corruption. Dancers, wayang puppets, and clowns interacted with the audiences along with draped long curtains and stage lights beaming into audiences’ eyes to intensify a shared mania between musicians, performers and audiences, mirroring living in the New Order environment (Tyson, 2011).

LaMunai reissue Ken Arok 2018

The opening act of Ken Arok featured a demented clown explaining to audiences in technical terms how the show will unfold. After the clown followed a friendly bum rush to the stage, of dancers and musicians, followed by Roesli who was conducting. The stage was unlit and dark with eerie music intertwined with coins jingling and intersecting with picking of guitar strings and pleasant ringing of Chinese bells. Giant fabric curtains were suddenly released from the ceiling and dangled above audiences’ heads invading their personal space bubble. High pitch reverberations suddenly were amplified out of the venue’s 4,000 watt sound system which fused Sudanese instruments, wayang golek (wooden puppet theater), godang (drum and dance) with modern rock, blues and cabaret. Typical instruments including guitar, bass, keyboards and drums were played with Sudanese instruments synthesizing traditional sounds and expanding the musical ear stock of Indonesian audiences. Roesli described Ken Arok as contemporary wayang, electronic gondang or electric ludruk (Javanese folk theater). His objective was to overwhelm the audience into submission, to enforce a collective self consciousness and ensure no distractions or sense of security. Roesli’s ultimate goal was to receive no applause from audiences but his goal was never achieved (Tyson, 2011). 

Harry Roseli Gang Titik Api reissue LaMunai/Groovyrecord 2019

Harry and His Gang released Ken Arok on cassette by P.T Eterna in 1977. It has since been reissued by LaMunai (2018) on LP limited to 333 pressings, remastered at Carvery Cuts, London. His album Titik Api (1976) has also been reissued by LaMunai/Groovyrecord (2019). The reissue of Titik Api is a double LP gatefold release with information about Roesli, rare pictures of the Harry and His Gang performances and pressed on quality thick vinyl. Titik Api is a dynamic recording that displays Roesli’s diverse compositions combining gamelan with guitars, organs, early synthesizers with Western tempered scales of funk, folk, rock, blues, prog, jazz, avant garde and psychedelic compositions. 

Original cassette cover Harry Roesli Gang Titik Api – “Sekar Jepun”

The opening song “Sekar Jepun” is a traditional gamelan piece or kreasi baru, that is played at all parties. The piece is played in Balinese kebyar style and composed in Jaraaga/North Bali but later identified as a South Bali composition (LaMunai, 2019). Heavy western drums, guitar, bass, choral chanting and early synthesizer drives traditional gamelan instrumentation that exhumes listeners with pentatonic scales and ostinato power, giving listeners’ ears delight from the full range of uniquely arranged sounds. Titik Api is a true masterpiece. 

Roesli lost interest in engineering between 1970-1975 and decided to study music composition at Institut Kesenian Jakarta. He was then awarded a scholarship to continue his studies in Holland. There is also another story: Roesli became involved with a student political group participating in events asking for the resignation of Suharto. All the students who were in the political group, including Roesli were imprisoned. A Dutch member of Amnesty International was the person who awarded Roesli with a scholarship to study percussion in Rotterdam until 1978, to escape the Suharto’s regimes’ punishment (LaMunai, 2019). 

Rumah Musik Harry Roesli formerly known as DKSB

After completing his studies in Rotterdam in 1981, Roesli came back to Indonesia and organized a musical association named the Bandung Creative Arts Center (Depot Kreasi Seni Bandung) DKSB, now Rumah Musik Harry Roesli (RMHR). DKSB was run out of his studio on Jalan Supratman (Tyson, 2011). His association enticed talented Indonesian musicians to gather, socialize, collaborate and perform at DKSB. Roesli continued to perform electronic rock operas, teach, record, perform, compose music and vocalise political reform until the end of his life. Captivating large audiences with his sometimes a circus of 250 performers, musicians, dancers providing a provocative, overwhelming audible and visual show of the senses. 

Photo courtesy of CNN Indonesia

His studio was also a refuge for young musicians and artists who were houseless, struggling with substance abuse and sex work violence, and DKSB was also known as a shelter. Roesli often provided meals and therapeutic assistance to underprivileged youth who were struggling with poverty and the intersectional stressors attached. Roesli passed away at the age of 53, his demise increased by multiple comorbidities. Before his passing he experienced a ‘lucid interval’ awaking and pleading with his family; jangan matikan lampu di meja kerja saya (don’t turn off the lamp on my work desk). His family continues to run RMHR and advocate to support houseless youth of Bandung (Tyson, 2011). 

References

Irfani, F (2020). Keeping the Light of ‘Si Bengal’ Harry Roesli and DKSB at the Indonesian Jagat Creative. VICE Indonesia. https://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=id&u=https://www.vice.com/id_id/article/k7emjv/sejarah-musisi-legendaris-harry-roesli-dan-depot-kreasi-seni-bandung-dksb&prev=search

Liner notes Harry Roesli Tiki Api reissue LaMunai/Groovyrecord 2019

Tyson, Adam. D (2011). Titik Api: Harry Roesli, Music, Politics in Bandung, Indonesia. https://ecommons.cornell.edu/bitstream/handle/1813/54533/INDO_91_0_1302899078_1_34.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Written by Karen Lee (Weekend Family Music Hour).

The Lost Art of Wandering, by Raymond Richards

Welcome aboard- let’s treat this bit of artificial paper as a vessel, as I would like to think we are going somewhere.

Let’s get some particulars out of the way first.

Who am I? For the purposes of this blog piece, my name is Noah Fence; not my given name, but one that I have chosen for myself, for my near anonymous portion of the 15 minute spotlight of fame. Beyond that, in real life I am just some Jack from around the block that pulls his socks on after he pulls on his trousers, prefers the words trousers to pants (as “pants” in England is a reference to underwear), and chews vitamin C tablets with the teeth he has left in his head on a daily basis.

Who are you? That one is difficult for me to get correct. I like to assume that you are an engaged and curious individual, with a discerning taste for music and other art forms; as such, hungry for new music and sounds to add to your life experience. If that’s not you, I hope you will both forgive me my error and also stay onboard to the end of this article.

Why are we here? Speaking for myself, I am here to write a review of the new album, The Lost Art Of Wandering, by Raymond Richards. The review as such, having as much to do with the album itself, as it does with my experience with the record. The record reviews I grew up with and learned from having been written by the likes of Lester Bangs; I doubt if I ever seriously considered even for a moment getting out of the way and letting the album speak for itself. 

Now, as for you and the reason you are here, there are multiple options I suppose. One, you are a habitual visitor to the Freeform Portland website and regular reader of the blog. Two, you may be casually or personally acquainted with Raymond Richards — and thus curious about a review of your friend. Third, you may well have stumbled upon this review, and/or website, by complete chance, having been pulled forth by the gravity of your own curiosity, your eyes darting from one word to the next and your brain making contextual connections, so that it all makes sense, such as it is.

Well enough of the petty barbery, let’s make a stab at the subject matter.

From what I understand, this is Raymond Richards’ first solo album, but not his first album, no. Looking into his musical history, you can see that he was part of the band, Mojave 3, who released albums for 4AD Records. He also seems to have worked with Lovefingers while in Los Angeles. At some point, he relocated to Portland, Oregon, and has applied his musical experience and multi-instrument talent to production work. I have never met him personally, despite living in the same city and having some friends in common, but what I have been able to uncover about him thus far suggests he would be worth a beer or two and some conversation.

The reason I am able to fill up the event horizon of your internet connected device with all these words is that I have a weekly radio show on Freeform Portland. That show is entitled “It’s a Nice World to Visit.” The show is long running and, one hopes, tasteful and discerning. That is not to say that I know more about music than you might. But I do know what I Like, and I very much like the album, The Lost Art Of Wandering.

I have stated it before, and it bears repeating, music is magic. It seems to come from nowhere and influences our moods and our minds. Also, I believe that recorded music is a contextualized form of time travel. It not only captures the moment at which the recording is made, but also captures the moment at which the listener hears or is affected by the music. Subsequent listens to a piece of music can easily transport the listener to a different time and place, even though by memory alone. 

The Lost Art Of Wandering evokes a sense of place, moreso than many records I have heard over the years. There is a real sense of existence in the songs on the record — and as the music fades at the end of each song, a sense of haunting as well. With a minimal amount of instruments, Raymond Richards is able to bring his main instrument, the pedal steel guitar, to the forefront. The manner in which he plays the instrument is spacious, invoking desert landscapes, open land with far-off horizons. The smell of rain on the breeze. The push of wind as you walk against it, your clothes on your body being pulled in the other direction. Listening to the songs on the album, I do not even need to close my eyes to be brought to someplace else. The sounds on the record seem as simple as breathing and just as vital. 

I do not often resort to comparison when reviewing a record, as I do not wish to belittle the artist or the album, but I think this time I will make an exception and cite a couple of records that came to mind when I first listened to “The Lost Art Of Wandering.” But only because I think it might be helpful to other listeners, as the pedal steel guitar is not often a lead instrument on an album, and has in the past been used in a gimmicky fashion. The first record I thought of as I surround myself with the work of Raymond Richards was Slider: Ambient Excursions For Pedal Steel Guitar, by Bruce Kaphan, which is an ambient album, nearly a pleasant New Age album of sorts, by a musician who was part of the San Francisco band, American Music Club.

The second record I thought of immediately was Incident At Cima, by Scenic — an album of desert surf music, a rock album with clear influences by Ennio Morricone, and one that invokes a sense of place unlike most other albums. 

The songs on The Lost Art Of Wandering are place names, spots on the map, towns or cities you can visit. But with the album on, there may be no need for such time and trouble. Each song clearly brings forth each location, as though you were standing in place yourself. Although, I have to imagine, your experience in each location might be enhanced or graciously altered, should you visit while listening to the tracks from this album.

In closing, let me step up on my platform to say that, in recent years, the music industry has crumbled and is nothing like it once was at its height, the mid-seventies to mid-nineties, and I for one am okay with that. The breakdown of the mechanism of merchandising an art form has allowed some musicians to make albums of rare beauty, for the sake of art itself; case in point, this record by Raymond Richards. An album made from the love of music. An album made with a sense of grace and beauty. An album made with a personal connection to the musician, the sounds at times seeming to stem from what I imagine are a slow ballet of gestures across a series of electrified strings. 

Listening to The Lost Art Of Wandering by Raymond Richards reminds me again of something of which I love to be reminded: the magic that is music, the beauty that is music, can change people for the better. One person in a better mood, one smile, is infectious. There is no form of art that changes us and affects us on the levels at which does music. Put the album on, take a deep breath and allow yourself to visit someplace else: a vast space, with horizon lines and a sense of both loneliness and belonging. You are never alone with music.

The Lost Art of Wandering can be found on bandcamp.