MARCUS BORG at WAYZATA COMMUNITY CHURCH, WAYZATA MN, 6 NOV 04

The work of Dr. Marcus Borg is characterized by its “academic and pastoral sensibility” in the words of John Ross, words I echo. His latest book, “The Heart of Christianity,” spells out the dissonance between two Christian paradigms, the earlier and emerging in Borg’s terms. The scholar and teacher visited WCC for a United Theological Seminary fundraiser Saturday night, dinner and a lecture afterwards, and I was fortunate to attend both. Offering tremendous insight, criticism, and possibilities for building bridges, ultimately Borg’s prophetic voice calls mainline Christians into the vocation of articulating the “emerging” Christian worldview.

From my front-row seat in our sanctuary, Aegis lit and standing over him, Marcus Borg looked like a professor whose class you’d love, all red socks, corduroy pants, and the top button of his denim shirt unbuttoned and half-hid behind the knot of a tie. Soft-spoken and gently witty, only once did Borg’s passion for his vision break through, revealing conviction that is only found in the white in-between spaces of his book. Like many, Borg grew up in the “earlier” Christian paradigm; once transcended, feelings for it are hard to conceal, and he does so better than most. Later, in the Q&A time, he offered his reasoned opinion that we are currently seeing the high-water mark of Christian fundamentalism; an affirmative antidote to the post-electoral disillusionment I, we, have been under.

Over the course of the evening, my suspicions were raised more than once that the special invitation extended to me included a subtext of persuading me towards UTS sooner rather than later. A bit awkward, that.

The process of reading and understanding Borg’s work is reinforcing for me the importance of Christian artistry, the aesthetics of Scripture and Gospel that have been an increasingly living part of my spiritual praxis. Approaching, reading, hearing, and responding to God’s Word as art – even the phrase “God’s Word” is a poetic claim within our emerging paradigm, not a factual one. Musically, this helps illustrate the false bifurcation between “Christian” (actually meaning fundamentalist, evangelical Christian) and “secular” artists. At times I deliberately translate, record, and express my experience of the Sacred in music; also deeper than consciousness, I write as a Sacred-seeking and Holiness-experiencing person. I practice within Christian tradition, and most often find my experiences within it as well. Give it the label you will, but I feel closer to Deftones than to Michael W. Smith.

Remnants of milk that is neither positive or negative

First of all, I would like to say that quite possibly the coolest band ever is a band out of Athens, GA called Neutral Milk Hotel.  The singer/songwriter, Jeff Mangum, writes the most surreal lyrics about people sticking forks into other people’s shoulders, people with white roses for eyes, and playing pianos filled with flames.  I have their two most popular full-length albums, On Avery Island and In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and although On Avery Island is brilliant, I think that In the Aeroplane… Is probably one of the best records I have ever heard.  If you get anything out of this ramble of a post, it’s that you should GO BUY THAT RECORD.  Its brilliance has to do with Mangum’s ability to take open and power chords and create these completely unique, beautiful melodies with his vocals.  When I listen to the record, the moment of “God, I wish I had written this song; it seems so obvious” happens quite often, but the truth is that while these songs seem to have been destined to be written, Mangum is the only one who could have pulled it off properly.  There are accordians, fuzzed out classical acoustic guitars, harmonicas, horn ensembles, all of which add greatly to the basic wonder of the record.  The most striking part about the record though, is Mangum’s vocals.  He’s got one of the most unique, eerie voices I’ve ever heard and writes some of the most honest, disturbing lyrics evern written.  He also apparently has his shit together- if you go to www.pitchforkmedia.com and check out his interview from 2002, he offers some of the most insightful perspectives on life that I’ve heard in a while.  I’d cut and paste it, but hey, this is www.mrfuriousrecords.com, I mean, come on!  Am I right?

The person who turned me on to NMH is someone who sort of haunts the past of Mr. Furious, namely, Josh Oberndorfer.  Josh is a friend of mine from way back and Josh and I both became friends with Howie during Freshman year.  We had plans to start a band and get our stuff together musically, and it worked out perfectly, in a way- Josh and I both played guitar and Howie was a drummer, and we were able to find a bassist in fellow Doane Tiger Matthew Wisecarver.  Matt, from Omaha, now works as an engineer at a recording studio in LA, the birthplace of fear and everything caloric.  So we started this band, The Remnants, and it turned out to be the weirdest, rockinest mix of people ever.  Josh and Matt and I were all heavy partiers, and Matt would often have a friend pour beer in his mouth while he was playing a show.  Howie, with a smile, would nod his head as if to say, “I think Matt is secretly from Oklahoma.”  We were also a weird party band in a way, but the irony is that when we did record songs, they were recorded acoustically and filled with delightful flaws that make them the songs they are today.  To paraphase The Streets, in 500 years they’ll play The Remnants in museums. 

A IS JUMP at the WHISKEY JUNCTION, MINNEAPOLIS, 4 NOV 04 and "MY ICE-FINGERED GHOST"

About a million years ago at one of Shacker’s first shows (Bob’s Tavern, Lincoln NE) we opened for a band from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, that was making their first trip to our fair Cornhusker state. A Is Jump dropped us flat on the floor with a great set of smart, eclectic, well-played pop, and it just about broke my heart that they only had an EP I could take home. I never forgot that “Sometimes things degrade, sometimes we’ll shoot way out past you…”

Though their website has been updated only occasionally, I followed the band’s progress as they recorded and eventually released a record; “My Ice-Fingered Ghost” on Future Appletree Records this fall. The album has been worth every minute of wrangling it took to get the label to make good on my June pre-order. “…Ghost” is my favorite kind of record, the kind that leaves you a little breathless at the finish, for about three minutes. Then you play it again.

Kate had alerted me that A Is Jump was headed for the Twin Cities, and after a full day at WCC I found the bar near downtown and a stool, complete with an over-iced coke and free popcorn out of a machine like the Isis has in Crete. I just absorbed the first couple bands, trying to relax and avoid the chatty drunk who claimed he worked for City Pages. As Anchorhead finished, I recognized A Is Jump’s frontman, and with him the rest of the band – about the only other indie-rock-looking kids in the bar. I (re)introduced myself as the drummer from Shacker; a couple of the guys remembered, and we talked through the next set.

I was at home, in space, between during A Is Jump’s performance, enjoying the kind of soft transcendence music brings when it’s engaging your full consciousness. Perhaps half of the tunes came from “My Ice-Fingered Ghost,” the others a mix of old and new. The band is constantly re-interpreting their own rich material. A Is Jump could make another record as good as their first, if not better, right this second with the songs they held back or have written since “My Ice-Fingered Ghost.” Here’s to hoping it happens soon.

IN THE MR. FURIOUS PIPELINE

Following a successful launch, and our first two recordings (echoes/”nickel EP” and Shacker/”Knowing Her Best…”), Mr. Furious Records will head towards 2005 with a full head of steam and new music. First up is Shacker’s newly mastered “Dimly Lit Room,” an album made just after the band’s appearance at the Powerless III show at Duffy’s in Lincoln. Songs from both “…Blackbeard’s Birthday?” and “Knowing Her Best…,” as well as two new songs, are in fine form,with all-acoustic instruments and no drums. “Dimly Lit Room” will be available by the 23rd of November.

Think Cory has been just soaking up the California sunshine while Minnesotans and Nebraskans suffer the beginnings of winter? You’ve got another think coming – FIVE NEW TUNES from The Kibler, wrapped up and ready just in time to keep you warm over the holidays. He wrote five songs to celebrate five years of the new millenium – that’s this man’s genius. Cory will be dishing out details on the new shizzle in an upcoming Mr. Furious [blog] post.

And if that were not enough, spring will bring the long-awaited “Don’t Let Them Take Us Alive” from alt-rock almost-weres Sally Ride. If you missed Cleveland in the early ’90s, you missed Charlie Bogaard and his crew ripping off bands like the Pixies and Radiohead left and right. But Mr. Furious to the rescue – a bootleg tape of a nearly-infamous Sally Ride show has fallen into our hands, and we’re going to clean it up and give it to you. That’s three (3), count ’em, three new collisions of word & music coming your way this winter/spring from mrfuriousrecords.com. And it won’t stop there – plenty more surprises will be hatching in the months ahead. Stay tuned…

WILCO at the ORPHEUM THEATRE, MINNEAPOLIS, 26 OCT 04

We missed opener Deerhoof so I can’t vouch for their performance, but you may listen for yourself; they have a 10-track live album available free online at http://deerhoof.killrockstars.com. Releasing a free album online is a definite plus, even if their music earns a heartfelt Minnesotan “that’s-interesting.”

War on War, Hummingbird, I’m Always In Love, At Least That’s What You Said, I’m a Wheel, A Shot in the Arm, I Am Trying To Break Your Heart, and others… The triumph of the night came at the end of Wilco’s set, “Less Than You Think” and a few minutes of its sonic withdrawal-headache leading into the Midwestern State-Fair rock chorus of “Spiders (Kidsmoke).” Both tunes were leaner than the “A Ghost Is Born” album cuts, and better for it – the passion that wrote them clearly pulsing out from onstage.

Wilco’s performance confirmed my best suspicions about “A Ghost Is Born” – that it is a record full of great songs, played well, written authentically from a cracked heart peeking outward. There’s also something more, a sort of consciousness, that the music is self-aware of its place in the stream of sound that began with Buddy Holly. Like a Chicagoan Radiohead, “Yankee Hotel Foxtrot” and “A Ghost Is Born” face the present day with its ambiguities, fractures, noise, postmodernity, technology, and disillusion without being reduced to these things. YHF’s tweaky buzz IS Ghost’s guitar wanking, two sides of a true response. It took a trip to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts a few days later with Kate to make it clearer to me that Wilco is an auditory Thomas Hart Benton – far from a caricature of rock music, a thoroughly present work that is also firmly aware of its place within a tradition.

In the two encores we heard a different band, relaxing from their wrenching effort and just playing some songs, a graceful and knowing transition from art to the street.

mr1986 AND MASTERING AS AN ACT OF DEVOTION

Late summer 03, Kate and I tripped up to the Pinewood Bowl in Lincoln for a benefit show (I forget who exactly benefitted) because JV All*stars were playing.  We had been listening to their “Document the Fall” EP constantly, and I knew “Distance” had been out for some time but I didn’t have a copy yet.  After catching their set, talking to Eric for awhile, and picking up the full-length, mr1986 took the stage – a Lincoln band I’d heard about, but not heard.
 
mr1986 – “music without vocals” – True, but the voice they possess shouldn’t be primarily defined by the absence of vocals as a musical element.  Songs like “Where Motion Is Rest” and “Adjust the Blinds” carry so much dynamic, wordless weight that singing would surely be a distraction.  At the show, I picked up their album “The Everbimes” and a homemade bootleg tape, hand-numbered by the band, that is essentially untitled but could be called “In This War” (from a phrase used in the background of the first song).  The sound on the tape is rough, but passionate, and it’s been a compelling piece of music for me.
 
Last week I decided to put some music on my laptop, and instead of taking the tape straight in I dumped it into ProTools, and used Ozone to master “In This War.”  I didn’t do much, or spend much time on it – just some EQ to bring out some tonal fundamentals (especially in the bass, which was almost nonexistent) to hear the notes better, some tape saturation for a pleasant warmth & roundness, and I brought the overall RMS (average volume) level up.  It’s still rough of course (that’s part of its essence) but a good improvement I think.  I’d love to send a copy to the band, and maybe even talk about making it available through Mr. Furious Records, but their web presence is almost nil – mr1986.com hasn’t been anything for a year or more I think.  If any Lincoln scenesters have contact with mr1986, maybe you would help me get in touch?  “In This War” is a good testament to their power as musicians, and through the mastering have inserted myself by a fingertip at least into its story (I hope not in an unwanted way), and I’d love to share it.

The Almighty's Blessing Of A New York Garage Rock Band

I don’t remember writing “God Bless The Strokes,” which became the first echoes song (I didn’t know at the time it was the start of something new).  Scottie and I had bought the core equipment for our studio, and I’d been unpacking it and starting to fool around with it on Thanksgiving break 02.  The song just happened in a few minutes, which is not my usual writing style, the chime-y lead chords with the phrase “God bless the Strokes…” popping out like nobody’s business.  It was too much fun to play; I couldn’t get it out of my head.
 
Naturally, with the new recording gear, the new tune was perfect material for testing everything out.  I set up my little gold drum kit with just an overhead mic, and made a quick drum loop.  Taking Cory’s (Shacker) old guitar through a fuzz pedal (Boss DS-1) straight into ProTools (I didn’t have an amp around – sinful) I tracked the first version of “God Bless The Strokes” in a couple hours with no bass.  That original recording was really lo-fi, of course, but it had spirit.  Enough that when I was re-recording the song for echoes’ “nickel EP”, I used the same solo I’d recorded that Thanksgiving.  That’s why it has such a dirty sound; it’s just Cory’s old Yamaha axe through a pedal.  I hadn’t tuned too carefully (or at all), so the whole track is 1/4 step flat or so.  What a headache when it came to re-recording for the “nickel EP”, but worth it to keep that solo.  I can’t play lead worth a damn, but there is just something about the way those notes and jangly intervals tickle my ear.  It always reminds me of the jams on Weezer’s “Only In Dreams” – “God Bless The Strokes” uses the same kind of chords in the same key, dancing around the tonic without hitting it.  Lyrically, what can I say?  The image of somebody feeling moved to invoke the Eternal Spirit to bless hipster bands-of-the-moment (in Nov 02 no less) just kills me.
 
What poigancy it has must come from a grain of truth.

It feels better, thanks for the haircut

So I was listening to the Echoes EP by my good friend Howie, and something else that I had been thinking about clicked inside my head and made me pretty excited about life in general (not the band, but you know, life, although I like LIG too). When I’m at work, and I’m spending my time making copies and filing reports and all of this, I always thought to myself, “why can’t I be part of some sort of musical collective, like Barsuk, or Saddle Creek, or even something as bare-bones as Elephant Six? Just a name or a “label” that I can be a part of and use instrumentally to get my music out there and available for whoever might be interested? Why can’t I be a part of something like that will distribute and promote what I’ve been working hard on for so many years now?” I have come to the point now where I know that the point of music is not recognition or fame or monetary compensation; it’s a kind of self-gratification. I mean, not in a sick sense, but when you write a song, it’s for you above anyone else. Even if no else listens, you still have that song for you, and it’s something exciting because it’s part of you out there, outside of your inner thoughts and feelings. But even further than that (bear with me, it’s been a rough, taxing weekend) it has to do with raw emotion in the form of notes, chords, harmonies, melodies and all of that, and the important thing about all of that is that it’s a pure form of human expression ideally, untainted and unclogged by want of money or fame or any of that.

That’s why Mr. Furious is such a good idea in the first place. I mean, not because I think we’re any more special or worth listening to than other labels or whatever. But because it takes the whole negative side of music away from making music. I no longer have to rely on dreams of being a rock star or selling millions of albums or having people I don’t know look up to me and know my name. The thing that I now think of when I think of what I want to do with music is something first and foremost for me, but also for my loved ones who might care about what I do. I finally now see music as something non-profit and something that is there for the sake of itself. It’s a thing for and by us that is instrinsically good, as opposed to some sort of means to come by all of those things usually associated with the music industry, all of those things that cheapen what we’re trying to accomplish with music. I mean, after all, music is something done because there’s something inside of us, and the most fun, effective, honest way to get it out is to express it through notes and things. And we know this is something good and honest and true because we all like listening to music made by others, and it’s not because of anything selfish or superficial, it’s because something they are saying or because of the way they are playing notes that tugs at our heartstrings and reminds us why we are involved in this life in the first place. It feels like I am reaching a huge breakthrough, something I have always “known” was right but never really understood why, and now I do. Music is the one thing I can say that will never betray me, and now, by seperating it from capitalism, greed, strategy, marketing, fame, money, and all of those things, we finally have something pure, free, and for everyone. I finally get what Fugazi is talking about when they say they don’t want to profit from their music, but that they just want to be able to eat and have a warm place to sleep. So I say, spread the music around, and don’t worry about paying me, just keep spreading it around; your music, mine, whoever’s. Just get it out there for everyone and anyone who might want to listen.

That’s all for now-
Cory

Voice

Finding a real voice in music (or any other art) is what engages our aesthetic attention. An artist must say something meaningful, whatever it may be. It may fall anywhere from “Let’s shake baby” to “We are all fundamentally, existentially, disconnected from each other” to a sound-sculpture that transcends language, but it’s got to be there to open possibilities for aesthetic response. Works have multiple, and even mysterious meanings. Voice gives shape to the artistic “object” that is presented, and plays over us when we listen.

A colorful voice is what I want to hear when I listen to music, and it’s what I try to put into mine.

For example, h&s played with Westside Proletariat ( http://wsphardcore.com ) in Lincoln last year. I’m not a huge hardcore listener but I rocked, loving it, believing it, hearing their voice. Scott, plus the friends who came for h&s, left the club rather than hear WSP. I think for them, the aggressive presentation covered their authentic voice.

Writing about the various musical voices taking part in Mr. Furious Records (h&s, “signs,” echoes, Shacker, and others…) will be happening. Struggling for a voice is important. It’s where real art happens.

Mic Check

We continue to add things to Mr. Furious, and this blog won’t be the last (i.e. art & lyrics, shopping cart, NEW MUSIC). I’m imagining a space to tell a little about the music, the recording process, and what I’m working on in a given week; it takes quite a while to bring a project from the writing the first songs to releasing it. Often, it’s been over a year. signs.comets was that way. Knowing Her Best was close. The nickel EP was even longer – I wrote “God Bless The Strokes” in November of 02 as I unpacked the first ProTools equipment Scottie and I bought for the studio.

This morning I bounced down a full mastered copy of Shacker’s Dimly Lit Room to check out on some different stereos, to see if it sounds finished. That will be the next thing up on MFR, maybe in a month or a little longer. We’ll have to take something down to make room for it, but you’ll think it’s worth it. See you,

-h