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“Nothing good happens in films about airplanes.”

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If you’re spending the summer in a full-body cast in a faraway state, these are the jams you need.

FAACover4

The (Oh, Lord, can it truly be?) eighth Kurt Blumenau “solo album,” released on Bandcamp precisely four years to the day after the first.

The biggest influences this time around are probably Captain Beefheart and Jandek, if that gives you any sense of what kind of toe-tappin’ good time awaits.

There’s a song called “I Wiped My Hands on a Pigeon” … and an 18-minute guitar solo … and a song that sounds like you’re being dragged underwater in a cold sea behind a slow-moving trawler … and a song that starts with  a weird murky voice-mail I once got that sounds like the people didn’t know they were being recorded.

(I think there is at least one more “conventional” release in my pipeline, but it turned out not to be this one. You won’t want to miss that one either, I’m sure, when it comes along.)

Anyway: Go check it out. You certainly don’t have to buy it. Just by clicking the link and visiting the site, you’ll give me the happy illusion that somebody’s interested.

If you don’t even want to do that, here’s a taste you can enjoy without having to go anywhere at all:

Truth is the glue.

A brief break from Art for Art’s Sake to bring you an important announcement:

The speeches of Gerald Ford set to a backdrop of theremin is something you can now enjoy in your rec room, pup tent, Quonset hut, or wherever people gather and the beer is cold.

Portrait

Unlike some of my earlier Bandcamp releases, We Have Succeeded In Nothing Anywhere has no deep origin story.

I found audio recordings of the speeches of Gerald Ford online. I found an electronc theremin simulator online. And at some point, my mind put the two together.

The speeches of Gerald Ford … accompanied by theremin. Yeah, the time has come.

It’s probably better in concept than execution. But, having executed it, I decided to loose it on the world anyway and let you, the listener, be the judge.

(Edit: I should probably mention that no social or political comment is intended here, nor do I have anything against Gerald Ford. His speeches just happen to be publicly available, in decent fidelity, begging to be set against vaguely psychedelic aural backgrounds.)

Like everything else I do, We Have Succeeded In Nothing Anywhere (it’s a phrase Jerry uses at one point; see if you can find it) is available as a free Bandcamp download. You need pay nothing for its myriad pleasures. In a world stacked against the common man, that’s a remarkable thing, Bunky.

As with previous releases, I will react with doglike gratitude (though no swag) to anyone sending me a photo of a WHSINA track playing in their iTunes, on their computer screen, on their phone, etc. I know, my comments are turned off, but anyone who reads this knows where to find me anyway.

Be of good cheer.

What’s playing now.

I bought a couple of CDs as part of an Amazon orgy a little while ago … and while I like ’em fine, right now I’ve set them aside and am listening instead to a bunch of stuff I downloaded off Bandcamp.

(Have no fear, Charles Mingus. I’ll get back to you.)

Just in case you’re looking for cheap thrills too, here’s what’s playing.

Squinch Owl, On The Goddamn Radio: Squinch Owl is pretty much one person — a singer and multi-instrumentalist named Sofia Pocket — and this marvelously titled release features her walloping the banjo and performing solo on WTBU-FM in York, Maine.

Pocket’s voice is a big, bruised, moonshiney yowl that suits her material well.

However, somebody seems to have told the engineer at WTBU that Blossom Dearie was coming instead, because they set the levels for someone much quieter. Every time Pocket even remotely opens up, her voice distorts into something thick, molten and mostly unintelligible. (When she really gets going, both her voice and her banjo go thick and fuzzy around the edges.)

I actually think it works nicely. The effect is akin to routing the Mississippi River into a channel too small by half to hold it. The pain and devastation is redoubled as a result.

It also hearkens back to the great old days when blues and folk singers made records with one ropey microphone, in whatever room they could use for an hour, and acoustic finery was the most distant of considerations.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=894006763/size=small/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/track=2212974734/transparent=true/

bobbito pickles, old ones: I clicked on this mainly because I liked the primitive cover art. Then I found it was lo-fi beats and loops from Edmonton (!) and I figured I’d never heard those before, and life is short.

These tracks are probably inspired by some beatmaster (J Dilla?) I’m not hip enough to be familiar with. Basically, they sound like chopped and channeled bits of mellow-gold love jams, driven sideways by loopy production techniques.

Senor Pickles provides us with 20 tracks totaling 29 minutes, which is pretty much the point at which his skips, scrapes and spasms start to get old … so everyone leaves happy, except maybe a bunch of copyright lawyers.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=1898454920/size=small/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/track=3795920171/transparent=true/

Duluth Homegrown Music Festival, Mayor’s Mix:  I admit I’m just starting to listen to this one, and it might suck; but I include it because I enjoy the concept.

Under the label of the Homegrown Music Festival, you’ll find a whole bunch of Bandcamp releases created by the hipsters — DJs, musicians, indie label owners — who populate the Duluth scene, all offering a mix of their own favorite bands and tunes.

And then there’s this collection, compiled by Duluth mayor Don Ness (he’s no longer mayor; the collection dates to 2011.)

I love the idea of the mayor of a city acting as your guide to its music scene, and Ness was/is youthful enough that I believe he actually did listen to these bands.

Hizzoner apparently digs a “low-fi, folky vibe,” though that doesn’t stop him from including a Sly Stone cover that’s played nicely straight — not thrashed up or Chili Peppered out or anything stupid like that.

We’ll see if the rest is as tolerable.

https://bandcamp.com/EmbeddedPlayer/album=3362082434/size=small/bgcol=ffffff/linkcol=0687f5/track=1941900196/transparent=true/

Fingers grow back.

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My latest recording is available at Bandcamp as of a few minutes ago. This time around I had help, from dozens of shaggy-haired, bell-bottomed, short-skirted teenagers who had no idea what I was doing.

thingsweburned1

The new one is called Things We Burned. It was created by extensively editing the music from a locally released 1970 album featuring various student performing ensembles from Penfield, N.Y., High School.

You’ve probably seen this kind of record in the crates. Maybe you even own one. The local high school concert band or marching band cuts some songs in a studio on the cheap, presses up some records, and sells ’em to parents and grandparents. Some end up sitting in a box years later in the bandroom storage area. That’s how this one landed in my hands.

The record — being bare-bones, as these things often seem to be — doesn’t have any performer credits beyond the names of the ensembles, so I can’t thank Johnny and Jane from the Class of ’71 for their groundbreaking work on tympani or flute. If you’re out there, and you read this, thanks. You played great. Knocked ’em dead.

The record also doesn’t have any copyright claim anywhere on its label or jacket. So far as I can tell, that places it in the public domain, and thus fair game for my kind of vandalistic re-creation.

What’s it sound like? As chaotic as all the other stuff I do, only this time there’s a concert band playing. Maybe that’s more palatable; maybe it isn’t.

It’s out there, anyway — and it’s name-your-own-price, which means free. So take two, tell your friends, and cover your ears.

Are you ready for the night train?

Dear music writers of America:

I hope you haven’t submitted your Album Of The Year ballots yet … because, as 2015 approaches its twilight, the voice of the diddley bow is once again heard in the land.

NIGHTTRAIN

Yup. Proud to announce the arrival of Night Train To Sideways as a name-your-own-price download on Bandcamp.

It’s the fifth Kurt Blumenau recording (I hesitate to call them “albums”), and the second to feature the unaccompanied growl of the diddley bow.

Why do I do this? Mainly because I like the noises I make, and think somebody somewhere else might like ’em too.

So, I raise a one-stringed (though not one-fingered) toast to somebody somewhere else.

PS: Screeds-and-links for my previous recordings are here, here, here and here.

PPS: Anyone sending me a screenshot of a Night Train To Sideways track playing in their iTunes, phone or other digital music outlet wins lunch and a beer if we’re ever in the same place at the same time, as well as my undying gratitude.

The morning noise.

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A brief break from writing about 40-year-old records, then, to tell you what else is in my ears these days.

I do most of my music listening during the trip to and from work, and the music I play in my car plays an important role in my life. In the morning, it keeps me from fixating on all the stuff waiting undone at work. And in the afternoon it helps wash it all away, unless I am too frustrated or furious to find any escape.

Here’s what’s on my passenger seat right now …

The Sunday League: At my last newspaper job, I worked with a guy who covered Pennsylvania state government in Harrisburg. He was (and is) smart, canny, well-spoken, irreverent, a snappy dresser, an Anglophile, and not cowed by the poses and absurdities of the Keystone State’s elected representatives.

If that weren’t enough to have on his CV, he’s also a veteran power-pop musician who’s put out a couple of professional-quality releases. (He plays ska sometimes too; you knew there had to be a chink in his armor someplace.)

Anyway, on this EP, he enlists several like-minded central Pennsylvania musicians, cranks up his Rickenbacker and pours out the hooks, singing along in a distinctive McGuinnish/Pettyish voice.

I haven’t had this one long, but results from the early precincts say it’s a winner.

Moncton Isn’t So Bad: Jumping wildly from the shores of the Susquehanna River to the Canadian Maritimes, we come across this compilation of local New Brunswick musicians. The songs range wildly from minimalist acoustic to raging punk, and from bedroom lo-fi “productions” to thumping professional mixes.

Unfortunately, it really isn’t all that good. I really wish I could say I liked it, and that it was a jewel waiting to be discovered (like this Moncton band I stumbled across — and stumbled is the right word — a while ago). But, no.

Truth be told, I’ll probably chuck the home-burned CD after another spin or two. But who knows? Maybe some night, as I drive home from the nine-to-five, something here will reach out and speak to me.

The Jean Jackets, Jean Jacques; also, Bay Kee, The Man With Red Eyes, and Grey Visions, The Grey Tape: An old college buddy of mine plays in a band over in New Jersey. A while ago, I was reading about them on some Jersey indie-rock website when I read about the Jean Jackets, four youngsters from Old Tappan who play in a band when they’re not off at college.

I downloaded their first album, Jean Jacques, and for about two weeks I hated it.

The chiming indie-pop music didn’t grab me; I didn’t like their lyrics, those I could understand; and most of all, I hated their predilection for wordless scat-sung vocal hooks. (I think every song on this record has a la-la-la section in it somewhere, and some have more than one. It gets to feeling gimmicky.)

Slowly they grew on me. The songs of Christine Spilka, who shares singing and guitar duties with Jackson Phinney, won me over first. Then Spilka and Phinney’s otherworldly duet on the record’s one cover version, Elliot Smith’s “Angel In The Snow,” grabbed me. Then Phinney’s songs started seeming catchier, less obnoxious, more relatable.

And just last night, I had to drive 70 minutes to Wilkes-Barre and back again, and Jean Jacques was the only music I listened to, the entire time, through the whole record and back to the start again.

Goddamned if I know how, but they’ve won me over. So much so that I’ve gone and downloaded the first EP by Bay Kee (Spilka’s solo project) and an album of material by Grey Visions (Phinney’s nom de guerre.)

The Bay Kee record is enjoyable, stylistically in line with Spilka’s contributions to the full band. I’ve only just started The Grey Tape, but the first song holds together pretty solidly, given the downplayed description Phinney gives the material. (If I understand him right, he characterizes several of his Grey Visions releases as demos-and-experiments-that-are-just-finished-enough-to-share-with-other-people.)

Mint 400 Records Presents 1967: Remember my college buddy from a few grafs ago? His band is one of 11 artists appearing on this Jersey indie-rock compilation, featuring 14 covers of songs originally released in 1967 — everything from “I’ll Be Your Mirror” to “Let’s Spend The Night Together.”

I’m still getting to know this comp. Most of the covers I’ve heard don’t take me anywhere the originals didn’t … and a few covers don’t take me anywhere at all, which is worse. But I haven’t spun it enough times to really make up my mind, so there’s still potential here.

(The cuts all seem to be professionally recorded, which puts 1967 head and shoulders above Moncton Isn’t So Bad. I’m not against rank homemade amateurism — hell, I engage in it regularly — but when it rubs shoulders with studio mixes, everything suffers.)

The pick hit for me so far is a version of “To Love Somebody” by a band called Fairmont, which owes its success in part to its humid, compressed, crunchy vibe, and in part to the fact that it’s “To Love Somebody.”

And one more bonus from the time I spend on the computer nights:

Tom Moulton: The Sandpiper, Fire Island, New York, USA 1974Ostensibly this is a mix of dance tunes assembled by disco super-mixer Tom Moulton for a gay hangout on Fire Island way back when. If it isn’t, it should have been, because it has the Seventies pop-soul hooks-and-groove thang going on in spades.

This is not downloadable as far as I know, and Soundcloud stuff doesn’t hang around forever, so I’ll enjoy this until it disappears. If you appreciate the work of Moulton, Gamble and Huff, Barry White and other such luminaries, I suggest you do the same.

Now, if only I could play it in the car…

A cellarful of noise.

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What’s it like being a rock n’ roll star?

Well, I can’t tell you firsthand. But I can tell you what it’s like being a legend in one’s own basement … and tonight, I think I will.

Two years ago this week I set up my Bandcamp account as a precursor to releasing my “first solo album” — a project I’d bullshat about for years. It was a fun stretch and an interesting challenge for me, even if it didn’t do much for anybody else.

I’ve now released four EPs — each one weirder than the last — which you can read about here, here, here and here. And on the two-year anniversary of the whole trip, I thought I’d lift the curtain on Bandcamp’s stats feature and write about how my oeuvre has performed.

I know. Blogging about one’s Bandcamp page is the 21st-century equivalent of showing people slides from your vacation in Worcester. No one gives a damn about what I’m about to tell them.

Still, I think a case study of 21st-century amateur music-making might be of interest to someone out there. If you declare yourself a genius, hang out your shingle, and salt the Interwebs with a few examples of your vision, how much — or how little — can you expect to happen?

Well, about this much …

# # # # #

Plays: The 30 songs on my four EPs have racked up a total of 314 plays — not quite one every other day over the past two years.

Of those plays, 77, or 25 percent, are considered complete, which means the listener got at least 90 percent of the way through. 160 plays, or 50 percent, were partial, which means the listener got more than 10 percent of the way in but less than 90 percent.

And the remaining 77 listens are classed as skips, which means the listener failed to get 10 percent of the way into the song. (Needed more cowbell, I guess.)

Four of the 10 most-played songs came from the first EP, Summer Games, which is also the most conventional of the four.

And Number One on the Kurt Blumenau hit parade by a solid margin is “Art Thief,” the featured song from that EP.

(As for the least popular … well, there are 30 songs, but Bandcamp says only 28 of them have been played at least once. So there are two songs out there that no one’s ever dared to listen to. I think they are two songs from the most recent EP, The Midnight Loneliness of the Sunflower, which feature fire sirens overdubbed loudly over the music.)

plays# # # # #

Buzz: This is Bandcamp’s term for the number of visits to my site. And wouldn’t you know it: I’m at precisely 1,000 visits as of this writing. If I’d known I would have iced some champagne, or thrown the TV out the hotel-room window.

I suspect a vast majority of these come from ‘bots of some sort, because it’s common for me to get visits but no plays.

It always seems weird to me that a human being would navigate to a Bandcamp site and then not listen to any of the music. That’s kinda like figuring out how to get to a restaurant across town and then not going in. So, I figure something other than sentient humans accounts for most of my traffic.

A few other random tidbits about my buzz, y’all:

29 visitors came to my site from the various blog posts I’ve written about my EPs.

26 visitors found my music by searching for tags I used (things like “Allentown,” “Stamford,” “avant-garde,” “french” and “diddley bow.”)

Five visitors got there from Bandcamp’s Best Sellers feature. (As you’ll see in a moment, nothing I’ve done can be called a “best seller” in any sense of the phrase. I think the feature can be filtered to show what’s hot in the preceding day or week; and when my EPs were brand-new and had moved a copy or two, they might have qualified for such a page.)

Three visitors reached me through Bandcamp’s New Releases feature, which is kinda cool. It seems like the digital equivalent of pulling an unfamiliar but intriguing record out of the New Releases bin at a vinyl store.

– Finally, one visitor got there by searching Bandcamp for “Kurt Blumenau.” Not sure who they were, but it’s nice to know that somebody out there accepts no substitute.

Buzz# # # # #

 Sales/Downloads: Doesn’t matter how brilliant you are if you don’t move the units. Just ask Big Star, right?

Well, I’m still waiting for my first platinum record. As of tonight, I have drawn 16 downloads, of which seven were actual sales. (All four of my EPs can be downloaded for free, that being what they’re really worth.)

In the City of Churches and Cannons and Hope’s Treat sit atop the hit parade with five downloads each.

None of them are stronger in commercial appeal than the others, though: Three of my four EPs have two paid downloads each. (In last place, with only one paid download: Churches and Cannons.)

I can account for about 10 of those downloads. My dad downloads a copy of everything I do, or at least he has so far. A former college buddy accounts for one or two, and the guys in my former high school band account for three or four more.

But there are probably five or six that I have no idea where they went … which is maybe what I dig the most.

I like to think of my Bandcamp page as a modern version of throwing a bottle into the ocean for someone random to pick up.

Even if they throw it back in again, I’ve still reached them; and who knows but maybe they liked it?

sales# # # # #

Finally: The Map function on all these graphs is only for those who buy the fancy Bandcamp package, which ain’t me, so I can’t report on that.

But, you might have noticed an option called Defender on the Plays graph, maybe eight hundred words or so ago.

It is exactly what it promises: Click it, and it turns your Plays chart into a playable version of the classic video game Defender.

I might never attract much of a musical audience … but I’m getting pretty good at zapping the aliens.

defender