Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Eulogies: Best broken up bands 2006 (By Defensive Listening)


2006 was a year of surprises for me as far as local music was concerned. I've been following the local scene longer and more closely than some of the other writers on here, probably since 1995 or so, and with that kind of previous local experience comes a certain amount of baggage, both good and bad. I was probably as pessimistic as Stonedranger when I started to read this blog, maybe even more so.

I found 90's DFW to be mostly dreadful and I've witnessed a lot of inexplicable nostalgic enthusiasm for a time that's largely embarrassing when reflected upon. I definitely had more positive experiences in random little pockets of the Metroplex the first five years of this decade than at any time during the 90's, from underground venues like Rito's in Northeast Dallas, The Sanctuary downtown, Moon Tunes in South Dallas, Hidden Noise Collective in Deep Ellum, and occasionally even the Sandbar in Deep Ellum, which hosted both House (as in dance) music shows and hardcore shows and catered to the most devout followers of both.

Through my experiences in those places I realized there was a whole world mirroring Dallas that wasn't really concerned with head counts, bar sales, "Which band are you hear to see?", New Music nights, or any of the other tired trappings of the DFW club circuit. Your average show at any of these spots was much more about the performance, the idea, spontaneity, execution, improvisation, and the actual creation of something that wasn't necessarily bound by the confines of the careerist mentality that so often dictates a band or artist's behavior. As more of these venues disappeared I became less hopeful that I could find something that I could believe in as far as local music goes.

I was at an all-time low in my interest or faith in DFW music when Stonedranger asked me to write for this blog. By forcing myself to reassess the situation, I actually discovered that even though there is a lot that could be improved around here, there are flashes of hope and brilliance illuminating the bleakest spots in this flat and desperate city. Having said that, I actually want to focus on death, which is necessary in all life cycles, even local music. I want to talk about the important yet completely unheralded passings of Idi*Amin, The Undoing of David Wright, Birth To Burial, and The Blonde Girls. These bands displayed the fearless underground spirit of the venues I named and in some cases even played them. All four groups were not only great, but also represent my transition from wondering where I could find anything challenging or exciting in this city to being forced to realize that I might not have been looking hard enough. I'm glad I was forced. Here goes:

Idi*Amin:

So a music scribe (formerly of the Austin Chronicle and currently the Dallas Observer's Michael Chamy) and an artist (former Art Prostitute associate and local favorite Nevada Hill) meet and they find out they share the same interest in analog oscillators. One of them even owned a sine-wave generator. So they did what any two guys in this situation would do, they start a band. Surprisingly, they didn't find their find their musical dialogue through Beatles covers. Instead, they set out to start a "power drone" group which was nothing like most local music. The group started playing in 2005 and eventually incorporated the fleshed out lineup of guitarist Paul Overby, drummer Jared Stone, and the manic and unwieldy sax playing of the oft-employed Mike Forbes. Forbes is credited as the binding force in the band that brought all the other scattered elements together. They were eventually joined by the frighteningly talented Boyd Dixon, also of Tame, Tame and Quiet. Hill made the excellent decision to switch to guitar and his scratchy and abstractly aggressive playing shattered some of the drone-y aspects of the group. They then made a decision I'm not so sure about, turning down a show with Wolf Eyes in October of '05. Their live debut at Rubber Gloves in November '05 was just a hint at the band's most fruitful period from January to April of 2006. The playing sessions in this period were often recorded and those recordings would eventually make up the band's first and only full length B.C.E., which we glowingly reviewed last July. Idi*Amin gave a triumphant performance at the controversial Strategies Of Beauty Festival (a show bafflingly previewed in Spin Magazine). This stands as one of the group's proudest moments and you can view a video here. The demanding organic nature of building up momentum as an improvisational live group eventually clashed with the equally natural concerns of geography, marriage and family. Idi*Amin would hold itself to a standard that probably would have been to hard to meet at this point. The group came to it's logical conclusion and disbanded. It would splinter into two different groups, Musica Mandana, featuring Overby and Dixon, and Zanzibar Snails, which is Hill and Chamy. Experimental improv music will always rely on a revolving door theory when it comes to performers but this particular cast will be missed.

The Undoing Of David Wright:

If I remember correctly, I discovered this blog by searching for coverage of this band. It was a perfect marriage when Undoing was going strong and Stonedranger was coming up. What else can be said about them? They silenced their critics through sheer talent and hard work. That's quite an accomplishment when you bait a close minded North Texas audience that's more than ready to heckle you for wearing make-up and using a drum machine. Of all the bands that have had shots taken at them, there is no band of comparable stature that received so little negative anonymous commenting. It was almost a shock when you'd see one. The band oozed personality with Lars Larsen's on and offstage crowd taunting, A-Train's spidery guitar technique and the various costumes and narratives, but I've always found their secret weapon to be Shane English's bass playing. He was already gaining attention in his unadorned performances as the bassist for both Blank Blank and White Telephone. I only knew of these two bands when The Undoing Of David Wright was a last minute addition to the lineup of a show I was attending. Someone dismissed them as the guy from White Telephone's goth band and I wasn't expecting much. What I received was an assault on complacency, boredom, and all that is mundane. This band shoved itself down your throat but it wasn't in the bull-headed hardcore tradition, though they could hold their own with any hardcore band. They did it with style. They didn't just stomp all over an audience, they danced on their ashes. Nobody knows why The Undoing disbanded but it's more important to point out that they set a local example that many bands would be wise to take note of. They didn't bellyache about who was doing what for them or their scene. They made two albums (one yet to be released), two eps, went on three tours totaling close to 45 cross-country dates, and even opened a fucking venue. Maybe the next time you decide to open your mouth about why things aren't better around here, you go out and try to accomplish something instead. And if you can't do that well at least shake Aaron, Lars, or Shane's hand when you see them at a show. They played one of the most significant roles in what has made this place tolerable, and even great in recent months. Thank you.

Birth To Burial:

This band embodied a humble and unpretentious everyman aesthetic that was worlds apart from The Undoing of David Wright, though they were by no means boring and probably even shared some influences. Lead by Pat Ferguson since 2003, along with bassist and former Secret Headquarters founder Rob Black and drummer Donny Pavlasek, Birth to Burial made a solid mark locally through constantly playing out with good bands and at least one smartly booked Midwest jaunt with Record Hop. Their name could almost be a hindrance, since it was so dark sounding it almost implied they would be a splattercore band or something comparably heavy. None of these things would really matter though if it wasn't for the fact that their music was so good. Birth To Burial could never be accused of being a "style over substance" act and they obsessively honed their craft working up a repertoire of over 40 something songs in a year. And their songs had a vast range of stylistic variances, from slow crushing shoegaze territory to the tight speedy hardcore rhythms of SST's golden era. This was due to the fact that Pat and Donny were into complex rhythmic structures while Black was always more of a West Coast punk rocker, complete with a Circle Jerks tattoo. Birth To Burial was known as one of the most supportive bands around town, from Black's work with SHQ to Pat joining every band that asked him to, sometimes four projects deep. The band recorded a full length that was eventually scrapped due to some overzealous gearhead purchases that prevented them from having the money to put it out themselves, a common pitfall for bands. I thought their Color of Paint EP was the band's best achievement, a perfect little document that summed up their various musical philosophies. Even though it was the lamentably awful TJ's, their Fry Street Fair performance last year was definitely the best part of that day. Black would come and go from the band until he eventually just disappeared altogether, with little to no explanation. That kind of push and pull takes a toll on groups and eventually it became too much for Birth To Burial. Pat and Donny will still continue to play, but it will most likely be with a new member and a new name. Pat seemed worried about the pressure to continue to make quality music when he e-mailed me for this piece. If the new band is half as good as Birth To Burial was, he'll have nothing to worry about.

The Blonde Girls:

Genre defying. Time defying. Defiant period. The Blonde Girls perhaps best represent how you can avoid the bar rock/drink sale setup and still have a very meaningful existence as a band. They are the only band I've listed here that took a conscious stand to almost never bother with most of the things a band thinks it must regard as necessary evils. They weren't snobs though and they agreed to play any type of show, any genre, to any crowd, but on their terms. When they started just barely over a year ago, they set out to tour and record a 7-inch. They did both. I first discovered them through We Shot JR and was pleasantly surprised by their charmingly rough-edged recordings. The first time I saw them live they were a chaotic mess of switched around instruments, guitar noise wreckage, and shouted vocals. They would eventually grow into a more nuanced act with stretched-out instrumental passages that approached prog territory. Their jazz chord manipulation was an obvious nod to the Minutemen, as was the shouting. Most of the time the band wouldn't even sing into microphones but just shout over the din of their playing. I thought this perfectly summed up the group. You can go about things another way and still be heard. A long and ambitious East Coast tour last summer solidified the bands belief in the house show/art space booking strategy. They used other bands as examples of what not to do, such as "require guarantees and play mainly bars...it didn't work out that well for them.". The tour also divided the band along artistic lines and it would eventually be the end of them because they were ultimately more dedicated to remaining friends. Two of the members now play in Koji Kondo, and one of them is starting a hip hop project. I can't remember a time when I witnessed a local band accomplish so much in less than a year. Truly, a testament to their ethos.

16 Comments:

Blogger woyaokuang said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I dident actually think IDI* Amin actually "broke up" I thought they were just taking a break... who knows

12:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

yeah, and i thought that undoing was recording a new album right now.

12:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i saw blonde girls together just the other night

1:56 PM  
Anonymous iDi*the*elder said...

iDi*amin is currently inactive, and will be inactive for awhile, due to time/geographical constraints. That's really about all we know, honestly. DL was dead-on about everything except A.) the Wolf Eyes incident happened so early on we still had no idea what we were doing, and it would've been a bad idea and B.) that Nevada has always played guitar. He just has a mini oscillator he runs it through that sometimes is the main focus of his playing. I'd encourage anybody interested to check out the live clip. Also, we are taking any requests/(cheap)pre-orders for B.C.E. as we're at a crossroads as to whether to print up more of them or not.

Meanwhile, Nevada & I are excited about the Zanzibar Snails ... Feb. 24 at SHQ w/ the Great Tyrant. We also have an album available, Introdewcing ... the Zanzibar Snails, that we think turned out quite well. You can get it on our MySpace or at SHQ or Strawberry Fields or at House of Tinnitus shows in 07. More recordings to come as well.
- MC

1:59 PM  
Blogger Defensive Listening said...

MC,

That's why it says "switched to guitar". An earlier sentence about him using the oscillator was edited out.

2:13 PM  
Blogger creatorlars said...

undoing is officially on indefinite, possibly permanent hiatus (effectively since November.) we finished recording our second full-length in August and are undecided on means of release (although you WILL see it somewhere in 2007.) the album is very annoying, etc. and half of it is badly acted radio dramas. the guys and i still owe a portion of the money for recording costs and as soon as we pay it off, we'll announce plans for release. considering we have no plans to begin playing out again, any of the labels we were talking to (mostly on the west coast) probably will not be interested -- which blows. if nothing else, you'll see a web-presentation/internet only FOR FREE release.

our activities are not dead, though. you all know about chief death rage, i am involved in two secret projects right now -- and shane's involved in an electronic music project with another guy as well. i'm drawing up plans to start a record label/brand for internet-only releases of weird-ass music.

thanks to anyone who gave me amused open mouthed smiles while i was making scary (but not really) faces at you from the stage. and thanks for the write-up, dl. at least we can say we started out with a concept we knew would be severely misunderstood at first -- and surprisingly came to see it understood and appreciated in the end after all.

cheers,
lars larsen

2:14 PM  
Anonymous m samantha m said...

dl,
great approach and write up.

3:09 PM  
Anonymous mc said...

DL ... no problem. I'm actually jealous that you have such a cool editor anyways. It's not an easy job. You would never believe some of my "before" and "after"s over the years .... when I worked in-house I would change stuff back to what I originally wrote before it hit the presses. Whoops.

3:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what does "very annoying, etc." mean

3:51 PM  
Blogger creatorlars said...

very annoying means very awesome, it's a matter of perspective.

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

kids.

6:53 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

MC-
You write stories about shows your band plays at, then bitch about your editor?

7:38 PM  
Anonymous mc said...

Actually I wrote up a show my band played at one (1) time. I felt pretty strongly about the show and didn't feel it warranted getting ignored by the Observer just because one of my bands played a set.

And, actually, I was bitching about my old editor in another town. Mostly I was making the point that editing is hard, so we should forgive stonedranger for any minor sins along those lines.

7:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh really? should we then??
did'nt curtis break up? golly gee.

7:56 PM  
Blogger Defensive Listening said...

I actually edited the line out myself.

11:29 PM  

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