WOWEE ZOWEE (34)

By: Brian Berger
August 22, 2018

One in a series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the subject of our favorite albums of the Nineties (1994–2003). A new installment in this series will appear each Wednesday during 2018.

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THE TIRED SOUNDS OF STARS OF THE LID | STARS OF THE LID | 2001

By the spring of 1997, rock and I were done. I studied ancient Greek and memorized passages of King Lear and The Cantos. I lived in Austin and worked in the classical department of Tower Records. I’d bought a banjo. I didn’t go techno, like some friends did. Sun Ra plays Moog for me. As for “post-rock,” I left before it arrived. When I first saw Jim O’Rourke at an experimental music fest in Atlanta 1994, he played tabletop guitar with a handheld fan. I knew Pharaoh Sanders too well — “Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah-Hum-Allah” — to be amused. AMM with Keith Rowe were incredible but that’s jazz, kinda; Keiji Haino guitar, voice and cane, Japanese blues. Revived Kraut-rockers Faust weren’t just bad but banal, nude “performance art” with chainsaw. The Freaknik street theater nearby destroyed them. Goethe would say so too.

And so, non-rock, please! I’d dabbled before. A guy named Conrad Conrad wrote an avant-classical column for Forced Exposure but the records were hard to find. Frank Zappa’s Freak Out list was more graspable, and then I dug in: I love Schubert, Delius, Bruckner, Mahler, Scriabin, Ives, Nielsen, Bartok, Messiaen. Ezra Pound knew Arnold Dolmetsch, Olga Rudge studied Vivaldi. In German “alte” means old. I love Rachmaninoff. My friend Greg is a Lucia Popp fiend and a pianist asked me out to the opera, The Ballad of Baby Doe. She played me Shostakovich afterwards, Keith Jarrett’s set of the Op. 87 preludes and fugues, which she revered.

One night a woman comes up, she doesn’t know the composer but can hum the tune, it was in a movie, mom’s favorite. Hmmmmm… Schubert piano trio No. 2? Yes! (Barry Lyndon.) I learned she’d studied Latin, was native Austinite, and with a dude in Stars of the Lid. I didn’t know them. We exchanged numbers, left messages, vanished like Ovid in exile. I sold my banjo and moved to Kansas to again study Greek.

It’s summer 2002 and I’m back in New York. I still don’t rock but sometimes I loll a little. At Kim’s Underground on St Mark’s, I see a new Mudhoney album, Since We Became Translucent, zero nostalgia but it looks swell, and also this, a triple-album by Stars of the Lid. That’s what the Latin gal said! No idea what they sound like but with a suite titled “Austin Texas Mental Hospital” I’m sold. Washington Phillips reference? Roky Erickson?

It doesn’t matter what else I thought or might have expected because it wasn’t that at all. Yet while listening, everything, somehow, was there, even with no drums, no words, just a few snippets of voices, and song — composition? — titles that often mislead. There are guitars, lots probably, but they’re so treated, layered, and augmented, it’s tough to say precisely what’s happening: ambient, symphonic, consolation, catharsis. Sunbaked limestone, geologic time, there’s no stoppin’ the cretaceous from hoppin’. Langsam. Gavin Bryars Vita Nova, a line from late Pound: “Yellow iris in that river bed.”

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WOWEE ZOWEE: Stephanie Burt on UNISEX | Anindita Basu Sempere on UNDER THE PINK | Mark Kingwell on DUMMY | Bill Nericcio on AMOR PROHIBIDO | Sherri Wasserman on HIPS AND MAKERS | Mimi Lipson on THANK YOU | John Overholt on BEN FOLDS FIVE | Jordan Ellenberg on GET LOST | Chelsey Johnson on PERSONAL BEST | Marilyn Snell on MAXINQUAYE | Dan Fox on DIFFERENT CLASS | Devin McKinney on IF YOU’RE FEELING SINISTER | Alice Boone on MTV UNPLUGGED (ALICE IN CHAINS) | Rob Wringham on SPICE | Joe Alterio on BEATS, RHYMES AND LIFE | Jason Loeffler on SECOND TOUGHEST IN THE INFANTS | Rick Pinchera on EITHER/OR | Josh Glenn on THE LONESOME CROWDED WEST | Jennifer Krasinski on SUPA DUPA FLY | Sara Ryan on DIG ME OUT | Luc Sante on MEZZANINE | Molly Wright Steenson on I CAN HEAR THE HEART BEATING AS ONE | Franklin Bruno on ENGLAND MADE ME | Michael Campochiaro on IS THIS DESIRE? | Adrienne Crew on CALIFORNICATION | Drew Daniel on I SEE A DARKNESS | Veda Hille on THE SOFT BULLETIN | Vanessa Berry on TEENAGE SNUFF FILM | Tom Kipp on GET SKINTIGHT | David Hirmes on DOPETHRONE | John Hilgart on YORK BLVD. | Deborah Wassertzug on JOURNEY TO THE END OF THE NIGHT | Adam McGovern on INVINCIBLE SUMMER | Brian Berger on TIRED SOUNDS OF… | Michael Grasso on MUSIC HAS THE RIGHT TO CHILDREN | Jen Collins on HURRAH | Flourish Klink on THE TEACHES OF PEACHES | Judith Zissman on TALLAHASSEE | Lauren Oliver on SOUND-DUST | Jason Cohen on IS THIS IT | Matthew De Abaitua on THE RAINBOW CHILDREN | Jenny Davidson on TIME (THE REVELATOR) | Crystal Durant on LIVE THROUGH THIS | Gordon Dahlquist on GARBAGE | Erin M. Routson on WASHING MACHINE | Carl Wilson on TEMPTING | Jessamyn West on ALL HAIL WEST TEXAS | Kaleb Horton on STREETCORE | Tom Nealon on BAZOOKA TOOTH | Erik Davis on DOPESMOKER | David Levine on FEVER TO TELL | Deb Chachra on MASS ROMANTIC.

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Categories

Enthusiasms, Pop Music

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