Tag Archives: ithaca

[Review: Afghanistan, ‘And Bide Your Time’]

When it comes to artistic expression, Ithaca’s Keir Neuringer is not limited to a single mode or medium. A quick online survey of the multi-instrumentalist’s offerings reveals him to be equally comfortable in the worlds of free jazz–as an Ayler-inspired alto sax player–or in the world of twisted experimental folk– as a searing, fiery protest singer–and many worlds in between.

Throw on top of this his excursions into agitprop video production and you get an artist that is bursting at the seams to express all sorts of interesting (and politically charged) ideas and always in an unpredictable manner. In other words, the guy can do it all and on his latest offering as Afghanistan with And Bide Your Time he in fact does do it all. All five tracks were recorded in single live takes, no overdubs, with Neuringer, like an electrified troubadour, singing, playing farfisa organ, and drumming. All at the same time (see the below video).

[vimeo:http://vimeo.com/31447661%5D

It’s interesting to ponder Neuringer’s stylistic choice on And Bide Your Time. As an artist he is clearly comfortable communicating in various forms, and as a musician he has a number of options he can choose from when deciding how to convey an idea. It is thus thought provoking that the Afghanistan project is draped in a carnevelisque gypsy-folk sound almost akin to Man Man (but with less emphasis on baroquish funk and more on straight-ahead topical protest). Despite the topicality of his rage-filled lyrics, however, the musical atmosphere created by Neuringer–despite the few instruments at his disposal–reaches a surreal pitch. So much so that the combination of wavy farfisa and foot-stomping percussion calls to mind the memorable scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas where Depp and Del Toro struggle to escape from the absurdly horrifying Bazokoo Circus casino while loaded on all sorts of hallucinogens. At no time, however, does Neuringer’s music induce any sort of escapist mindset for the listener. This is not music designed to entertain or entrance you, but rather to confront you. His politically charged lyrics establish a commentary on the gruesome and grotesque nature of the world, bringing us closer to what is nothing more than a spectacle on television screens to most of us. The musical accompaniment he has crafted around those lyrics creates a cynical and satirical soundtrack for our ringleaders as they compel lions to jump through hoops and elephants to balance on balls.

Neuringer, however, does not only point his antipathy at the powers that be. His lyrics also serve as a mirror for his listeners and for those who share his political consciousness. In “Rocket Ships,” Neuringer laments, “You write letters but it’s not enough/So your march and protest and that other stuff/Yeah you get going when the going gets tough/And all that other stuff.” This feeling of futility that most who have strived to change the world inevitably feel at some time or another is dark stuff and, as with all the subject matter of his work, Neuringer confronts it head on, refusing to shy away.

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Review by Cameron Alexander


 


[Review: Paper Armies/Desert of Hiatus Split]

Ithaca’s known for its dazzling natural scenery (‘Ithaca is Gorges’—I’m sure you’ve seen the T-shirts). Musician Jason Calhoun mans the reins as Ithaca’s Paper Armies, an ambient post-rock act that distills Ithaca’s gorgeous landscapes into palatable bursts of emotion. He’s a master mixologist, using only piano, guitar, and vocals to blend the aesthetic beauty of a foggy forest with dulcet compositions.

Take “Trying to Let Go,” the scratchy opener from Paper Armies’ latest release, a split with Portland’s Desert of Hiatus. Beginning with some pins-and-needles distortion, “Trying to Let Go” eventually settles into a full-blown dream. A thick fog envelops the track at its halfway point and doesn’t subside until the end. Again, a perfect mingling of mental sight and sound.

Calhoun’s had some practice with his art, creating music under the Paper Armies name since late 2009. He released the first Paper Armies album in summer 2010 and made it available for free download on his Bandcamp page. This new split release with Desert of Hiatus features more of what’s made Paper Armies unique—the jagged twang of post-rock influence to mostly ambient sounds.

“Palm Tree” could be a cousin of Sigur Rós’ “Njósnavélin” (a.k.a. “The Nothing Song”) with its underwater miasma coated by a glaze of saw-toothed fuzz. Calhoun’s voice is in there somewhere, but you can’t tell exactly where. Those smoggy moans could be real words or meaningless vowel sounds. But it doesn’t matter; it’s all about quiet intensity. The meaning is there. You might just have to inject it yourself.

It seems strange to say there’s an instrumental interlude on an already instrumental collection of songs, but there is. The minute-and-a-half “Heretic” lacks the billowing unfurl of its companion tracks, opting for a steady stream of breathy tones instead. They rise and fall like waves on a pale beach of noise before simply quieting down for good. It’s a great approach, a brief pause between two pairs of controlled sound-spill.

Five songs, nearly twenty minutes and lots of space to connect the dots. That’s Ithaca’s Paper Armies: pure dream music. The yearning feeling that comes from stargazing. Maybe even the stuff that plays inside the womb for all we know. Whatever it is, it’s special and it’s unforgettable.

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Review by Patrick Hosken