Best NEWS: In Searching For The Perfect Rape Case, Rolling Stone May Have Revealed The Truth About Sexual Assault Survivors

In Searching For The Perfect Rape Case, Rolling Stone May Have Revealed The Truth About Sexual Assault Survivors

Last November, Rolling Stone published a now-redacted story by award-winning journalist Sabrina Rubin Erdely that quickly went viral. Titled “A Rape On Campus,” the article followed a University of Virginia student named “Jackie,” who alleged she was raped by a group of men during a fraternity party in the fall of 2012. Before long, however,… Read more »
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Itasca: Unmoored by the Wind

“Aloneness is a state of being,” Townes Van Zandt once observed, “Whereas loneliness is a state of feeling.” On Unmoored by the Wind, Kayla Cohen, a.k.a. Itasca, spends much of her time navigating between those two states. Her folk-derived style is one that seems necessarily borne from many hours spent in solitude and quiet contemplation. And though this solitude has clearly given Cohen the space to perfect her instrumental craft and to revel in the rhythms of the natural world, there is also a subtle tug of melancholy coursing through many of these songs that speaks to a sense of displacement and a yearning for community or connection.

Unmoored by the Wind is Cohen’s second album proper under the Itasca name, following a string of CD-R and cassette releases, including several mystic drone and experimental works that she recorded under the name Sultan. On this album her work can be classified as a much more straightforward form of homespun folk. Cohen’s delicate and expert fingerpicking places her work somewhere in the area of American Primitive, a genre that can always stand to benefit from additional female performers. But on Unmoored by the Wind, her vocals are an even bigger draw. She has a voice that is at once striking and vaguely familiar, the type of voice that will send folk-nerds to rack their memories to decide which other obscure or semi-obscure singer she most resembles. (I’m going with Bridget St. John and/or Sibylle Baier for now.)

Recorded at her home in Los Angeles, the album features the occasional flutter of flute or overdubbed vocal, but is otherwise built almost exclusively on Cohen’s voice and acoustic guitar. She does a fine job of balancing the album’s lyric and instrumental passages, and constructs her songs with enough textural variety and narrative energy that the album’s momentum never flags despite the simplicity of its production. Aside from such baroque interludes as “Colt in Hiding”, which features multi-tracked layers of angelic vocals, the album’s overall tone is one of conversational intimacy, and it is not difficult for listeners to feel as if we’ve been invited to pull up a chair right there in the room with her, with the shades partially drawn.

This never feels more literally true than on the prayer-like “After Dawn”, which finds the singer sitting quietly by her window watching as the sunlight changes and people flow past. It’s as though she is viewing the world and its human activities from a distant remove, a meditative sort of self-imposed seclusion that is further echoed on such tracks as the pastoral “The Hermit’s View” or the dreamy instrumental idyll of “Walking in Hahamongna”.

Elsewhere, however, this sense of isolation from the world grows a bit more pronounced. On the narcotic “Dream of the Water Bearer”, the song’s narrator, beset by mysterious dream figures, helplessly waves her hands in the air “just to see if I could change the picture.” Similar dream figures appear in “Nature’s Gift”, images that “seem as if I’ve called them here” although she is unable to determine how “these angels can help me out.”

When the dreamy cobwebs clear away, as on the wake-up call “Alleyway” (“I walk out my door to find the world same as it was before”) and especially on the radiant “Congregation”, Cohen writes personal pep-talks with the lucidity and clarity of a self-help manual, variously singing “I’ve got to change my ways” or “I’ve got to find my hopeful place to rest” like she is writing lines in a private journal. This feeling that we, as listeners, have been granted access into Itasca’s private inner sanctum is what helps give Unmoored by the Wind its quiet gravity, and her ample instrumental skills and deft songcraft make this invitation well worth your while. 

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Various Artists: The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records, Volume Two (1928-1932)

Money, you might have noticed, is on the mind of many musicians. As music consumption continues to shift toward digital methods of distribution, from illegal downloads that pay the artist nothing to authorized streams that pay very little, some makers are wondering just how they’ll continue to make. If the consumer isn’t willing to foot the bill by paying, how can the product exist?

Though the circumstances have changed in most every respect during the 80 years since the Paramount Records empire crumbled, this core question hasn’t: How do you keep putting music out when you’re no longer pulling money in? The success of Paramount Records, a loss-leader meant to move the music-playing furniture made by the Wisconsin Chair Company as World War I came to a close, was a surprise for the business’ leaders. The shoddily recorded and haphazardly manufactured shellac discs became a rather big boon as the ’20s roared. Hired in 1923, J. Mayo Williams, an ambitious talent scout who had headed north from Arkansas, led the pivotal Paramount charge. He assembled and managed a roster of uncontested originals, from Blind Lemon Jefferson and Ma Rainey to Blind Blake and Jelly Roll Morton. But in 1927, Williams left the label following a series of injuries and insults from the company’s white owners and officers. That’s where the first volume of The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records—a massive two-set collaboration between Jack White’s Third Man, John Fahey’s revived Revenant and a fleet of researchers, writers, graphic designers, fabricators, builders, archivists, printers and collectors—closes.

Williams’ departure, though, isn’t the end of Paramount’s rise, even if it might denote the start of the fall. The second volume of The Rise & Fall is instead a catalogue brimming with genius, no matter that the label’s scouts in fields and offices alike didn’t carry the same historical clout as Williams. Charley Patton and Son House, Lottie Kimbrough and Dock Boggs, Geeshie Wiley and Skip James, Thomas Dorsey and Emry Arthur: Those are only some of the names that arrive for this set, which stretches from 1928 until the label’s unceremonious end in the wake of the Great Depression in 1932. That’s when the money ran out for music.

The talent had not stopped shipping into Grafton’s record-pressing plant during that time of widespread financial woe. In fact, the 800 remastered tracks offered in Volume Two document the roots of gospel and swing and the intensification of blues and jazz through the efforts of some of American music’s formative musical minds. You can hear the earliest echoes of bluegrass, which would be born a dozen years after Paramount closed, and antediluvian traces of rock’n’roll, hot on its heels with added electricity.

The funds, however, just weren’t what they used to be. “Despite many of the great talents he helps bring to Grafton, you can’t sell the records if no one has money to buy them,” writes Scott Blackwood of the pale, bespectacled and pivotal Paramount recruiter Art Laibly. “Likely, out on the road or riding the rails across the South, Art Laibly’s anxieties about the future would sometimes get the best of him. The Crash. The poor getting poorer. A part of him knowing the days of the Race Records business were numbered.” At least they kept it going long enough to firm up the foundation for their rather young country’s recording pedigree.

You can examine that foundation for yourself on Volume Two. You can ponder the existential strangeness of Patton’s still-singular approach to the blues and his divisive belief in both religion and the bottle. (His “Prayer of Death” tunes as Elder J.J. Hadley are essential.) You can sway to the woozy, wobbly string-band fare of the Mississippi Sheiks. You can nod and shake to the delirious a cappella spirituals of the Famous Blue Jay Singers of Birmingham, particularly the delirious and pulsing “Clanka-A-Lanka (Sleep on Mother)”. Skip James’ inescapable “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues” is here, as are two versions of Dock Boggs’ “Will Sweethearts Know Each Other” and Geeshie Wiley’s continually magnetic and tragic “Last Kind Words Blues”. Had the unlikely and uncanny venture of Paramount never thrived, and had these songs never been captured, it’s easy to imagine the next several decades of music taking very different turns.

Not everything here changed the world, of course, and some of Paramount’s hidden gems arrive through its most obscure oddities. Brother Fullbosom’s “A Sermon on a Silver Dollar” is a racially and religiously irreverent faux sermon on the power of that most almighty ducat. “Wicked Treatin’ Blues”, a duet for despondent harmonica and vocals that seem delivered from a deathbed, hypnotizes with sadness. George Hamilton’s “Chimes Blues” offers a delightful piano jaunt. Ollie Hess’ parlor-ready “Mammy’s Lullaby” combines arching, urbane vocals and simply picked guitar—country, meet cosmopolitan. Two of the best and most truly haunting songs in the entire Paramount oeuvre belong to Rube Lacy, a little-known blues moaner who only recorded these two cuts as far as anyone can tell. In its waning days, without Williams in command, Paramount was grasping for anything to sell. Many of these didn’t do that, but thanks to Paramount for thinking they might—they are wonderful, ponderous relics. The worst that can be said about any of these songs is that they’re simply curious; the best is that they’re landmarks.

The first volume of The Rise & Fall came housed in an impressive chestnut box, lined with green felt and accessorized with metallic emblems. Its six LPs lived in a wooden record book, and the marbled brown vinyl looked as though it had been cut from the cross-section of some grand old oak. An accompanying USB drive—a “Jobber-Luxe”, Third Man likes to call it—contained the central trove of songs and graphics in a tarnished brass device that seemed pulled from a steampunk’s wildest pipe dream. Both the design and the text were nominated for Grammys in early December, and deservedly so.

You can expect much the same for Volume Two, which steps into the machine age through an aluminum replication of RCA Victor’s beautiful Special Model K portable record player. When the outside latches are unlocked, sets of rivets on either half unscrew to reveal the contents—on one side, a packet of promotional Paramount reproductions and six alabaster white records that sparkle with holograms when lit; on the other, two dense books that detail what’s known about all the musicians involved on these tracks and Blackwood’s romantic history of the second Paramount era. A second USB drive sits lodged in this volume’s navy blue felt. It’s the Paramount eagle, wings up and cast in bright aluminum. The Streamline Moderne approach intends to pull the music from a past of rural antiquity and toward urban modernity. “The machine was the source of America’s might and standing in the world,” Blackwood told Wired in October, “our capacity as an industrial power that connected the vast plains of our country.”

Still, it’s hard to see these sets as more than museum pieces, or, at best, fetishist collector items that lock vital research, history, and context away in a private vault with actual latches. Taken together, volumes one and two of The Rise & Fall of Paramount Records are mighty resources for understanding how the near-century of music that has followed first moved. But it’s a shame that such indispensable history remains so relatively unobtainable. Issued in editions of 5,000, these bulky boxes cost $400 each; tellingly, the first volume is still available through Third Man, more than a year after its release.

The price, believe it or not, is worth it. Given the work that went into each package, it’s hard to imagine that White is building his own private railroad with the profits. The treasures in the sets are staggering and sprawling, capable of inducing laughter, heartache, belief, and disbelief. There is bedrock and bedlam alike. But as Blackwood himself writes of a different but not entirely separate era, “You can’t sell the records if no one has money to buy them.” It’s hard to believe that most people have an extra mortgage payment sitting around for this history lesson, however great it may be.

And that’s a shame, because this music still moves. Not only do many of these songs maintain a vibrancy and a spirit that function even now, but they’re part of a still-incomplete story. Paramount was infamously terrible at record-keeping and accounting, so researchers like archivist Alex van der Tuuk are still finding facts and chasing myths to build a more complete label history. “Sun to Sun”, a steady-swerving Blind Blake tune recorded in November 1931, hadn’t been heard by modern ears until a copy was found in a steamer trunk in Raleigh, North Carolina, by the collector Marshall Wyatt in 2007. And Willie Brown, who contributes some of the best blues guitar to either set, remains something of a ghost, despite his relationships with the more famous House and Patton. “No conclusive evidence has been found to prove that this is indeed the real Willie Brown,” van der Tuuk writes of Brown’s believed burial site.

Such mysteries sit close to the core of Pitchfork contributor Amanda Petrusich’s 2014 book, Do Not Sell at Any Price. “There is even a vague fear that rare-record collecting could one day become analogous to fine-art collecting,” Petrusich writes early in her book, “the obligation of wealthy aristocrats whose consumption of art is more a statement of status than a function of love or even understanding.” It’s unfortunate, then, that in an age of infinite digital replication, where media need not be scarce, these archival releases have intentionally realized those fears by turning this music into artifacts for only those who can afford it. The new Jobber-Luxe contains an application that plays all of these tracks in specific orders or at random. If these boxes ever sell out, let’s hope Third Man considers its money made and puts that player online, so that more listeners can know exactly where they came from.

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Primordial: Where Greater Men Have Fallen

After two decades as a band, Primordial can be excused for taking their time to sprint. On each of their last two records, the Irish metal stalwarts lurched into motion, as though priming the engine of some great old machine. To the Nameless Dead, from 2007, reached its racing, blackened beat after a distended prelude of electric guitar haze. Four years later, Redemption at the Puritan’s Hand wove through militaristic field recordings, meandering acoustic guitar, and galloping war drums for two minutes before ripping into its melee.

The time for hesitation, however, has ostensibly passed. Where Greater Men Have Fallen, the band’s excellent eighth album, begins with a very big boom. The drums open with a heavy hit, followed by a jagged-edged riff and a countering lead that’s pulled as taut as a high wire. And when frontman Alan Averill, or A.A. Nemtheanga, screams “Go,” the beat only intensifies, with the guitars flexing extra muscle, too. In the time it’s recently taken Primordial to get into a song, Averill—one of the most captivating bandleaders in metal—is already screaming tales of pillaging armies, buried children, and massed graves. For a band that’s always paid so much attention to the end of empires and lives, the pressure of their own creeping morality seems to have induced added urgency.

Primordial have already flirted with their own demise: In 2010, after an onstage meltdown in Greece, Averill publicly apologized for the actions of drummer Simon O’Laoghaire and admitted that Primordial sought an immediate replacement. “Over the last 10 years, we have had many problems with Simon’s alcohol and substance problems,” he wrote. “We have tried many, many times to help him out, but on Saturday things reached a new low.” But the quintet persevered and summarily recorded the death-conquering record Redemption.

The survivor symptoms seem more prominent, however, on Where Greater Men Have Fallen, an eight-song set that finds Primordial more focused—but just as fierce—as ever. Primordial’s discography is a stylistic field trip. They have ventured between straight black metal homage and heavy metal heroics, but they have specialized in a mix of the two, laced with idyll accents, acoustic instruments, and the recognizable melodies of Celtic folk. There’s neither space nor time for that here. “The Seed of Tyrants” heads straight into a black metal ascent, the band easing the tension between the rhythm and riff only to pull it tight again. The song ends much where it starts, redirecting only for a brief mid-tempo midsection that serves to emphasize the ferric strength of its furious conclusion. “Babel’s Tower” locks quickly into a lumbering doom groove. Averill uses the pulpit to croon and cry his prophecy of the world’s end. At various points, the song jumps into double-time and half-time, but both instances swivel around the same languid riff-and-rhythm pair. Compared to Primordial’s past successes, the stripped-and-centered approach might seem simplistic, but the hour-long result is more immediate because of it. From beginning to end, Fallen feels like a compulsory listen.

Late-album highlight “Born to Night” does make time for a long and gentle introduction, but the magnetic tune that eventually emerges bears the theatrics of Iron Maiden and the twisting maneuvers of Confessor. What’s more, every turn of Averill’s voice here feels like a plea from some hardened soul singer, begging you to follow him into his battle. That’s an essential element of Fallen’s appeal; though Averill has been one of the most capable singers in metal for two decades, he has tapped into a new potency, delivering these tales of loss in search of redemption like Mahalia Jackson looking for her Lord. It’s surprising that, a quarter-century into Primordial, Averill is now perhaps better than ever. His performance during “Come the Flood”, for instance, is electrifying. He leaps between falsetto crests and bellowed lows during the first verse, broods and commands through the chorus, and vamps with gusto in the turnarounds like he’s the son of Robert Plant. On these eight tracks, Averill is in total control and absolutely thrilling for it. 

But none of this is to say that, just because Primordial omitted some acoustic accessories and upped the rock spectacles, they’ve turned away from their Irish pedigree, always such an essential part of the music they’ve made. Rather, the opening title track swivels around a chorus to which you might lift a pint in a pub, its sing-along swagger reinforced by shouted harmonies and guitars that aim upward. More important, though, is the way Averill questions his nationality, pride, and sense of belonging in these lyrics. There is an incensed resignation at work here, a feeling that Ireland is only another territory that forsook some of its own early virtues. “This dreadful history we have sired,” Averill offers, “is the black, bleached future that you have desired.” That suspicion exists outside of Ireland, of course, and resonates across the Atlantic right now in particularly shameful ways. It’s the right time for Primordial to push pause on their nationalist isolation—not only for their respective age, but also for our collective one.

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Merzbow / Full of Hell: Full of Hell & Merzbow

It’s strange to think that the collaboration between Maryland grindcore band Full of Hell and Japanese noise legend Merzbow had its roots in a t-shirt. In the design, Full of Hell appropriated the album art of Merzbow’s 1996 album Pulse Demon, a pulsing visual that works as a testament to the hypnotic waves of that collection. Depending on your opinion of Full of Hell, you’d either call it a tribute or a ripoff. Either way, rarely do shirts lead to actual collaboration, something that came about here when the band met Balázs Pándi—who’s served as Merzbow’s drummer as of late—while on tour in Europe.

Combining noise and metal is a worthwhile pursuit, with groups like Portland’s Knelt Rote and Toronto’s Column of Heaven synthesizing noise’s freer destruction with metal’s more structured attack. In fact, both genres seems to be reversing roles—many of the more critically acclaimed noise records, like Wolf Eyes’ 2004 breakout Burned Mind and Pharmakon’s Bestial Burden, are praised for incorporating structure, while the more extreme ends of black and death metal are rapidly becoming looser and more feral. (Impetuous Ritual’s Unholy Congregation Of Hypocritical Ambivalence, from earlier in the year, is a prime example.) Merzbow is no stranger to metal, having released several albums with Boris, contributed to two songs on Sunn O)))’s Flight of the Behemoth, and has cited death metal as influence on 1994’s Venereology, released through the since-shuttered Relapse sub-label Release Entertainment. This collaboration, however, is frustrating because it falls short of its goals, in part due to Merzbow’s too-reduced role and that Full of Hell don’t make up for the missing space.

“Burst Synapse” begins with a quick rush of powerviolence, an even quicker patch of Merzbow’s static, then continues to be dominated by Full of Hell’s rote playing. “Gordian Knot” and “Humming Miter” offend more in this matter, where Merzbow feels squandered. He doesn’t get to show any of his strengths. Full of Hell are one of those bands that can get people moshing in clubs, but can’t capture that intensity in the studio, and it’s more than obvious here. Merzbow isn’t quite able to bolster their riffs, unlike in Rock Dream, where he helps make Boris’ riffs grand and ecstatic. For his reputation as the antithesis of music, Merzbow has a strong command of rhythm, and if Full of Hell are gonna use Demon‘s art to gas up their van, they should have embraced that record’s dynamics, not simply its textures.

Some potential arises toward the album’s conclusion, where Merzbow begins to sync with Full of Hell. The blastbeats of “Mute” feel more unhinged thanks to his noise, for once, overcoming the guitar. “High Fells” sees Full of Hell dooming out, and in the process, giving Merzbow more room to cast a wide shadow. There’s even saxophone on here, and in closer “Fawn Heads and Unjoy”, which is not only a nod to Merzbow’s love of free jazz, but also lends unpredictability. Full of Hell restrain themselves even more on “Ludjet Av Gud”, dominated by booming floor toms and drifting noise undercurrents. (Some editions of the album come with Sister Fawn, a bonus disc of outtakes. They’re long jams of noise and drums, and even if they don’t form a cohesive whole, they’re a much more satisfying listen than the actual record.)

In the end here, Merzbow feels more like a over-hyped, under-trotted guest. It doesn’t even have the muster to serve as a compelling entryway for hardcore kids to get into noise. (As great as Demon and Venereology are, they may be a bit overwhelming for novices; Merzbow’s collaborations with Boris would be smoother introductions.) In an interview with the Quietus last year, Merzbow mentioned a forthcoming, more grindcore-oriented record called Merzgrind. Maybe there, we’ll find the emancipating fury that’s lacking in this Full of Hell collaboration.

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Frank & Tony: You Go Girl

Frank & Tony is a collaboration between two Brooklyn-based dance music veterans, Francis Harris and Anthony Collins. If the name brings to mind one of those innumerable East Coast production duos who vacillated between house and R&B in the early ’90s, that’s probably not an accident: Harris and Collins have, over the course of several EPs, pursued the contemplative and melancholic deep house sound developed in New York and New Jersey. It’s the type of music that inevitably gets described as “sumptuous”; a sound that, with its relaxed tempos and smoky hues, has proven itself equally at home on dance floors and in living rooms.

Harris and Collins both have long histories churning out high energy singles for DJs, but it’s Harris whose solo work has recently taken a turn toward outre composition and lush textures. This year’s well-received Minutes of Sleep was an experiment almost completely untethered from the dance floor, an album whose exceptional clarity allowed Harris and listeners to swim amongst its rich detail. It’s easy to see Harris’ hand in You Go Girl, Frank & Tony’s first album, an album that is far more concerned with the sound of house music than its function.

Though the album’s sound is indebted to those deep house classics, it doesn’t share their cultural impact. Those records, crucial in helping carve out spaces for gay and transgender communities, had a socio-political purpose that You Go Girl can’t; instead, the record plays as an exquisite display of deep house’s sound palette, a record on which every sound and gesture is imbued with elegance and purpose.

There’s a moment in the middle of “Call Me Rain” that will be familiar to anyone who’s listened to house music before: a heavy, trudging bass drum is reintroduced after a short passage of heavily-effected electric piano. A few bars latter, a tittering hi-hat and then a clap on the second and fourth beat, splashing down like a boot into a puddle. There is no novelty here; every one of these elements is commonplace, including the structure of the track. What feels unique about Frank & Tony, however, is that these elements aren’t aligned like this to aid a DJ in mixing a track, but rather because this is the ideal presentation for better appreciating these sounds: the cavity the kick drum carves out each time it booms, the crisp landing of the clap, the glittering tinsel of the hi-hats.

You Go Girl is an appreciation and a study of sound. The sounds it wants to study happen to be best observed in a 120 bpm deep house track. It’s in this way that Harris and Collins owe a debt to artists like Matthew Herbert and Terre Thaemlitz (especially her work as DJ Sprinkles), artists with avant-garde roots who have often chosen to contrast their more experimental and sound design impulses with the conventions of house music. (Indeed, the duo collaborated with Thaemlitz for a track on one of three 12”s that accompanies the release of You Go Girl.)

You Go Girl offers a similar richness of detail, its slack tempos gently guiding listeners. They mostly stick to the script: brisk drum, hazy keyboards, a nod-able bassline. Tracks such as “After Days” and “Faded (Dub)” construct noir-ish atmospheres, imagining a world in which grim detectives nod along on dusky dancefloors. A handful of vocal collaborations—a moody and sour Gry Bagøien on “Bring the Sun”, a cryptic Jason Poranski on “Resistance”—offer crucial variety.

You Go Girl is a conservative album in every way, asking very little of listeners: if you choose not to stare at the macro details of a bass drum, You Go Girl will fade pleasantly into the background. It doesn’t have the scope or ambition of Thaemlitz’s monumental Midtown 120 Blues, a clear influence. Its instincts are construction, not destruction. The album at times seems like a coloring book in which someone has exclusively drawn inside the lines, but with extreme precision. There’s value in that: these are pretty pictures with a lot of detail, and the care and attention with which they were produced shouldn’t be confused for a lack of passion.

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