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“I think — no, I’m sure — Coast to Coast wouldn’t work with a daytime audience.”

Art Bell died in his Pahrump home in the Nevada desert on Friday, April 13. No doubt, someone somewhere is already prepping to dispute the information provided by his pending autoposy, to allege that perhaps the “facts” should be questioned. Maybe something else has transpired. Incredulously, they will construct an alternate timeline and ask, “But what about [blank?]” As it should be.

Bell got his start as a rock deejay, but transitioned into talk radio in the late ’70s. Talking about politics bored him, and he shifted discussion on his West Coast AM program to conspiracy theory. Renaming the show Coast to Coast AM in 1988, he found his calling, talking about the paranormal with listeners late at night. Whether you were a hardcore believer, a permissive skeptic, just there for kicks, or a combination of them all (as I find myself), Bell provided a singular radio experience. It wasn’t about truly interrogative interviews — Bell was happy to let a lot of suspect info slide right on by — it was about his unparalleled mastery of atmosphere. Listeners tuned into C2C and its spinoff Dreamland for the far-out conversations about aliens, shadow people, other dimensions, Area 51, Roswell, shadowy government agencies, and Mel’s Hole, as well as interviews with free-thinking luminaries like Robert Anton Wilson and Terrence McKenna, and rants from deeply problematic folks like David Icke. But just as much, they tuned in for Bell himself and the curious radio theater he constructed, the way he made curiosity a virtue, made strange things seem possible, or perhaps even plausible. They came for hidden truths, but stayed, I suspect, because Bell created something remarkable through his innovative use of silence, AM’s soft fuzz, and haunting music.

Bell continued hosting Coast to Coast until 2003, when he moved to weekend hosting gigs, which he continued until 2007, when he moved into occasional guest host spots. He formed two other short-lived shows: the evocatively named Midnight in the Desert and Dark Matter, both of which captured some elements of the classic show, but were beset by problems, including Bell’s assertion that someone — perhaps something — was targeting him.

“I love all-night, and I would never leave it,” Bell told Larry King in 1999. “I think there’s something special about the night and nighttime people.”  words / j woodbury 

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At the conclusion of the majestic Maraqopa trilogy, and four consecutive records with Richard Swift behind the boards, Damien Jurado returns to a previous form on his upcoming, self-produced lp, The Horizon Just Laughed.

This week witnessed the second taste from the album with the stripped down, minimally-orchestral “Allocate.” The album title almost feels like a tongue-in-cheek self-effacement in the wake of the aforementioned trilogy, as though the end of the hallucinatory psychedelic world that Jurado had immersed himself in had been watching with a detached amusement all along, waiting for our protagonist to return to a more sobering reality. And sure enough, Jurado sings, “Once we were lost / and we never came back … Don’t give up on me / If I ever leave town.”

Jurado has come back, however. And it would be reductive and a dismissal of the man’s artistry to say, “oh, the acid’s worn off,” but surely Jurado went on a long, strange trip and has re-emerged perhaps better than ever. His economical writing remains intact in its potency, and the subtle arrangements of piano and strings do just enough to crystallize his already immortal voice. Perhaps the spiritual awakening has only just begun. words / c depasquale

Damien Jurado :: Allocate

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Here’s how I first encountered Ween. I’m in junior high and in the lunch line at the school cafeteria, shuffling my tray along that metal railing, as my buddy, who as an adult would do some terrible things and spend some time up behind bars, tried to explain to me who Ween was. Or rather what Ween was.

He had a cassette copy of 12 Golden Country Greats in hand, the band’s fifth album, featuring 10 C&W songs recorded with producer Ben Vaughn and a crack team of Nashville session players. We walked with our plastic trays and sat down at our normal table. Tables weren’t formally reserved, but seating was in its own way assigned by a complicated equation involving class, status, fashion, and the number of comic books stashed in backpacks. We had more than a few. Sitting down, he passed the tape to me, over our plates of cheap gray hamburgers. I giggled reading the song titles.

“So they are a country band?” I asked confused. He explained no, they weren’t. With no Walkman handy — I’m uncertain why he had the tape with him at all, but I think it was his older brother’s — he resorted to singing “Piss Up a Rope” to make Ween clear to me. I was nervous one of our teachers might overhear him.

It would be many years later before Ween made any kind of sense to me. And to be honest, Ween still doesn’t. Not entirely, which is part of the charm and appeal. For every perfect pop song — and the band has a bunch, especially on Chocolate and Cheese or White Pepper, like the mournful “Baby Bitch” or the perfect power pop of “Even If You Don’t” — there’s a prog anthem, noisy screed, mutated funk, or art-damaged Pizza Hut jingle. Every band, from the most secluded garage outfit to arena-filling acts, produces its own culture: lingo, in-jokes, insular ways of thinking. But there are rare bands where that culture just sprawls outward, drawing listeners all the way into it. The lingo becomes a language, the in-jokes develop even deeper punchlines. Fans begin making obsessive lists and gathering in spaces to dissect and construct elaborate theories about. Dean Ween (Mickey Melchiondo) and Gene Ween (Aaron Freeman) helm one of those kinds of bands. Growing up together in New Hope, Pennsylvania, the two formed Ween in 1984 at the altar of Boognish, navigated an improbable major label career at the height of the ’90s alternative rock boom, amassed a fervent fanbase, and then imploded in 2012 after 28 years of baffling and delighting. It didn’t take long to mend things — now, Gene’s Freeman and Melchiondo’s Dean Ween Group exist symbiotically with the greater Ween apparatus.

Last month, the DWG released Rock2. Like 2016’s The Deaner Album, it’s packed with loose funk, boogieing choogle, Allman Brothers strut, and Steely Dan swank. There’s heartland rock (“Don’t Let The Moon Catch You Crying,” written with Adam Weiner of Low Cut Connie) and The Wire-inspired organ rock (“Someone Greased the Fatman”) and though the core members of the DWG, Dave Dreiwitz, Claude Coleman Jr. and Glenn McClelland, along with most of Ween’s live lineup and guests like Parliament-Funkadelic’s Michael Hampton and Electric Six, play these songs exceptionally straight, there’s no denying the inherent weirdness that exists wherever Deaner gets going.

Recently, Aquarium Drunkard rang Dean up. Worn out from a day of interviews and a gig the night before, he was loopy but still in good spirits, ready to let some ideas out into the wind. “I’m talking shit,” Dean laughs. “But it’s the real shit.”

Dean Ween Group :: Echoes (Pink Floyd) 2/21/2014 at John and Peter’s

AQUARIUM DRUNKARD

Our weekly two hour show on SIRIUS/XMU, channel 35, can now be heard every Wednesday at 7pm PST with an encore broadcasts on-demand via the SIRIUS/XM app.

SIRIUS 518: Jean Michel Bernard – Générique Stephane ++ OMNI – Sunset Preacher ++ Omni – Confessional ++ Wire – Strange  ++ Drinks – Real Outside ++ Shopping – The Hype ++ Kindness – Gee Up ++ Sonny & The Sunsets – Death Cream ++ The Babies – Get Lost  ++ The Almighty Defenders – I’m Coming Home ++ Harlem – South of France ++ King Khan And The Shrines – Le Fils Du Jaques Dutronc ++ Jaques Dutronc – Hippie, Hippie, Hourrah ++ The Limiñanas – Je Suis Une Go-Go Girl ++ Alex Chilton – My Rival ++ Smoke – The Trip ++ Smoke – Awake ++ The Vaselines – Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam ++ The Art Museums – Sculpture Gardens ++ Ghetto Cross – Still ++ The Oh Sees – The Sun Goes All Around ++ Dent May – Right Down The Line (Aquarium Drunkard Session) ++ Dent May – When Am I Going To Make A Living (Aquarium Drunkard Session) ++ Dent May – Living On An Island (Aquarium Drunkard Session) ++ The Pink Mountaintops – Erected ++ Mikal Cronin – Apathy ++ Ty Segall – Caesar ++ The Velvet Underground – Lady Godiva’s Operation ++ The Modern Lovers – Someone I Care About ++ T. Rex – Broken-Hearted Blues ++ T. Rex – Cat Black (The Wizard’s Hat) ++ Billy Swan – Don’t Be Cruel  ++ David Bowie – Sons of the Silent Age ++ Iggy Pop – Dum Dum Boys

*You can listen, for free, online with the SIRIUS three day trial — just submit an email address and they will send you a password.

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Though she’s justly hailed for her own empathic and deep-toned original songs, Joan Shelley brings an undeniable grace to the songs of others. Following her Lagniappe Session, which found the Kentucky songwriter interpreting material by Frank Sinatra and Leonard Cohen, and her magical Nick Drake cover for Mojo Magazine, Shelley’s released a new EP, Rivers and Vessels, featuring songs by JJ Cale, Dolly Parton, Connie Converse, and more. Recorded in February 2018 at La La Land studios in Louisville, the new collection is homespun and immediate, giving the sense that the singer/guitarist and her collaborators — including Bonnie “Prince” Billy, Nathan Salsburg, Daniel Martin Moore, Julia Purcell, and Doug Paisley — were simply dashing these songs off for the pleasure of each other’s musical company. Shelley brings a sense of mystery to Converse’s “How Sad, How Lovely” befitting Connie’s story; approaching Cale’s lovelorn “Magnolia,” Shelley uncovers a hidden sprightliness. Any Shelley recording is reason enough to take note, but Rivers and Vessels packs extra incentive: 100% of Bandcamp sales will benefit the Kentucky Waterways Alliance, and sales of a limited print set by artist Lettie Jane Rennekamp and Patrick Masterson Letterpress with benefit KWA as well. words/j woodbury

Further reading: Joan Shelley :: The Aquarium Drunkard Interview

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They’re back. Atlanta’s OMNI just released the first single from their upcoming 7″ on Chunklet. A modern-day paragon of the infinite possibilities, and rewards, of the post-punk form.

OMNI :: Sunset Preacher

Related: The Lagniappe Sessions: Omni cover Alice Cooper and The Boys Next Door

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The movement of musicians into or out of a jazz ensemble isn’t the kind of news that draws much attention. They are so often juggling different projects and schedules that it doesn’t raise any eyebrows when there’s a fill-in for a gig or another player sits in for a recording session. But the announcement that pianist Ethan Iverson was stepping down as a member of the Bad Plus, the trio he co-founded in 2000, to be replaced by Orrin Evans, sent a small ripple of shock through the jazz world.

The music of the Bad Plus—an angular, fractured sound, incorporating the influences of modern classical, experimental electronic fare, and rock—was entirely dependent on the chemistry of Iverson and his longtime bandmates drummer Dave King and bassist Reid Anderson. Even when they welcomed other players into the fold for a spell, as they did with tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman (for the 2015 album The Bad Plus Joshua Redman) and vocalist Wendy Lewis (on 2008’s For All I Care), the trio remained the nucleus around which these charged particles swirled.

But as Iverson transitions into a new chapter of his musical life (he announced at the PDX Jazz Festival that he had just finished and submitted his first piano concerto), Anderson and King decided to not let their artistic connection fizzle out. Instead, they reached out to a friend and fellow musical wanderer Evans to complete their circle.

It’s a fitting pick, too. While Evans’ recordings as a bandleader are much more direct, bluesy, and often swinging than the Bad Plus’s work, his playing is so versatile and deeply considered that it can adjust to meet the challenges of King’s mathematical compositions and get into the swim Anderson’s more fluid songwriting.

That’s what’s apparent when listening to Never Stop II, the first album these three men have made together. The title is a nod both to the fact that it is the second Bad Plus album to feature only original work and to this new phase of the group’s trajectory. As this collection proves, the transition was clearly a smooth one, with Evans even adapting a pair of his own compositions—“Boffadem” and “Commitment,” both originally recorded for the 2000 project Seed—to blend in with the trio’s minimalist aesthetic.

Aquarium Drunkard reached Evans on the phone in his native Philadelphia to talk about joining the Bad Plus, and finding his place within this beloved musical institution.

Aquarium Drunkard: How did this come about, you joining The Bad Plus? Was this Reid and Dave coming to you directly?

Orrin Evans: Well, yeah. That’s the only way it’s gonna happen. Reid and I go way back. He was one of the people that exposed me to a lot of music. There’s only two years between us, maybe three, but somewhat of a big brother. I was finishing up high school and he was attending Curtis Institute. I needed a bass player for my sister’s graduation party back in 1991. The bass player I had originally called couldn’t make it. There’s an organization in Philadelphia called the Clef Club of Performing Arts, which came out of the Black Musicians Union. A gentleman by the name of Lovett Hines called me and said, “There’s a bass player who just got in town. You need to give him a call. His name is Reid Anderson.” And the rest is history as they say.