recordings of ferns
Kitty. Dinner. Dennis. Local. Releases.
One of Jack Handey’s “Deep Thoughts” was “If trees could scream, would we be so cavalier about cutting them down? We might, if they screamed all the time, for no good reason.”
Exploring the notion of audible plant life from a gentler perspective, the new album Recordings of Ferns (www.recordingsofferns.com) by Big Kitty (bigkitty.bandcamp.com) offers the story of field recorder Mickey Dobo, who has discovered the therapeutic effects of the sounds of singing ferns, used by yoga instructors, nuns and dentists. The fellow behind Big Kitty, Clark Williams, follows the superb 2011 album Florence with another slab of 12-inch vinyl—also available as a digital download—serving as the debut release on the new Chattanooga label Teaberry Records. Williams has a distinctive take on Appalachian folk and country music with charming, off-kilter and playful twists, accompanied by his partner Yuriko Hoshino, and the album flows together using between-song recordings of crickets at night or passing trains. The opener “Winchester Pass” channels Johnny Cash with a “boom chicka boom” rhythm and Williams’s uniquely friendly, slightly nasal voice as it descends to baritone registers, with the bonus of simulated dog howls. It’s a cordial, pleasing blend of the familiar and unfamiliar, from the traditional sounds of acoustic guitars and banjos with fiddle flourishes, to the gurgling electronic disorder on “Magic Sofa” and the relaxing ambience of nature.
For those drawn to the unusual, absurd, and grotesque, night auditor and aural alchemist Rick Weaver invites adventurous listeners to make “the best mistake of your life” by obtaining The Hand Hotel Welcome Kit from Loge Media on Human Conduct Records (humanconductrecords.blogspot.com) which slants toward the Twin Peaks aesthetic side rather than the “Hotel California” side. The indoctrination package includes a CD of the Blood Quantum soundtrack by Dinner Music, the cassette If You Let Me Take by Trotter Huff live at the Crooner’s Corner, a personalized welcome letter, Tiki Ray’s newsletter #1, and The Perfect Man mini-comic—all of which are deliciously twisted and entrancing. Blood Quantum is the highlight, using rhythm loops and a cavalcade of disquieting voices, synthetics, buzzes, clock tick-tocks, and many other inexplicable noises to envelope the listener in its unsettling sound-world. The Trotter Huff tape takes crooning to the next, uncomfortable level, with the singer belting out standards in a carefree style; this is the man who, according to legend, sang karaoke versions of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game” for four hours, non-stop. An unwelcome welcome like a Vaseline-covered handshake, it’s an immersive, fascinating package of homegrown madness.
Before passing away in February, Dennis Palmer along with producer and engineer Steve Hickman completed the final touches on the album Tramps That Go Think in the Night, a collaboration between Palmer’s Chattanooga duo with percussionist Bob Stagner, The Shaking Ray Levis (www.shakingray.com), and upstate New York spoken-word artist David Greenberger. Arriving one decade after the trio’s last collaboration, Mayor of the Tennessee River, the new CD on PelPel Recordings features a fresh batch of pieces that merge Greenberger’s stories, transcribed from conversations with the elderly as part of his long-running Duplex Planet (www.duplexplanet.com) ‘zine project, with composed music that strays from The Shaking Ray Levis’ typically abstract free-improv approach, apart from a few encapsulated moments. The album’s offbeat observations are alternately hilarious and deeply moving; it goes from numbers like the opening “Trick Squash” about a small yet shocking realization that a casserole a man was eating was made of carrots instead of squash—interrupted by a jaunty jingle about hummingbird pie—to the sober track “The Tornado” about waiting out a storm in a convenience store, ending with thundering timpani beats. It’s a concentrated album, with a million musical ideas and inventive synthesized sounds, matching Greenberger’s compelling storytelling.
With no signs of letting up, the instrumental power trio The Stacker Three (thestackerthree.bandcamp.com) continues its thorough sonic examination of notable doomsday death cults with its new 2-song EP The Last Call, which tackles the Heaven’s Gate sci-fi religious group. The first track’s title, “The Away Team,” refers to the cult’s appropriation of Star Trek-speak for its escape of Earth, which the members believed would be “recycled,” involving committing mass suicide in order to board a spaceship that was following the Hale-Bopp comet in 1997. It’s a sinister sludge-rock track with nagging, uneasy oscillations, switching between monolithic, mind-bending sound-walls and moments of mounting tension. The second number, “Do and Ti,” is named after the nicknames of the Heaven’s Gate founders, with prog-rock twists and metal-leaning chugging, and it hints at the technological focus of the cult with soaring, sweeping guitar effects that evoke some kind of unstoppable galactic voyage.