Red House Painters Albums Ranked

It is impossible to tell the Red House Painters story without first paying respect to the band’s founder, frontman and beating heart: Mark Kozelek. The story of Kozelek is as interesting as it is long and arduous. At a certain point in digging into his past, it becomes painfully clear how much his work has mirrored the life he leads. Music is, and always will be Kozelek’s life’s calling, and, like anything that perpetually follows one around like a ghost, his life’s burden.

After the dissolve of Red House Painters in the late 90s, Kozelek hit what one might consider the soul-searching part of his career, releasing a few covers albums before forming Sun Kil Moon with members from RHP (notably, drummer Anthony Koutsos and guitarist Phil Carney). Currently, as Kozelek’s career tumbles forth, his song writing grows less and less cryptic, to the point where, on his most recent album, Universal Themes, his songs have taken the form of wordy – if not overly self-righteous – confessionary pieces.

The plus side to Koz’s confessions are that we really get to know him, at least, as much as one can know somebody without ever meeting them. Anyone versed well enough in his career will know that beneath his abrasive persona lies a deeply sensitive individual. His songs reveal a man who’s dealt with depression, existential crises, infidelity guilt, and enough death around him for five life times.

As prolific an artist as Kozelek is it can be difficult to take a step back to consider it all. As a fan, what isn’t difficult is seeing the importance of the Red House Painter’s years among that timeline. It was Down Colorful Hill that put Koz and his band into motion in 92, and over the next four years the Painters would produce some of the best emotionally introspective rock music in history, finely balancing the soft and the loud, the delicate and the harsh, the happy and the oh so sad.

Red House Painters were the best slowcore act of the 90s, and that’s in the illustrious company of bands like Bedhead, Low, and Codeine. Today, Alcohol the Seed takes on the difficult task of placing the six studio albums by the Red House Painters into some kind of logical order. The challenge is that there isn’t a dud among them, so, inevitably, the task becomes a game of playing favourites. However, if something, anything, in the process can be revealed of the band and their enigmatic place on the totem of American underground music, then perhaps it’s a challenge worth baiting.

Bridge

6. Red House Painters (Bridge)

Red House Painters released two self-titled albums nicknamed after the imagines depicted on their covers. Bridge is essentially the sister album to Rollercoaster, both released in the same year, and both featuring different versions of “New Jersey” (Bridge featuring the electric while Rollercoaster featuring the acoustic). Bridge hints at Koz’s mastery for covers, with his version of Paul Simon’s “I am a Rock” taking the third track slot, and the “Star Spangled Banner” capping off the record. Neither cover seems to embody the RHP’s lonerism ethos as well as “Bubble” or “Blindfold,” leaving the album feeling a bit fractured, conceptually.

Fortunately, the one-two of “New Jersey” and “Uncle Joe” make up for the album’s shortcomings. “New Jersey” is like your favourite Tom Petty song heard slightly slowed down right when the drugs start to wear off, while “Uncle Joe” is RHP’s pinnacle of wrought, tear-inducing emotion.

Songs of note: Bubble, New Jersey, Uncle Joe.

Songs_For_A_Blue_Guitar

5. Songs For a Blue Guitar

Songs For a Blue Guitar is the most varied RHP release, made up of melancholic love songs, instrumental-heavy epics and classic rock covers. It seems almost ridiculous that Koz and the band would expect the listener to tag along during their joy ride of emotional ups and downs from one song to the next. However, for reasons I can’t exactly pin down, it all seems to work.

The first half of Songs… shines brighter than the second, with the snowflake-gentle “Have You Forgotten” easing the listener in. “Make Like Paper” is everything one would want to love from a twelve minute, guitar-centric rock song, without ever feeling like it meanders too far from its core hooks. “Trailways” easily cracks the band’s top-ten best songs, with guitar work foreshadowing Koz’s mid-2000s records as Sun Kil Moon.

Songs of Note: Have You Forgotten, Song for a Blue Guitar, Make Like Paper, Trailways, Revelation Big Sur.

Old_Ramon

4. Old Ramon

After its completion, it took three years for the RHP’s final album, Old Ramon, to be released. The fizzling out of the band, their severance from 4AD, and late 90s major label mergers all contributed to the album’s state of limbo. Sub Pop eventually picked it up in 2001, but by then Kozelek had already formed his new band.

If Songs for a Blue Guitar was a precursor to Koz’s new direction in sound, then Old Ramon might as well be considered Sun Kil Moon’s debut. Overall, the sound production is cleaner then any other RHP album, and the songs more approachable to those unfamiliar with the band. Anyone remotely interested in the mellower side of rock would find it nearly impossible not to fall in love with this record, whether it’s the classic rock influenced “Between Days,” the intimacy of “Void” and “Smokey,” or the early summer evening trance of “Cruiser,” there is a lot here to keep one coming back.

Songs of note: Byrd Joel, Void, Cruiser, River, Smokey.

Ocean_Beach

3. Ocean Beach

What was perhaps the most difficult thing about compiling this list was figuring out where to place Ocean Beach. From my first proper front-to-back listen to this very moment I’ve remained torn by my feelings towards the record.

The album is the Painter’s prettiest offering, with string arrangements, piano and classical-inspired guitar making appearances throughout. Ultimately, this was a deciding factor in bumping the album down from the second slot to number three (though it was a difficult call). Simply put, the Painter’s were best at their most raw, and Ocean Beach isn’t it.

To the band’s credit little can be said to dismiss the potency of “San Geronimo“, “Brockwell Park,” and the absolutely heart-breakingDrop.” And with enough time spent with Ocean Beach, its saving grace is revealed through the ever-present quiver in Kozelek’s vocal delivery, at each turn echoing a yearning to make sense of life, love, and one’s place amongst it all.

Songs of Note: San Geronimo, Shadows, Brockwell Park, Drop.

Down_Colorful_Hill

2. Down Colorful Hill

Album art is not always telling of the music within, but the cover for RHP’s debut album, Down Colorful Hill, couldn’t be more perfect. The cover depicts a quilted bed, old and eerie looking, in a rather bleak room. The photo itself looks ancient, sepia-toned and worn, and despite the fact that the bed is made, the scene is about the least inviting thing imaginable. One can almost picture the decrepit remains of a person being removed from that very bed only hours before the photo was taken.

Then you hit play and the slow crawl of “24” only reaffirms your dread. Despite the almost upbeat tempo of “Lord Kill the Pain,” Down Colorful Hill is RHP’s darkest effort. The 10+ minute title track marches forward with Anthony Koutsos behind the drums, gaining momentum as Kozelek howls “bred for success” into the ether. The sullen “Michael” closes things out with Koz forlornly reminiscing about an old friend who he tried to hunt down and reconnect with. Ultimately, like any attempt to reconcile an inevitable parting of ways, his efforts are to no avail.

Songs of note: Down Colorful Hill, Japanese to English, Michael.

Rollercoaster

1. Red House Painters (Rollercoaster)

As much as I hummed and hawed over the order of these records, from the beginning the number one spot was a no-brainer. Rollercoaster is RHP’s opus, and still Kozelek’s best album (yes, it’s better than Benji). Within seconds of the album’s opener, Grace Cathedral Park, the listener is swept into Kozelek’s intimate song world. It’s no coincidence that when Koz would later joke about his fans wanting to hear him play songs from the 90s during current tours, that it’s the songs from Rollercoaster he mentions.

The music of the Red House Painters possesses a strange hold over the listener that is difficult to come by and even harder to explain. It can almost be equated to the act of drowning, where an immediate attempt to understand pain and struggle is soon followed by a tranquility that comes from letting go. Rollercoaster best exemplifies that analogy, possessing some of the band’s most distressed music, which, if one allows, can seed itself inside you and grow into something beautiful.

Songs of note: Grace Cathedral Park, Katy Song, Mistress, Take Me Out, Strawberry Hill, Brown Eyes.

Caldo Verde

When Basinski Met Chartier

In 2004 the tape loop ambient composer William Basinski teamed up with reductionist electronic sound artist Richard Chartier on Untitled 1-3. For years it seemed as though the album was a one-off collaboration from the two stalwarts. In 2013, however, Aurora Liminalis was released, proving their work together was not quite done. This year the world was treated to Divertessement, the highest profile collaboration between the two artists yet.

Basinski

William Basinski

Chartier

Richard Chartier

To the uninitiated ear Basinski and Chartier’s respective catalogues tread the same path. However, aside from a shared penchant for expansive ambient composition, the two artists are quite different. Basinski has for nearly fifteen years now exclusively made music from analog tape loops – the exception being his short-wave experiments – exhibiting a keen ear for detecting minute changes in his looped fragments that he presents as long, uninterrupted pieces.

Chartier’s process is much harder to pin down, and, as the artist has stated himself in interviews, is not a requirement in order to gain something from the listening experience. Chartier is often labelled a reductionist for good reason, as his sound pieces are usually hyper-minimal, extremely quiet, and often develop imperceptibly to the listener over a long period of time. Generally, turning Chartier albums up louder than usual helps reveal delicate yet complex sonic worlds that once existed purely in the mind of their creator. Chartier’s music, both under his own name and the alias Pinkcourtesyphone, has for over a decade remained fascinating and ever evolving. Alongside names like Richard Garet, Asher, Jason Kahn, William Basinski, Taylor Deupree, Jim Haynes and Oren Ambarchi, Richard Chartier is one of America’s preeminent contemporary minimalist composers.

What one would expect from any successful collaboration is like clockwork between these two. Untitled and Aurora saw the meeting of Basinski’s and Chartier’s respective styles at a comfortable middle point: Basinski’s loops buried deeper in the mix and Chartier’s hushed atmospherics dialled up a notch or two. Compared to this year’s Divertessement, however, the first two efforts feel formless and all-together rudimentary. Divertessement sees the two artists hitting their collaborative stride, as multiple listens help reveal what each player brought to the floor. Ghostly tape melodies surface at the parting of noxious atmospherics, occasionally the movements dipping into near silence before emerging again as a swirling dark mass. Part II commences as what sounds like a church organ heard from a cave on some distant planet. Soon, the far off melodies rise through palpable tape hiss, giving way to restless bursts of analog noise as if from a child’s nightmare of clowns and carnivals (think a more subdued Maurizio Bianchi).

The beautiful thing about collaborations is hearing both compromise and innovation, and, in the case of Basinski and Chartier, two artists that are willing to step outside of their usual bounds to challenge themselves. On Divertessement, they’ve done just that. And if the album is any indication of the direction these two will continue to grow, we’re bound to hear more stellar work from them in the future.

Basinski_Chartier1

Untitled 1-3
Spekk/Line, 2004/2008

Basinski_Chartier2

Aurora Liminalis
Line, 2013

Basinski_Chartier3

Divertissement
Important Records, 2015

Richard Chartier Offical
William Basinski Official

25 Years of RIDE

On Novemeber 17th, shoegaze legends Ride played The Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver, BC. The show was part of the band’s reunion tour celebrating the 25th anniversary of Nowhere, their quintessential debut album. I am supremely grateful for this recent string of anniversary tours, allowing for millennials like myself to get a chance to see bands that broke up long before we could discover them.

Though Ride never became a household name (not like Oasis anyway, where Ride member Andy Bell played bass for a stint), the band was immensely popular in their heyday, selling out international shows in minutes and even breaking into the UK top ten with “Leave Them All Behind.”  The band rose quicker than most with help from Creation’s Alan McGee and Jesus and The Mary Chain’s Jim Reid. The success of Nowhere, Going Blank Again and the EP Today Forever built anticipation for the band’s ultimately lackluster third and fourth albums. Tension between members rose as Mark Gardner and Andy Bell had opposing views as to where Ride should take their sound. The meandering, classic rock infusion of Carnival of Light and the straight forward Tarantula were proof the two never did find that common understanding.

The reason for Ride’s early success isn’t a mystery. The three EPs the band released leading up to Nowhere were like perfect pop-rock morsels: a little heavy, a little lo-fi, and full of hooks. The third EP, Fall, would eventually be incorporated into Nowhere, finding a release on Creation in late 1990.

Ride_Commodore2
Ride @ The Commodore Ballroom
Vancouver, BC. Nov 17, 2015

Ride_Nowhere
Nowhere (25th Anniversary Edition)
Ride Music, 2015

25 years later and the band still rocks (with the help of backing tracks mind you) and Nowhere sounds better than ever. If that’s not enough, the 25th anniversary addition tacks on the Today Forever EP neatly onto side D. The whole thing is pressed on some pretty psychedelic marbled blue and white vinyl as well.

In a nutshell, Nowhere is happier than Just For a Day and cleaner than Isn’t Anything – albums that came out, respectively, around that time from Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine. The result being that the members of Ride, intentionally or not, come across as more of a “rock” band here than on the majority of their EPs and their sophomore record, Going Blank Again.

Although it was a live viewing of The Smiths that inspired Ride’s formation, it wasn’t until Going Blank Again that we truly hear their influence. One needn’t look past the jangling, psych-meets-brit-pop perfection of “Twisterella” to know what I mean; the song features perhaps the best guitar hook from the 90s. In the retrospective umbrella of Going Blank Again‘s cheeriness, Nowhere feels almost overly calculated. This is not to the album’s fault, however, but simply points to Ride being intent on a specific sound for either record. Unfortunately, the tension that would rise in the band in the latter half of their existence saw this uniformity, and the clarity that arose from it, rarely achieved again.

Ride_Smile
Smile
Sire/Creation – 1990

Ride_Going_Blank
Going Blank Again
Creation, 1992

Ride_Today_ForeverToday Forever
Creation, 1991

Despite their later years, Ride’s track record for more-favourable-than-not full lengths was by no means awful, though they did shine brightest in small doses. The band favoured the 4-song EP format, especially in the early years, and keeping to a simple yet effective formula that found a balance between reverb, upfront chord progression and candid vocal delivery.

The excellent Today Forever EP found the band tweaking their sound once again, dialling back slightly on their already transparent shroud of effects. The lightness of “Sennen” and “Today”– the latter centered around an acoustic guitar – gave the band’s sound a much welcomed expansiveness that culminates into a barrage of marching drums, squelching guitar and all around heaviness at the album’s close. Easily, this is one of Ride’s finer releases.

It’s easy to point a finger and judge a band that started out with such promise but ended on a misstep. The thing is, you quickly run out of fingers. It’s best to celebrate the good times, and Ride possessed much to be celebrated. For one, the band succeeded in carving out their own sound, not settling on riding the wake of contemporaries like MBV or The Smiths. From the beginning the band opted for a more conventional approach, but Ride’s music never sounded contrived. At one time they were even proclaimed as the last great hope for British rock, and though they’re not exactly the Beatles, you’d be hard pressed to argue that Ride didn’t make a sizeable dent.

Ride wiki
Ride discogs
Ride official

Going Vinyl: The Necks

The world needs to hear The Necks. I say this not merely on the grounds that over the span of 18 albums they’ve managed to keep things fresh, but because it is a rare treat to come across an act that is as unclassifiable as they are inherently listenable. I’ll be the first to admit my tendency to dismiss jazz. Sure, I’ve spent some Sunday afternoons with Coleman, Coltrane, Davis and the likes – maybe throwing in a little Sun Ra for good measure – but discovering The Necks was discovering a reimagined form of jazz that, although being niche, succeeded in bringing seemingly disparate sonic worlds into harmony.

I’ve no compass for contemporary jazz, whether it’s free-jazz, fusion, improv, whatever… I’d be hard pressed to name five acts. However, sitting in this comfortable chair while the dying minute of “Rum Jungle,” the A side from 2011’s Mindset, is filling the room with a glorious cacophony, I can almost guarantee that there isn’t another trio out there that sounds quite like The Necks.

The_Necks_Band2

The band is from Australia, made up of Chris Abrahams (piano), Tony Buck (drums), and Lloyd Swanton (stand-up bass), and at first glance they appear as conventional an act as any behind their purely acoustic set-up. However, within the first 10 minutes of one of their albums or concerts (the trio building a bit of a reputation as must-see performers), one gets the sense that The Necks are making music that is uniquely their own. A typical Necks album is roughly an hour, generally starting slowly: a bass pluck here, a piano note there. Over the duration of their pieces, a long, shallow arc begins to materialize in the listener’s perception. The exact nature of the arc, and its unfolding, is different every time, and so, the resultant music, though immediately recognizable, is never predictable.

Four years ago The Necks released their first LP on vinyl, and just weeks ago their second. Today, Alcohol the Seed looks at how the band have had to adapt to the format, and whether or not something fundamental to their sound has been lost as a result.

The_Necks_Mindset

The Necks – Mindset
ReR Megacorp/Fish of Milk, 2011

As old as the cd itself is the argument of its superiority for presenting long, uninterrupted pieces of music. It is true. A slab of vinyl simply cannot contain a typical Necks piece without being split into two or three sections, likely compromising the band’s intent for how one should experience that piece. The easy way around this? Produce shorter tracks.

The Necks have done just that, their dry run being 2006’s Chemist, followed by Mindset in 2011, which saw the band’s first foray into vinyl with a digestible 22 minutes per side. The energy behind Mindset is palpable, especially in an immediate sense. “Rum Jungle” is the band’s most spirited offeringhardly letting up its mélange of bombastic drumming, bass swells and fluttering piano throughout. The latter half even brings a heavily distorted guitar into the mix, a rare use of the instrument from the band. The flip sees The Necks slow things down with “Daylights,” creaking forward eerily from a primordial stew, as though harkening to the origins of life. Midway through Tony Buck’s drums creep in, not to keep time but to elongate it with a simmering, skittered propulsion of brushes over skins. Chris Abrahams remains stoic behind the keys, giving enough way for percussive scrapes and ambiguous tactile rumblings to surface and worm their way through. It all comes to an almost too abrupt end with a signifying cymbal crash.

The_Necks_Vertigo

The Necks – Vertigo
Northern Spy, 2015

Vertigo is The Necks’ recent LP, and as a single 44 minute work, feels less suited to the vinyl format. As an album, Mindset felt tailormade for vinyl, the band channeling their process – a large part of which is improvised – into a much shorter frame of time. The result was The Necks at the top of their game, harnessing a sense of clarity that expunged any chance of unnecessary meandering – something 2013’s Open was somewhat guilty of.

Similarly, Vertigo’s main fault is its tendency to stray from a cohesive narrative. The unpredictability of the trio has always been seeded in the sounds themselves, but one always had a sense of where the band was going. Lately, it’s felt more up in the air on all fronts, except for the assurance of the sound of a retracting tone arm from a record player at the very end.

The Necks: Official
The Necks: Live

The New Year: The Kadane Brothers Post-Bedhead

In terms of music, the Kadane brothers were attached at birth. Together, they formed slowcore giants Bedhead at the dawn of the 90s, a colossal decade for music both in America and abroad. Grunge was in full force on the northwest coast, the 2nd-gen emo movement was ramping up in the midwest, and My Bloody Valentine, Lush, and similar shoegazers were well into entrancing audiences with reverie-inducing vocals set to a backdrop of distorted guitars. After their third and final album, Transaction De Novo, from 1998, Bedhead faded into relative obscurity. Three years later the Kadanes emerged again as The New Year with Mike Donofrio and Codeine’s Chris Brokaw.

The Kadanes have hit the three album mark once again, and though it looked like The New Year, too, would call it quits there, the band recently teased on social media that a new album is in the works. That’s welcome news to fans who’ve waited seven years since their last LP. Until then, here is a rundown of The New Year’s full length albums to date.

The_New_Year_Newness_Ends

The New Year – Newness Ends
Touch and Go, 2001

In Mark Richardson’s excellent Pitchfork review of the Bedhead boxset that was released nearly a year ago on Numero Group, he posits that the first album you ever hear from the band will likely become your favourite in the end. Strangely, in my case, that came true for both Bedhead and The New Year. Newness Ends, however, was the last album I heard from the band, and remains the most elusive to these ears. Kadane albums have a track record for slipperiness, often taking weeks of listening to take shape. This is one of the band’s most admiral qualities, consistently bringing you back in order to figure it out, as if their albums are a puzzle that one needs to exercise intense focus in cracking.

All things considered, The New Year are less slippery than Bedhead. This is in part, not only to the added instrumentation – mainly piano – but to the origins of New Year songs coming from drum parts and developing from there (the Kadane’s have revealed in interviews that Bedhead songs originated almost exclusively from guitar parts). I’d argue that starting with drums rather than guitars will give a band a bigger, more rock-oriented sound, as percussion suddenly becomes central to every song rather than something that’s added later to compliment existing sounds. Matt Kadane’s signature speak/sing vocals interestingly counterpoint the adopted heavier sound, providing many of the kick-driven tracks with an airiness, and keeping the mood light.

Kadane projects seem almost hellbent on being “album” bands – Wilco, too, comes to mind – where the idea of a standout song quickly evaporates. Releasing singles, too, seems almost pointless other than to provide more exposure, as any given song heard in isolation couldn’t possibly give a real indication of the band’s vision. For example, “Reconstruction,” with its infectious intertwining guitar parts, is given more potency budding heads with “Gasoline,” an, if not somewhat tongue-in-cheek, kind of love/hate relationship song about the petroleum product we know so well. As the debut album for their new band, the Kadanes proved they never lost their virtuoso respect for the album as an artistic artifact.

The_New_Year_End_Is_Near

The New Year – The End is Near
Touch and Go, 2004

The End is Near is The New Year’s masterpiece. I tend to think of this record as the sister album to Whatfunlifewas, mainly because both were my first listens and eventual favourites from either band, respectively. Also, both albums have similar 7+ minute sprawling centerpiece tracks, The End is Near with “18,” and whatfunlifewas with “Powder.” Of the Kadane’s respective discographies only a few songs have bridged that seven minute mark.

If there was any doubt that The New Year was expanding on the Bedhead sound, the opening piano/keyboard phrase of the album’s title track casts that doubt out the window. The album doesn’t really get going, however, until the third track, “Chinese Handcuffs,” luring the listener in with a bass line that’s down right funky before breaking into an instrumental flurry midway through. The chunk of songs that make up the middle of the album are The New Year at their finest. “Plan B” kicks off with a very simple, Bedhead-esque guitar pattern while Kadane almost moans together the lines “This isn’t breaking my back / but my spirit,” and the rest of the band comes in strong until the end. “Disease” slows things down again, because, ultimately, the band is never in a rush to take their songs anywhere but where they naturally end up. “Age of Conceit” crackles to life after the lines “give me back my childhood / but let me keep my beard / I’ll be the freakish little man” in what is probably the best closing statement the band has made on any song. “Start” is the closest head-nodding rock song among the lot with an opening minute that make you want to hit repeat, setting up the aforementioned “18” and the album’s intimate closer “Stranger Is Kindness.”

Listened back upon with the luxury of eleven years since its release, The End is Near is easily The New Year’s most concise and profound record.

The_New_Year_The_New_Year

The New Year – The New Year
Touch and Go, 2008

Before settling into years of marginal activity, The New Year released their self-titled third album, capping a span of releases that showcased the band’s commitment to their unique sound. Growth in their sound over the years isn’t obvious, rather, The New Year seemed committed to an idea from the beginning, tweaking that idea ever so slightly with every release. Whether this was the result of keen deliberation or a natural outcome to the artistic processes behind the music, is left, at least partly, up for debate. Perhaps more will be revealed about the band’s process in the days leading to and following their long overdue fourth album. Either way, the consistency of the Kadanes should be the envy of most, if not all, contemporary bands on the mellower side of the rock spectrum–whether they know about the band or not.

There has always been a kind of living room philosophy to Matt Kadane’s song writing, a comfortable blandness addressing everyday encounters, the monotony of the working man, and the ebb and flow of human relationship. That’s not to say the song writing is boring, but that it refrains from falling into the trap of unnecessary idealism. If all this translates to the band being, in one way or another, “grounded,” then The New Year is the band’s most grounded record. After all, in a musician’s career that’s culminated to more than half a dozen albums, plenty of touring experience, and a dedicated fan base, what better place is there to be than staring straight ahead with feet firmly on the ground?

The New Year Official Website
The New Year at Discogs
The New Year on Facebook