preview of Friday’s D Charles Speer show at The Box, plus 2 reviews of recent releases (one relevant, one not)

July 15th, 2010 · 2 Comments · By

There’s a ton of shows going on tomorrow (Friday) night, so we wanted to make sure this one got some notice before it got lost in the shuffle. Dominic “DJ BaconFat” DeVito brought to our attention the D Charles Speer show at The Box, and offered to write it up; which reminded us that we’d been meaning to review his new EP on Thrill Jockey. Dominic’s write-up is below, James’ review is below the fold.

D. Charles Speer is the nom-de-honkytonk of one Dave Shuford, a Brooklyn-baseed member of No-Neck Blues Band. Under the Speer moniker and with his band The Helix, he plays the kind of rootsy bar rock you’d expect to hear at a place like the Brightwood General Store or Dice’s Inn in Staunton on any given weekend night. The main difference between Speer & The Helix and those bands? Speer & The Helix are really fucking good.

Hot on the heels of the release of an EP with the late, great Jack Rose called Ragged And Right, The Helix bring their brand of foot-stomping cosmic American music to The Box for what is sure to be a rousing evening of excellent tunes. I’ve not seen Speer play before, but he gets a hearty endorsement from my buddy Cory at Three Lobed Records, and that means something since Cory’s got impeccable taste. I realize it’s going to be a busy night in town with lots of other live music events happening, but this one looks like it could be a real hoot. There’s gonna be some pedal steel, some keyboards, and gritty electrified boogie music — what more could you want? And it’s FREE.

Check out Speer’s website for more about this band. Zack Orion opens.

Thanks, Dom!  Click below for James’ review of Speer’s new EP, plus another review of some totally unrelated but equally good material from Thrill Jockey.

When native Virginian Jack Rose passed away this past winter, the sadness of his death was compounded not only by the fact that he died unexpectedly at a young age, but also from a sense that Jack had not yet accomplished all that he set out to do. His death ended not only the life of someone who was by all accounts a wonderful and singular individual, but it also cut short the promising career of an excellent guitarist and musician who had already accomplished so much and seemed hungry to do more. The unreleased recordings he left behind are bound to be picked over for indications of the paths left unfollowed, for hints of what might have come next.

All this is true, but it’s not the right way to listen to the “Ragged and Right EP,” Rose’s posthumous release on Thrill Jockey, a 4-track collaboration with D. Charles Speer and the Helix. While the music shows a much rowdier, and rockin&rollin’ side of Rose than most listeners are used to, it’s by no means a memorial or monument; instead, it’s a charming document of a few summer nights with some tourmates, a bottle of whiskey and the blues.

In fact, those tuning in for more of Rose’s post-Fahey-esque folk-raga stylings or sprightly bluegrass stompers will be in for a surprise; likewise, these tunes follow a much straighter path than the previous material I’ve heard from the No-Neck Universe that produced Speer. But while it might be a more conventional path it’s still a fine one; a well-worn dusty dirt road leading to the heart of hard-drinkin’ country blues.

The first track is a mid-tempo blues number with prominent piano backing, and somber vocals, presumably Speer’s; things don’t really pick up until the second track, “Linden Ave Stomp,” a Rose original (his previous versions, with Glenn Jones, can be found on 2003’s “Opium Musick” and 2007’s “Dr Ragtime”). This version has the rare opportunity to hear Rose cut loose on electric guitar; his telecaster playing is just as gorgeous and smooth as his most fluid acoustic numbers, and the whole tune has a gorgeous, energetic vibe that’s absolutely perfect for hot summer afternoons sipping whiskey on a porch or rambling around in a pickup. They follow this up with a charming and diligent cover of Merle Haggard’s “The Longer You Wait” that’s likewise worth a few repeat listens. They bring it all home as the EP wraps up with a version of the oft-covered blues standard “In the Pines;” the version here owes more than a little to fellow Virginian Link Wray’s “Three-Track Shack” recordings of the early 70’s (actually, I just realized the first track is a cover of a Wray track from those same sessions, and that the labels’ press releases refers to those albums extensively … so I guess that was good call on my part.)

These tracks are by no means an essential part of either musician’s catalog, nor are they a proper eulogy for the recently deceased; what they are is a set of rollicking, life-affirming tunes that will absolutely hit the spot on a hot summer afternoon.


When they sent us this album, Thrill Jockey also asked if we’d like to review the new Oval EP; I should mention that Nailgun gets a LOT of spam from the largely contemptable professional music-promotion industry, and about 99% of has nothing to do with Charlottesville, nor with any music we’d be interested in writing about elsewhere, for that matter.  So I was fairly pleased to actually get an offer from a label I like to write about something I’m actually excited about. I was going to review the Jack Rose album just because of his Virginia connection, and then review the Oval record just b/c I like Oval … but then a month of WTJU woes and personal distractions kept me from it.

D. Charles Speer’s appearance in town gave us a good reason to dust off those MP3s and give them a proper write-up, so I figured I might as well go ahead and review the Oval record, too.  It has nothing to do with Friday’s show, with Charlottesville music, or with anything coming to town soon… but it IS a good record, and for lack of a better place to put my review, here it is:

Back in the 90’s, Markus Popp’s infamous glitch-project Oval was considered at the cutting edge of “intelligent electronica,” the sort of proto-laptoppery that got the art world to take notice. “Systemische” and “Diskont” are both minor masterpieces (and well worth seeking out, if you’re not familiar), but by the time “Ovalprocess” and “Ovalcommers” rolled around (and Popp had ditched his former bandmates), a lot of what made the project exciting (and inviting) had gone stale, moving largely toward generative software, and a type of aesthetic consistency that walked the line between “focus” and “boredom.” The frequent complaint was that these records felt more like software demonstrations than albums.

Though the later records were not without their merits, they definitely felt like minor works. Since then, Popp has pretty much been dormant; his musical output over the past 10 years has largely been relegated to compilation appearances, and a s/t 2003 album under the name “So” (which was basically a late-period Oval album with a woman singing on it). So a certain amount of surprise and anticipation greeted the announcement of a new Oval album this summer; would it be another fine yet underwhelming effort, or a glorious return to form?

If the new pre-album EP “Oh” is any indication, the answer is: neither. Instead, it’s a huge left-step, a surprising and exciting record which has little in common with its predecessors, either musically or aesthetically. Oval has moved from solemn and somber, tonal works into a sprightly and engaging sort of jumpy post-concrète digital / post-“rock” assemblage. Perhaps taking the criticisms of his detractors to heart, the new work is apparently all done with the cheapest of cheap software, and there’s a large number of recognizable “instrument” sounds present, including drums and what sounds like a persistent glockenspiel (though many of these may be pre-programmed sounds).

The material on “Oh” manages to be joyous, buoyant, energetic, and invigorating in a way that Popp’s music never has been in the past; it feels like years of locked-up creativity are all now suddenly being set loose, and the results manage to be wholly engaging and fun. Much of the album’s appeal is based around a heavy delay effect on many of the songs’ chirpy, staccato melodies; this jumpy, attack-and-decay method manages to be sublimely charming and often gorgeous, a chiming music-box center constantly surrounded by the intrusion or reduction of other elements, keeping the listener on their toes even after repeated listens. Some of the wandering melodic sensibilities share a territory with recent work by Autechre, another of the old guard of 90’s electronica who have recently re-discovered fun, apparently.

But their recent output feels like a continuation of a long-running thread; by contrast, Popp seems to have totally left behind his thoughtful peers in the somber “glitch” scene (Ryoji Ikeda, Alvo Nota, etc), and now appears to have tapped into the joy of experimentation harnessed by some of the generation that those works helped to inspire, such as DAT Politics, Nathan Michel, Secret Mommy, and the bLectums.  Nothing here reaches quite that level of silliness; there’s still a Teutonic straight-facedness which keeps him from going fully over-the-top, but here the Oval aesthetic has a lot more in common with the balance between whimsy and thoughfulness often achieved by his erstwhile collaborators in Mouse on Mars (before they turned into a boring euro-dance act).

There’s a lot of short ideas here, and with 15 tracks in 25 minutes, not all of them get their due — but this is the pre-album EP, after all, and there’s quite more than enough similarity and aesthetic consistency here to hold everything together.  The EP’s material is further supplemented by a second, download-only mini-EP called “Ringtones,” which shorten the ideas here even further into chirpy, bite-sized bits. I’ve often lamented that contemporary electronic composers have failed to take hold of the advantages offered by the proliferation of portable digital technology — if Japanese geniuses of the 80’s like Koji Kondo and Hip Tanaka could create memorable 5-second masterpieces with only 8 bits to work with, than why are today’s ringtones so uniformly shitty?  Oval takes the higher road here, pursuing the path forged by Touch Recordings’ 2001 “Ringtones” compilation, with much better results. Both EPs offer deliciously likeable, playful tidbits of sound that remind us all of what made experimental electronic music exciting and fun in the first place.

Tags: preview · review

2 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Ramona // Jul 16, 2010 at 9:14 am

    oh yay! I love D. Charles Speer. I wrote a record review of his 2nd release awhile back, I’ll see if I can find it and send it along. This is gonna be good.

  • 2 John // Jul 16, 2010 at 11:50 am

    I second the praise of D. Charles Speer! Seen him and the Helix a few times in Brooklyn.