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December CD of the Month: Various Artists - Parallelogram

Dan Burney

by James Calvet

Since the beginning of music, different musicians have collaborated to make art. When this happens, the strengths and weaknesses of each musician are exposed and the results are usually unpredictable and exciting. Whether the musicians get together to compose a highly intricate piece or strip off the restrictions and improvise together, their different styles are melded together to create something entirely unique. 

In late 2015, Three Lobed Records, a one-man record label based out of Jamestown, North Carolina, recruited and paired up 10 of the best bands in folk rock, indie rock and beyond to release a 5-LP collection entitled Parallelograms. The album journeys through genres such as shoegaze, American Primitivism, Psych Folk, Free Improvision and beyond creating a diverse and oddly cohesive collection of tracks. Each pairing on every split LP varies from cover songs to original compositions to free-form jams. Each track is a perfect representation of each artist's style for new and long-time listeners making it a great introduction to their already stunning discographies. 

The first split features a pairing of southern crooner Hiss Golden Messenger and rediscovered English troubadour Michael Chapman. MC Taylor, also known as Hiss Golden Messenger, opens the album with three bouncy and soulful covers of tracks by JJ Cale, Elephant Michah and David Wiffen. Though these songs were written decades before Taylor's career, the tracks are in his distinct style without compromising the integrity of the original artist. On the other side, Michael Chapman delivers three original compositions. Though Chapman gained cult fame from the reissues of his albums originally recorded in 1970, these new tracks still hold the same hypnotic storytelling and emotional weight as his earlier releases.

The second split between guitar experimentalists William Tyler and Six Organs of Admittance.  The two tracks that Tyler contributes are long, winding American Primitivist compositions that teeter-totter between melodic and apocalyptic. Most notably, "No Marigolds In The Promised Land" is an electric guitar piece with bass tones so deep and thunderous that they could bring down walls. "Lsha" by Six Organs of Admittance, is a noisy and hypnotic piece that showcases menacing, spiritual vocals alongside meandering, clashing organs. The second movement of the song is a pulsing, choral piece with sliding strings that ascend into a higher, otherworldly plane.

Kurt Vile and Steve Gunn take the stage on the third record with some of their strongest recordings yet. Vile opens with a cover of Randy Newman's "Pretty Boy" which makes for an incredibly bone-chilling and emotionally evocative listen. The Apples for Tom Scharpling" one of his best compositions. On the Steve Gunn side of things, the cover of Nico's "60/40" contains electric guitar leads that are strangely reminiscent of War on Drugs but is cut through by Gunn's powerful and distinctive croon. Gunn's original composition "Spring Garden" is a long, rollicking track that showcases his strengths as a songwriter and composer, making it one of the best tracks on the collection.

The fourth split with contributions from Caught on Tape and Bishop Orcutt Corsano are some of the most challenging and exhilarating in the collection. Caught On Tape, comprised of Thurston Moore and John Moloney share a twenty-minute live track entitled "Ono Soul" which starts and finishes like a tried and true Sonic Youth tune but the other 18 minutes decomposes into an improvised free-form noise jam. Though the results are grinding and intense, the riffing between musicians in impeccable. Two fantastic guitarists, Sir Richard Bishop and Bill Orcutt team up with drummer Chris Corsano to make up the six shortest and most energetic songs on Parallelogram. Though Bishop and Orcutt usually prefer acoustic guitars, they match the bombastic drums with electric guitars resulting in pure, organic punk energy. The six tracks that the trio provides are equally exhilarating as they are psychedelic in which each track is purely improvised and demonstrates the sheer magnitude of noise humans can naturally create.

Lastly, the pairing between shoegazers Bardo Pond and indie legends Yo La Tengo might well be the crown jewel on the collection. Bardo Pond's "Screens For A Catch" is a fuzzy and meandering piece in three parts that fill the listener with pure ecstasy. The first movement slowly builds into exuberant cacophony of major-key guitars and choir-like vocals that sing a mantra that is both hypnotic and life affirming. The guitar-based middle section quiets the entire piece and turns the song into a minor-key lament. The ending passage is a minimal, flute-laden jam that feels almost like a sonic confession. To end the compilation is the twenty-plus minute noise freak out from Yo La Tengo. The composition is based around a pulsing, rotating noise loop that the drum and bass beat along to as the guitar takes on a life of it's own. 

Throughout the track, Ira Kaplan brings the song up down and up again with only his guitar over this noise loop keeping the listener engaged and excited throughout.Undoubtedly, there is a certain magic that happens when the right musicians are paired up together. Throughout these five LPs, each artist compliments each other in the finest way much like a dish paired with the perfect wine. At the end of this monstrous set of music, it's easy to see that Parallelograms tests the boundaries of string-based rock music through numerous territories. Every writing style from covers, to original compositions, free form jams or somewhere in the middle is covered in this collection and shows that all of these forms can be utilized to create something unique and innovative. 

Out now on Three Lobed Records, Parallelograms is Radio 1190's CD of the Month for December. You can purchase the album here: