Saturday, April 28, 2018

The State of Music: An Interview About Pentagon Black No. 4 & Shows # 716, 717, 718, 719

In the recent age of the Internet with the advent of streaming music, the compilation is something that seems to have fallen by the wayside. But, now even more so compilation albums are just as relevant as they were in the 80s or 90s. There are multiple uses for compiling music and instead of just randomly making an endless playlist that you can stream, a compilation album can serve many different purposes. In the case of the recent Pentagon Black No. 4 compilation album, it connects different bands across different parts and scenes in Canada. For the listener it makes them aware of some bands that they would have otherwise never even heard of. This compilation, as does Pentagon Black No. 3, has the effect of a bootleg live recording at times. When listening to the songs found here, there is a certain immediacy and intimacy that flourishes.

The opening track on Pentagon Black No. 4 is by Guelph musician Steph Yates. “The Bitter Part of the Fruit” is an acoustic, Bossa Nova tinged track laced with heartfelt melancholy. This is an example of the different types of music that you will find on this compilation. Not everything is melancholic, not everything is acoustic, and not everything is rough sounding despite the fact that all of the songs on this compilation were recorded with cellphones. But, all of the 19 tracks found on Pentagon Black No. 4 are bursting with the seeds of creativity and cohesion. Don’t Bother (from Toronto) attack with the politically charged “The Rebel”, Usse (from Saint John, New Brunswick) dig into noisy experimentalism on their track “Negative Bolt, No Action”, while Vancouver’s Orange Kyte tackle the shoe gaze and psychedelic genres with their track “Downfall”. Fashionism (also from Vancouver) brings high energy with their power pop dynamics in “Checking Out the Checkout Girl”, Montreal’s Property// bring moody synth rock with their track “TragicSimLoss”, Smokey & The Feelings “Blow” sprouts with gusts of indie folk from Edmonton, Alberta, and Halifax’s Outtacontroller contribute their fuzzy garage sounds with “Too Much Tonight”. These are just some of the examples of the types of songs of differing genres from different parts in Canada found on this release.

With Pentagon Black No. 4, the label takes the theory of a compilation album, keeping it focused and at the same time a little more experimental than the previous compilations that they have released. In addition to this, they cut out the physical element, but not completely. Musically this release, like all of their “Paper LP” releases, features a digital download code that is included with an art element. The artwork for this release comes in the form of a postcard illustrated by Lisa Czech. Also, the compilation is only two dollars to purchase in its entirety. In the process of all of this, Pentagon Black stays true to their minimalism ideology. All of the recordings have a lo-fi element since they were all recorded on cellphones, but this doesn’t affect the quality of the music. They are using technology, but aren’t overcomplicating things. Pentagon Black puts a twist on an old favourite finding an in-between of the past and present way of releasing a compilation album and from this essence an art form blooms.

Get Pentagon Black No. 4 here.

Keep reading for an interview that I did with Raymond Biesinger & Drew Demers of Montreal’s The Famines and also of the Pentagon Black label:

RR: The compilation album is an art in itself. Putting it together, deciding what’s included, what goes where and the artwork. What led you to wanting to put out compilation albums with your label Pentagon Black and what is the general process that you go through when compiling them?

RAYMOND: Yeah, as we played around with the poster-and-download format, it kind of “told” us what to do. When we realized it held limitless minutes of music, we realized we could present a lot of music. When we realized it was cheap to print and people saw it as a valuable thing, we realized we could print a lot of them and not get burned, financially. When we realized it was inexpensive to mail large quantities around, we realized we could decentralize distribution of the records among dozens of musicians and see what happened next.

DREW: In general, we approach bands that we love that are community builders in their own scenes and take it from there. Once all the tracks are in, Raymond (or Lisa recently) works on the art side to properly represent each of the tracks and I get to work on trying to discover a flow between the songs that makes sense.

RR: Why do you think compilation albums are still important today? Do you feel they are more beneficial to independent artists?

DREW: Compilations are more important now because it’s become difficult for a band to cut through the impenetrable wall of the Internet, to get heard by more than just their peer group. I think they are equal parts beneficial to the artist and the consumer: for artists, they get to tap into the fan base of a few dozen different bands, getting exposure in unknown places. For the listener, it's a chance to become exposed to groups they may not have heard before.

RAYMOND: The world is a dangerously libertarian and individualistic place where all kinds of established powers work for themselves and against your average human being. Maybe there’s another way?

RR: Pentagon Black No. 3 & 4 are made up of live recordings from cell/smart phones. This gives the compilations a certain bootleg-like immediate/raw quality. How did you come up with this “phone comp” format for these particular compilations and would you say it is similar to live bootleg recordings that have been released in the past?

DREW: Pentagon Black No. 3 came very close on the heels of the second one, which was a very polished collection. All the artists put their best foot forward. We knew we needed to do something different with that release, both in format and delivery. It was sort of obvious. Any time we write a new song, we use Voice Memo to capture a reference of it. Listening back, they’re at least “listenable” if not “good” sounding, and so easy. We figured it wouldn't be asking too much of bands to supply us with a track that way. You could consider it in the same family as a live record, except that due to the fidelity of the phone recordings, it sounds like every band recorded in the same room.

RAYMOND: I think we were hanging out near Brasserie Beaubien when we decided it was an idea worth trying. The risk was incredibly low—no recording costs, no mastering, we already had the (very easy) technology down, we knew a bunch of bands that trusted us because of the first two compilations, and printing 500 postcards is dirt cheap. That same “low risk” environment bled into the adventurousness of the recordings. Garbageface recorded his track while walking around Peterborough singing into his phone, Special Costello’s while driving in western Nova Scotia. An early version of Steph Yates’ track had her cat in it, Usse described their recording as “their free-est yet” and Fashionism spontaneously cusses at us in their intro. So much of this is unfiltered or untried. I honestly haven’t thought of these as akin to “bootlegs” until you just mentioned it now.

RR: How does Pentagon Black No. 4 differ from No. 3 and what are some of your favourite bootleg/live recordings that you’ve heard?

DREW: They’re different in that artists were taking bigger sonic risks this time around. There is more experimentation and diversity among the tracks. And a bunch of saxophone. Personally, the live version of “The Human Factor" by Oneida is one of my favorites. I have it on vinyl but my partner doesn’t allow me to play it at home because she hates it. It's 15 minutes of improvised drums and screaming.

RAYMOND: Agreed. It was easier to coax tracks out of bands, too, which is why it’s a few songs longer. And there isn’t any Famines on it. And the Rolling Stones’ “Got Live if You Want It” live LP is a sonic mess. I love it so much—it sounds like the Stones gone punk. We named one of our songs “Got Lies if You Want Them” as a bit of an echo of it.

RR: Lisa Czech did the artwork for Pentagon Black No. 3 & 4. When did you first discover her art and how did she become involved with the album art for these recent compilation albums?

DREW: I’d seen her work on posters around Montreal for years but didn't know who she was. We wanted something that stood out as wholly different from the style of the first two, which are easy to spot as Raymond's work.

RAYMOND: I’d bought a few prints of hers over the years, and her B&W-dominated obsessively-detailed art was a clear fit. She’s the only person besides me we’ve ever trusted with a Famines release or comp. I think we may even have been considering her for a Famines record cover before this?

RR: You were involved in the 2018 Flourish Festival recently. The Famines played and in addition to releasing this compilation there was an art exhibition of sorts. Can you tell us a bit about what this entailed?

DREW: We played with Whoop-Szo, Klarka Weinwurm, Lonely Parade and Motherhood, and all of these bands have appeared on at least one of our compilations. In a way it was the unofficial Pentagon Black showcase. We also hung up each of the compilations, the Pentagon Black Famines singles, our Complete Collected Singles paper re-issue, a PRIORS record, and a picture of my leg tattoo (also known as the 7th Pentagon Black release). All the exhibit labels showed a download code, too, and anybody who wanted could download the releases for free. That's at least 106 songs.

RAYMOND: Yeah, it was all ten Pentagon Black releases, left to right, chronologically. Oh, and we added the “Stay Home Club” paper single—our very first paper release. That was on another label (Psychic Handshake, RIP). They basically said “we’re going out of business so do whatever you want as long as it’s cheap, you crazy boys.”

RR: Your label is called Pentagon Black. What inspired the name Pentagon Black?

DREW: We discussed a handful of combinations before arriving at Pentagon Black. I can't remember the exact flow, but black is a touchstone of our vibe and the pentagon is a visually striking shape to rally around.

RAYMOND: The minimalism and starkness of it is expressive of the Famines. And it sounds nice, too.

RR: Do you think that Pentagon Black will ever release anything in a physical format or do you plan on sticking to digital releases?

DREW: We haven’t discussed it officially, but I can confidently say we will always release on paper with digital. Vinyl and cassette are too expensive and wasteful. CDs are equally wasteful, perceived as uncool, and move slower because of it.

RAYMOND: No comment.

RR: The first two Pentagon Black compilations were more studio recorded affairs, while these last two were live. Do you plan on doing more compilation albums and if so, what do you plan on doing next?

DREW: We've put a lot of work into pushing compilations and scene building, but have put zero work into recording and pushing our own music lately. So the next release is going to be by and for the Famines. We haven't closed the book on compilations, but it hasn't been a week yet since No. 4 was released. We're taking a vacation from making any grand plans.

RAYMOND: Good call. As much as we talk about how “easy” our formats are on musicians, this stuff is exhausting. I just want to be a guitarist and singer for at least half a year, tour around, record a bit, talk to the musicians we’ve worked with, and maybe they’ll tell us what comes next.

Show 719 Play List (Originally Aired On April 28th, 2018)(Pentagon Black No.4 Part 2):

1. Billy Lee Riley - Flyin' Saucer Rock & Roll
2. Big Mama Thornton - Wrapped Tight
3. Bo Diddley - Down Home Special
4. The Gories - Be Nice
5. The Space Plan - High Noon In Death Valley
6. Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet - Who's Afraid Of Alison Hymer/Wow Flutter Hiss
7. Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet - Babakganoosh
8. Young Fresh Fellows - Taco Wagon
9. Secrets - Take Another Look
10. Marbles - Fire and Smoke
11. The Revelons - 97 Tears
12. Elvis Costello & The Attractions - Oliver's Army
13. The Clash - White Riot (UK Version)
14. The Ronald Reagan Story - Ronnie (I Voted For You)
15. Nocturnal Projections - Nerve Ends In Power Lines
16. Nocturnal Projections - Moving Forward
17. Visitors - The Orcadian
18. Preoccupations - Espionage
19. A Place To Bury Strangers - Execution
20. Heart Attack Kids - Platonic Love Bomb
21. Cellos - Exodus
22. The Famines - Stay Home Club
23. Fashionism - Checking Out the Checkout Girl
24. Outtacontroller - Too Much Tonight
25. Steph Yates - Bitter Part of the Fruit
26. Paul The Tailor - Why Won't You
27. The Ketamines - Spaced Out
28. The Replacements - Hitchin' A Ride
29. Tough Age - 50 Girls 50
30. Guided By Voices - Space Gun
31. Frankie Cosmos - Apathy
32. Subway Sect - Don't Split It
33. The Rolling Stones - Under My Thumb (Live)
34. The Rolling Stones - Get Off My Cloud (Live)

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for April 28.

Show 718 Play List (Originally Aired On April 21st, 2018)(Pentagon Black No.4 Part 1):

1. Iggy Pop - Rock And Roll Party
2. Sex Pistols - God Save The Queen
3. Ivy Green - I'm Sure We're Gonna Make It
4. Epsilons - Drunk On Love
5. Epsilons - Evil Robots
6. The Unintended - Stay Calm
7. Jon Langford & His Sadies - Up To My Neck In This
8. Mayhemingways - 14th of January
9. Born Ruffians - Ring That Bell
10. Baby Giant - Such & Such
11. Human Switchboard - Fly-In
12. The Waterfront - Normandy (On The Beach)
13. Damaged Bug - The Mirror
14. The Government - None of the Above
15. Kim Gray - Reflection of You
16. The Exploding Hearts - Shattered (You Left Me)
17. Kevin Morby - Baltimore (County Line)
18. OCS - Wait All Nite
19. OCS - Tower & The Wall
20. Indian Wars - Walk Around The Park
21. Curtiss A - Bad News From Phoenix
22. The Suicide Commandos - Weekend Warrior
23. The Minneapolis Uranium Club Band - Vanishing Point
24. Don't Bother - The Rebel
25. The Orange Kyte - Downfall
26. The Cavemen - Thug
27. Nap Eyes - You Like To Joke Around With Me
28. Nap Eyes - Everytime The Feeling
29. Gary U.S. Bonds - Quarter To Three
30. The Ugly Ducklings - Nothin'

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for April 21.

Show 717 Play List (Originally Aired On April 14th, 2017)(Hot Snakes, The Spits and The Wipers):

1. Messer Chups - House of Exorcism
2. The Phantoms - Peter Gunn
3. The Garry's - Relics
4. La Luz - Cicada
5. Bonny Doon - A Lotta Things
6. Lucile Furs - Another Land
7. Papermaps - The Missed Connections
8. The Voidz - Leave It In My Dreams
9. A Place To Bury Strangers - Frustrated Operator
10. Yellow Magic Orchestra - Solid State Survivor
11. Safe Word - You & Me
12. Lychi - Not Sorry
13. Middle Sister - The Diplomat
14. Eamon McGrath - Cartographers
15. Dusted - Backwoods Ritual
16. Hot Snakes - I Need A Doctor
17. Hot Snakes - I Hate The Kids
18. Ten Million Lights - Revolt
19. Shark Toys - Three Dogs
20. The Spits - 2018
21. The Spits - Remote Kontrol
22. LTD - New Stains
23. Guitar Army - I Wanna Be Like You
24. Garbage Face - Rock Music (Kawithitnow)
25. Garbage Face - That Guy Is Cool (Sick!)
26. Paul Jacobs - The Basement
27. The Wipers - When It's Over
28. Destroy All Monsters - Nobody Knows
29. The Gruesomes - You Gotta Believe Me

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for April 14.

Show 716 Play List (Originally Aired On April 7th, 2018)(Archie & The Bunkers, Husker Du, Nap Eyes & Ty Segall):

1. Creation's Disciple - Psychedelic Reaction
2. Phil and The Frantics - I Must Run
3. Archie and The Bunkers - The Traveler
4. Archie and The Bunkers - She's A Rockin' Machine
5. Naked Giants - Everybody Thinks They Know (But No One Really Knows)
6. Frankie Cosmos - The Ballad of R & J Vessel
7. The Damned - Idiot Box
8. Iggy & The Stooges - Shake Appeal
9. Psychic Void - Day Dreamer
10. Husker Du - From The Gut
11. Husker Du - Sunshine Superman
12. Hellaluya - Iggy Pop
13. Cartoons - Bugeyed
14. Young Canadians - No Escape
15. Spizzenergi - Mega City 3
16. Devo - Wiggly World (Live at The Walker 1978)
17. Ought - Disgraced In America
18. The Magnificent 7's - Dirty Road
19. James O-L & The Villains - Foolsome Tourist
20. Bloodshot Bill - Pretty Little Girl From Mars
21. Baby Giant - Sky Writer
22. Leonard Cohen - Stories of the Street
23. Nap Eyes - Roses
24. Nap Eyes - Follow Me Down
25. Chain & The Gang - I Hate Winners
26. Ty Segall & White Fence - Easy Ryder
27. Ty Segall - You Say All The Nice Things
28. Danny & The Darleans - I'm Right Here
29. Preoccupations - Manipulation

To download this weeks program, visit CJAM's schedule page for Revolution Rock and download the file for April 7.