These thoughts have been in the cranium for years and I have let them out on occasion, always spurred by some musical thought or statement from someone else. I was thinking them decades ago when I was discovering Ash Ra Tempel and Popol Vuh and Can and Guru Guru and so many others, courtesy of the import arm of Portland, Oregon's Music Millennium, a store which fed my vinyl cravings with alternatives proving to me that music can be (and was and is) an adventure. I hate neither the music of Led Zeppelin nor McCartney. I have just heard them too much to care. And to hear their music as tribute, well, excuse me while I fill a vomit bag.
Dan Phelps is only one of many musicians I have found on my adventures but he is, at this point, of the moment. I first heard him on albums by Jess Pillmore, even a force back then, as young as he was. I especially liked his work on Jess's Reveal album back in 2005 (it was my choice as that year's best), his musicianship intriguing beyond his experience. He definitely had something outside the norm going for him and I somehow knew that he would play around the edges rather than be dragged into the mainstream. The things he did on that album! Jess provided the music and the voice and the emotion, of course, but Dan was the man behind the cohesiveness. He was the one who kept Jess focused, who made her work harder when things were not to her liking, who brought in musicians the caliber of drummers Matt Chamberlain and Craig Barnette and bassist Viktor Krauss. He was the one who realized how important the album was to Jess and to Jess's career. He was the one who encouraged her to find the paths she needed to take to make Reveal way more than what it might have been.
God, but when I go back to hear Atlanta from that album, I am overwhelmed! A song which started out as a bluegrass tune ending up as theater/spoken word/jazz and as freaky as I think it could have been. The emotion! The musical chaos which is not chaos at all! And Open My Mouth, an eerie but hauntingly beautiful ode to the end of not just one relationship but hundreds or thousands. And Don't Show Me, which has to rip at the guts of anyone who cares about anything at all, even a little. This album was my discovery of both Jess Pillmore and Dan Phelps. This album still floors me. The emotion. The production. The musicianship. The lyrics. Oh, and those vocals! My God, but they are transcendent! I have always said that if you don't hear it, you aren't trying. You have to work to hear the really good stuff, you know.
But we're talking about Dan here, and his latest released work. Those bands I mentioned above--- Can, etc.? I hear a bit of them all on Death Under Rainbows. And more. I hear adventures in guitar and keyboards and a whole string of instruments--- alone and together. I hear short blurts of King's X and King Crimson and a whole string of Kings. I hear pieces of his band Modular, I hear atmospheric sounds (he records on his own label--- Oceanographic Records), I hear Group 87 in Death Under Rainbows Part 1, which opens the EP. I mean, Group 87! I love their self-titled album on Columbia!
Musicianship? I mop my brow. Not for the squeamish, maybe. More for those couched in the intensity of what music can be? More progressive than most people would like? Hell, I don't know. Every time I hear it, I laugh. Phelps is amazing on the guitar. And whomever he has playing on it with him--- Jesus! They are amazing, as well.
You can hear it for yourself. I invite you to. I highly recommend it. And if it doesn't hit you right off the bat, bookmark it and come back later. Those who know music will hear it. Who really know music. This is adventure! This is cool! More than that, this ain't for pussies.
You can hear Death Under Rainbows here.
Frank O. Gutch Jr.
(Frank Gutch Jr. writes and has written for numerous magazines and websites, presently including this blog, his own website and the prestigious Don't Believe A Word I Say site put together by musician and music pundit Bob Segarini, out of Toronto. He specializes in the Indies, having fought hand-to-hand combat with major record labels for decades (talk about zombies). He believes music should be the core of the music business, though business it mostly be, and denies the accepted reality in the stead of the artistic one. Seldom does he receive pay for articles and/or reviews and believes that there is no place for negatives in a world in which one cannot keep up with the positives. He is, in a sense, a lost soul in a sea of music, drowning, but drowning gratefully.)