These albums, one nearly three years old and the other reaching its first birthday later this month, have practically nothing in common with each other besides the fact that both bands’ names are lengthy phrases about owls. But sometimes little things like that can randomly grab your attention, and then you accidentally discover that there’s some great music inside, too. I think you just might find this to be the case with either or both of these releases…
The Owls Are Not What They Seem – Feral Blood (Eleventh Key, 19 March 2019)
And Now the Owls Are Smiling – Dirges (Clobber Records, 29 January 2021)
Good afternoon! If you’ve been hanging around here for a bit, you’ve probably heard Disemballerina, whose 2014 and 2016 albums were covered here, and A Stick and a Stone who had a release we discussed back in 2017 and one just this past January.
But if you haven’t — both are musical projects that generally tend toward the folk/ambient, sometimes a bit on the experimental side with unusual instrumentations, but always highly expressive, cathartic responses to both inner and outer turmoil. And over the past few months each has released a new single or EP, both of which I’d like to point in the direction of your ears today. Enjoy!
Disemballerina – Fawn (Riff Merchant Records, 06 August 2021)
A Stick and a Stone – Root Shock (Spirit House, 03 November 2021)
Úzkost – Blood Debt (self-released, 21 August 2020)
Hello out there, friends and faithful readers who have been bearing with us as we have been going through a bit of a slow period in terms of writing output! For those who don’t watch television or read newspapers or spend all day doomscrolling Twitter (that last one has been my personal sickness lately), sorry to have to be the one to break it to you, but the entire world is crumbling to shit.
In entirely unrelated news, earlier this week I got a notification that this website’s domain registration was renewing (marking the eighth anniversary as an official “dot net” site, and putting us a few mere weeks away from our ninth anniversary operating under the Valley of Steel name), which reminded me that I have a self-assigned duty to share my musical discoveries with the good people of the internet.
Frankly, it’s been pretty difficult lately to get excited about anything or to focus attention on anything that isn’t the constant stream of negativity and hatred that surrounds us all. But I’ve managed to drag myself away from the harsh misery of 2020 America just long enough to write up some words about this new single and video that was released two weeks ago by local (Pittsburgh) band Úzkost. And as a bonus, both song and video happen to be a strikingly apt reaction to all that negativity and hatred!
Nothing – GEORGE (A Live Part Time Punks Session, Los Angeles 12.07.2019), self-released 01 June 2020
In light of, and in solidarity with, the wholly justified anger (and the equally justified demonstrations and protests currently taking place) against the completely broken system we are all stuck in — and particularly in light of the undeniable truth that the system is SO MUCH more broken for SO MANY demographic groups other than my own — it has felt appropriate to take some time away from putting out any new content of my own, for the past week or so.
To the extent that anybody ever cares what I have to say about anything, it feels like especially right now, who wants to hear the thoughts and opinions of some random straight white dude? So I’ve been pretty quiet, no writing about music, no news or reviews; and instead trying to use whatever minuscule social influence I have to help spread the words of other people, who are far more relevant to the very serious discussions taking place right now.
But today, the fifth of June, is Bandcamp Friday once again — where the Bandcamp is taking zero fees from anything purchased through their platform — and artists and labels all over the world are taking advantage of the day to pledge donations to a very wide range of social causes. In fact, Bandcamp themselves have put together this lengthy (but certainly not comprehensive) list of folks donating their profits and/or making special limited-edition material or merchandise available for the occasion. They also shared this gigantic list of over 1000 black artists and producers and black-owned labels you may wish to check out today. (A big thank you to those who have put a ton of effort into compiling and continuing to maintain this spreadsheet!)
Slaves BC – Third Temple (The Fear and the Void Recordings, 18 March 2020)
Hello from the Valley of Steel Quarantine Command Headquarters. Hoping that everyone is staying safe out there, wherever you are.
Personally, my coworkers and I had barely begun adapting to an entirely new accounting and ERP software system, which we had been preparing to implement for about the past year and a half, and which finally launched company-wide, a mere three days before the mandatory work-from-home proclamation went out. But as stressful and difficult as this has been for me, I know how fortunate I really am to have a job flexible enough to allow me to perform my duties from the safety of home — unlike so many folks who have to continue venturing out into the world, or so many others who simply aren’t able to work at all under these circumstances.
That’s always very important: to recognize the relative triviality of our own struggles when compared with those of other people; but especially in times of widespread crisis like this, we should all be asking ourselves what more we could be doing to lend a hand to those who might need it. This philosophy is perfectly embodied by local Pittsburgh band (and longtime friends of this website) Slaves BC, who released a brand-new song a few days ago accompanied by the following announcement:
With the global pandemic we are now facing, a lot of people are losing their jobs and are really struggling financially.
We were going to use this track for something else, but we decided to release it early to raise money to help people we love.
For the foreseeable future, any money paid for this track and all other releases by Slaves BC will go to friends in need.
Forgotten Bottom – Hostile Architecture (digital: self-released, 25 July 2019 / cassette: Black Horizons, coming soon)
Around here, we’ve had a bit of a history picking on the city of Philadelphia, and its residents, and especially its sports fans. But we’ve also spent plenty of time listening to and enjoying — and writing about — the variety of musical output from “The City that Bombed Itself.” And here is yet another example of that, in the form of a uniquely-orchestrated instrumental two-piece.
Forgotten Bottom, which has just recently come to my attention, includes one person we’ve mentioned multiple times on this website: swiftly becoming perhaps the most significant experimental-music violist since John Cale‘s stint with The Velvet Underground, the prolific Myles Donovan has also appeared with Disemballerina and A Stick and a Stone.
The line-up is then rounded out by Eric Bandel who plays a bit of guitar here, but mostly bouzouki. If I hadn’t already been excited to hear this project, that’s the part that fully sold me. A life-long fan of uncommon musical instruments of all ethnicities, I’ve especially enjoyed the bouzouki ever since Monty Python taught me what it was called.
(As a kid, I had this double-cassette set, which I listened to a zillion times — and “The Cheese Shop” was always one of my favorite sketches included here. While this was also performed on the Flying Circus tv show, the audio-only version included on Final Rip-Off clearly mentioned the instrument by name: check it out here, specifically from 0:40-0:50 and from 3:33-3:43.)
Mevrimna – INHIBIT\\EXHIBIT (The Fear and the Void Recordings, 01 November 2019)
While they may take the stage silently, completely shrouded in the anonymity of long black cowls, I don’t think either member of Pittsburgh-based blackened noise duo Mevrimna is making any real attempt to conceal their real-life alter egos: the guitarist (and occasionally bassist) and the drummer/vocalist serve in those same capacities as members of the much-acclaimed Slaves BC.
In fact, their live debut (almost exactly one year ago in Turtle Creek, PA) was slotted immediately before a performance by their “other” group. While I don’t know whether they found themselves to be a hard act to follow that evening, I can confirm that the peculiarly-named twosome did succeed in utterly scaring the hell out of everyone in attendance.
And now, following a few one-off tracks, this month these guys have released a brand-new full-length recording, which assuredly will serve up the exact same result. Consider yourself warned.