Abusements and Gowith

By on 28 February, 2019 in Kate and Stephen with 0 Comments

We recently took a sledgehammer to our media diet, and the renovations may not yet be complete. A lot of people are talking about “cutting the cord,” by which folks usually mean canceling their cable television subscription. But we took a more radical approach, ending our Charter TV service while also canceling subscription streaming services like Hulu and Netflix. We even dropped the hammer on XBox Live, which we had been using as a sort of media hub in addition to the video games that we never have time to play anymore.

As a result, we are watching old fashioned two-hour-long movies on the DVDs that arrive about once a week, and reading books, and listening to music in the old-fashioned album format. It has been wonderful. No longer does the background drone of television fill the quiet moments. We can be selective about how and when we want to look at a screen, especially since we are often both looking at computers all day for work.

And this is the media consumption background with which we offer the following reviews of two musical groups with ties to our city. Every once in a while, we at Midtown Montgomery Living dip our ears into the world of local music, listening to what our city’s artists are recording and putting out there for the world. And instead of the incessant jabbering of curated streams, we paid attention to these works in the more traditional way — just sitting and listening.

It can be hard to find this stuff. In a world of infinite content, where everything is pretty much always available in a wide variety of formats and platforms, it can be hard to find things, especially since effective marketing is expensive.

For example, we had never heard of local group Watch the Duck until they had already moved to Atlanta and started to receive national exposure. Then, ever late to the party, local media shows up and writes a piece about the hometown guys made good.

We like shining the light into often-overlooked areas, and have written a few times about performers that have connections to our city. One favorite is Jeff McLeod, who records music under too many names to keep track of. At issue here are two of his countless iterations, gowith and Stull. We also recently discovered a local punk band called Abusements — and although both have Montgomery connections and involve guitar-drive music, in many ways, Abusements and gowith are opposites. Abusements songs are over in 2 minutes. Gowith songs take two minutes (or more) to even establish the sonic framework and set up the rest of the song. The Abusements tracks often feature classic (but still innovative) punk vocals (think about the sneering sound of Jello Biafra, lead singer for Dead Kennedys). The self-described “ambient/drone guitar duo” of gowith, on the other hand, is all instrumental.

Abusements songs are punchy two-or-three minute confections, calling to mind Descendents or Minutemen. They’re funny enough to be Dead Milkmen songs, but infectious enough to be on the radio (if there were still such a thing). The opening track, “Space Nazis,” is our favorite song from the album we got (“Irritainment,” acquired from the local record store, The Record Stop). It’s fast, funny, and witheringly sarcastic, all while being pretty informative about the history of Huntsville, Alabama. It’s easily the best song about Wernher Von Braun since Tom Lehrer’s 1965 classic.

They have a few videos up on their website. The best (and most topical) one might be for the song “Troll Farm.”

The album isn’t just a novelty item, nor some performative reminder of just how much can be packed into 90 seconds worth of a song. It’s a brash but wry jolt of attitude, and well worth a listen and, if you’re into that sort of thing, a purchase.

The two folks behind gowith take a substantially different approach, with virtually no audible drums, no propulsive rhythm or structure. The music is ambient and almost formless, like walking through a dark cave. Sound blobs burble up from the surface of opaque water. It’s not that the songs aren’t upbeat  — they’re more like no beat. They’re not depressive, but feel somewhat aimless. The drift isn’t a bad thing, though, and they’re songs that conjure someone thinking hard about something.

On “Heralds,” gowith offers up tones of pain, suffering, shame and woe. At least, those are the song’s names. This might be music for a long late night drive. There are weird cicada sound when woe ends. The liner notes say that the album was the product of a single day of recording to “herald in the new year of 2019.” It this is the sound of the usually optimistic first day of the year, it’s possible that gowith start off every morning by gargling with battery acid. At least if you’re going to stare into the void, you might as well do it with the previous night’s party streamers still on the ground.

The other album we examined, “Dreams Really Can Come True” consists of two songs, “The Timeless Couch,” which may be about therapy, and “Some Things Never Go Out of Style.”

We also checked out three songs from McLeod’s other project,  a trio called Stull. As noted above, he’s got several other irons in the fire too, so if you like what you hear, check out the collected offerings of Subversive Workshop.

Stull’s “Building Haunted Houses” commences with a kind typewriter drum, or perhaps an adeptly-wielded hammer that is nailing together the frame of the titular house. These songs are long and aimless, almost formless. It’s got guitar and percussion, and might be a useful background music for mood setting, especially if the mood you are trying to create is disquiet. At 15 minutes, this is a demanding song, but an interesting voyage.

The second track, “Domesticated: Carried An Umbrella” might be the soundtrack to a scene in a movie where someone is alone trying to puzzle out a problem. Maybe they’re driving somewhere and you can see the passing lights flash across their windshield, reflected in their eyes. This goes on for 12 minutes, and it’s unclear where you end up, and who has been domesticated.

The final track, “Provide the Clean Demons,” is probably the best of the three, and consists of ever-building spirals of sound.

As always, we are excited to continue to hear what comes next from these local artists. Part of the fun isn’t just hearing a single work, but understanding how folks go from one work to the next, evolving a style and sensibility over time.

Take a listen, give money to musicians who deserve your support and patronage, and support your local scene!


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