In Memoriam: Jason Noble

last things last is not enough,
you can’t accept this
Don’t give in just yet
I hope that last things last
past these first charms
these pale charms
I hope that last things last
a hook or a flake
to hold on so you don’t break – J. Noble, “Last Things Last”

How does a music nerd pay tribute to the musician who literally transformed his notion of what music could be?

I have been slowly waking up to the fact over the last few days that the world has lost Jason Noble. My heart is broken for his family and friends. I stumbled across the website Actual Blood on Sunday, apparently Jason’s own work in progress in terms of a depository for his manifold creations. I see from the updates on his Caring Bridge site that he had journeyed to Bethesda in order to participate in a clinical trial, and that he had suddenly taken a turn for the worse on Friday. Not that I know, but my sense is that his death was painfully unexpected.

Again, my thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. I never met Jason personally, but I always got the impression from his work that he was a “larger than life” sort of individual, and a sweet heart nonetheless. So rich and unique was his aesthetic that I look back now and wonder how he didn’t become a world-famous producer on the level of Eno, but I have some sense that he deliberately chose a humbler path, a quiet life of community and locality, of friendship and personal collaboration.

I first came to Jason’s music in early 1995, when I bought Rusty on a whim. I had only become familiar with the local music scene in the previous year, and I was astonished to discover that Tara O’Neil, whose family had lived next door to mine a few years prior, was a member of Rodan, a band that was becoming a big deal locally. I’ll never forget popping that CD into the player in my dad’s car, surprised to find not a huge rock song, but the delicate, considered, drum-less and distortion-less “Bible Silver Corner.” Over the course of the next few years, Rusty became my favorite album, and it remains one of them today, so much so that (would you believe it) I had been actually considering contacting Jason and arranging some interviews to record the history of Rodan, a history heretofore essentially undocumented.

I came to Rodan too late to ever witness their live show, something I had to make up for by seeking out lo-fi bootlegs, but one magical piece of apocrypha that I eventually came upon was their 1994 BBC session with John Peel, which managed to capture the band on the cusp of recording their follow-up to Rusty. Captured in that set is my favorite Rodan tune, “Before the Train”, albeit in essentially instrumental form. However, Jason would later add vocals to it, a fact captured in a bootleg recording of their last ever show at Lounge Axe in Chicago on 9/25/1994. Despite the poor audio quality, it’s a pretty great document of Jason as band leader, visionary, and vocalist. Check it out:

Rodan – Before the Train (live) – September 25, 1994 – Chicago, IL

If there’s any one thing I love about the thing called rock music, it’s the guitar, and Jason was one of my favorite guitar players. No one played guitar like he did. He was my Eddie Van Halen, a self-taught genius who managed to coax heretofore unheard of sounds out of the instrument. Yet unlike Eddie, Jason treated the guitar with subtlety and romance, as a poetic implement rather than a wankerish tool (and really no disrespect to Eddie, but the divergence is clear). From “Bible Silver Corner” to “A True Lover’s Knot” to “Quiet Victories” to “Full On Night” to “Forecasting” to “A French Gallease” to “How to Draw Horses”, Noble’s work on the instrument was distinct and unforgettable.

But Jason’s guitar work was only one aspect of his art, a natural outgrowth of his unique creative vision. What impressed me about the handful of times I saw Rachel’s perform in the 90’s was the elegance of it, and Jason always seemed to be the mastermind of how it all came off. No doubt he was working closely with some incredible musicians, but there was a darkness, a sense of the numinous, that inhabited anything he touched. One need only look at the intricate artwork that accompanied Rachel’s albums to realize that, for Jason, the music was only one aspect of the creation. Every time I pick up my copy of Handwriting, I’m impressed by the beautiful heft of the 165g vinyl. Whenever I revisit The Sea and The Bells, I’m flabbergasted to recall that Noble penned what is essentially an epic poem for the artwork:

I check the night air
lifting the lantern up
I look over to the book on the desk
unfinished
It tells the story
I won’t be able to write the ending in anything but fire
the last page will be written in fire

I’ll also remember him as a brilliant master of ceremonies. Whether it was surprising the crowd with the Kentucky Derby bugler to open a Shellac performance, or his omnipresence on the Simple Machines Working Holiday Live CD, Jason was witty, good natured, and just weird enough to make you realize that he was usually improvising. There’s this altogether appropriate quote on track 16 from the poor guy who had to fill-in for Jason as MC at the Working Holiday show: “Thanks…I’m no Jason…I’m no Jason…”

Again, my heart goes out to those he was close to. I may have lost one of my favorite musicians, but they have lost someone dear to them. I wish them healing, hope, and consolation.

Requiescecat in pace.

419_Angel_sketch_92IMG_6231_web_noble

1. “Angel comes to child who has fallen down in the woods” sketch by Jason Noble, obtained from the website Actual Blood.

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Quick Review (LP): One Less Heartless to Fear by Shipping News

Shipping News
One Less Heartless to Fear
Noise Pollution/Karate Body; 2010

My Rating: B

Best Tracks: “Half A House”, “(Morays or) Demons”

Shipping News speeds things up and unleashes a little bit of the ol’ Albini charm here, but I gotta admit, I’ve always been a sucker for Shipping News’ slower, brooding side. Therefore, I wasn’t immediately thrilled by “The Delicate” when it was released a few months back. And to be clear, OLHTF is not really a new LP so much as a live document. It contains a few tracks from their last LP proper, Flies the Fields, and features a solid set of otherwise unreleased material. The good news is that the old tracks sound great here, and the new stuff presents a side to the Noble/Mueller partnership that I hadn’t thought of since “Shiner.” Overall, I’m a big fan of the record’s concept. More bands (indie ones specifically) should take a step back from the studio and let their fans hear unreleased songs in process. I’m not so much talking about “LIVE” albums, greatest hits collections performed on stage, I’m talking about single-take sets of old, new, and weird. I could get used to Shipping News (and plenty of other bands) releasing something like this every other year or so. Dig the cover art too.

Built On A Weak Spot review
Dusted review
Young Scamels review (SGB)
June of 44 career-in-brief (SGB)

News Bits: Possible Rodan Rarities Collection in 2011

jason nobleCheck out this Magnet Magazine interview with indie rock godfather/superhero Jason Noble. Newsworthy bits:

    • Rodan Peel session – Official release likely (along with other rarities) in 2011 on Quarterstick
  • Rodan reunion – unlikely (but he doesn’t completely rule it out)
  • Shipping News – Next project will be another RMSN EP with separate studio recordings by each member
  • Young Scamels – More music probable in the near future, looking to a more contemporary author for influence.

There’s much more where that came from, so you should definitely check it out.

My review of Rodan’s 1994 Peel Session
My review of Young Scamel’s Tempest LP

Quick Review (LP): Tempest by Young Scamels

Young Scamels
Tempest
File 13; 2010

My Rating: A-

Best Tracks: “Tempest”, “Full Fathom Five (Thy Father Lies)”, “I’ll Drown My Book”, “A Thousand-Thousand”, “A Contract of True Love”

The splicing of Shakespearean drama with post-rock was bound to happen sooner or later, and I’m just glad it was two-thirds of Rachel’s that made it happen. Furthermore, they probably couldn’t have picked a more appropriate play than The Tempest, a play wrought with mystery, melancholy, and magic of all sorts. Since this was composed for an actual dramatic production of the play, it is not exactly an album in the rock and roll sense. It is more like a soundtrack. Fortunately, the play features a number of “songs” that serve as inspiring aesthetic source material. The best tracks are those that feature vocals (“Full Fathom Five”, “A Contract of True Love”), and there are a handful of other strong instrumentals, especially the title track. Overall, it sounds most like an amalgamation of Rachel’s Selenography and Shipping News’ Save Everything. I suppose it’s doubtful that we’ll see more from this outfit, but given the strength of this little experiment, it would be a pleasure. Come on guys, how about “The Shakespeare’s Canon Project?” One down, thirty-eight to go, sonnets boxset to follow.

Band Myspace page
Band website
Band Facebook page

Quick Review (LP): Handwriting by Rachel’s

handwriting Rachel’s
Handwriting
Quarterstick; 1995

My Rating: B

Best Tracks: “Southbound to Marion”, “M. Daguerre”, “Full On Night”

When Rodan split in late 1994, they darted like subatomic particles into other musical nuclei. The most obtuse of these initial ventures was probably Rachel’s, Jason Noble’s stab at classical music. While it might seem like a stretch, it’s really not. After all, Rodan opened their only LP with “Bible Silver Corner”, a drum-less instrumental steeped in neo-classical dynamics and ambiance. When you consider that he was joined by two classically trained musicians (Christian Fredericksen and Rachel Grimes) in forming the artistic core of Rachel’s, it’s no surprise that their debut slides easily into the canon of 20th century classical music. That’s not to say that all of Rodan’s angular aesthetic has been stripped from these arrangements. “Full On Night” features a long free-handed guitar solo from Noble, and “M. Daguerre” amounts to an eerily deconstructed take on an old lounge standard. These two long tracks are exceptionally strong, and opener “Southbound to Marion” makes for an outstanding country road soundtrack. Finally, it’s Rachel Grimes that shines on the poignant “Frida Kahlo”, anticipating the major role she would play on the band’s follow-up, Music for Egon Schiele. All in all, not everything here is great, but as a fusion of indie rock and neo-classical music, there’s enough good to keep me coming back for more.

All Music Guide review
”M. Daguerre” video
Rachel’s website

Placeholder: Rodan live video

Going on vacation, back to posting on 9/27. For now, enjoy this video of Rodan playing “The Everyday World of Bodies” from 1994. Glorious.

Peel-ology: Rodan’s 1994 BBC Session

Peel-ology is where I write about some or another Peel session. The Peel session has special importance for me because of the “mystique” that surrounds it. Oftentimes, bands come to the Peel session with a small set of songs that have never seen official release. For fans of arcane indie rock, that’s like the Holy Grail…

rodan (e wolf) Rodan’s 1994 Peel session holds a special place in my heart. On one hand, it was my introduction to the work of John Peel, the first time I had ever heard of a “Peel” session at all. On the other hand, it is the only hint of what one of my all-time favorite bands might have sounded like on their second LP. While all of Rodan’s members went on to have prolific careers in other musical ventures (including the Mueller/Noble vehicle Shipping News), there was a definite magic realized by Jason Noble, Jeff Mueller, Tara Jane O’Neill, and Kevin Coultas on their Bob Weston produced debut Rusty.

  • “Sangre” leads things off. It’s a slow, brooding, almost meditative track, featuring O’Neill’s distinctively moaning vocals and some excellent high-fret guitar work from Jason Noble. I swear, when this song kicks in, I see thunder. That’s the only way I know how to put it.
  • “Big Things, Little Things” might be the closest Rodan ever came to “poppy”, figuring brightly between the other two tracks here. I love the bass work here. In my book, TJ is one of the best indie bassists of all time.
  • For all the greatness of the other tracks, “Before the Train” most successfully captures what made this band great. A 10-minute-plus instrumental (with the exception of the spoken “I’ve seen things you wouldn’t believe”), the song evolves from elastic, visceral post-punk into quiet, spectral neo-classicism, only to re-emerge in a furious explosion of noisy, angular fury. This track contains, in a nutshell, everything that made Rodan special.
  • Kevin Coultas’ drumming totally blows me away. Rodan went through 3 drummers in their existence, but it was Coultas’ imperfect-in-all-the-right-ways work that transformed the band from mere post-rock into epic chamber-punk. His drumming helped the band achieve the monstrosity of sound that their name implies.
  • It’s John Peel who, between tracks, mentions that the band will be returning to the US in just a few weeks in order to complete their follow-up LP. I guess a lot can happen in 2+ months.

So there you have it. In September of 1994, the band played its last show and fractured into several different bands, including June of 44, Rachel’s, Sonora Pine, and Retsin (Shipping News & Tara Jane O’Neil’s solo work would come later). There are a few low-quality bootlegs floating around that feature other, untitled tracks, some of which made it onto the debut records of the above-mentioned bands. But this stunning Peel session is the only studio indication of what might have been.

you can download the whole Peel session from this site

Career In Brief: June of 44

I came to June of 44 via Rodan. I became a huge fan of Jeff Mueller’s first band after hearing their album Rusty in early 1995, only to learn that they had broken up shortly after its release. Fortunately, the creative forces behind that musical beast were only getting started, and just a few months later June of 44’s Engine Takes to the Water hit the streets. Mueller joined forces with members of Codeine, Lungfish, and Hoover, and the band was termed an indie rock “supergroup” at the time. Mueller could sort of be seen as continuing to carry the mantle of Rodan’s angular, slightly cerebral post-rock with June of 44, but it also gradually became clear that he was looking to move beyond it. The band continued releasing records at a pretty frequent rate, and they started exploring unorthodox instrumentation and incorporating the musical influence of jazz fusion outfits like late-era Miles Davis. The band quietly called it quits in 2000. They have often been cheekily termed “boat rock” for incorporating manifold nautical themes into their music, but for me and other fans, their “hipster prog” was one of the most appealing things about the band. Four Great Points is their masterpiece, but I think Engine Takes to the Water remains the best introduction to the band, so start there.

MAJOR/NOTABLE RELEASES:

Engine Takes to the Water [1995] (B+): Recorded right on the heels of Mueller’s stint in Rodan, this is the band at its most Slint-inspired, and I think some of these tracks may even be the result of leftover sketches from Rodan’s final days. That being said, Engine Takes to the Water is no mere Mueller vehicle. The creative influences of all the members are highly evident, from the trumpet work of Fred Erskine to Doug Scharin’s thunderous and precise drumming. For all of the dynamic wonder of “Have a Safe Trip, Dear”, the best tracks are the most subdued. “I Get My Kicks for You” and “Sink Is Busted” really shine in retrospect. R: “I Get My Kicks for You”, “Have a Safe Trip, Dear”, “Sink Is Busted”. (buy from Amazon)

Tropics & Meridians [1996] (B): It didn’t take long for June of 44 to establish themselves as indie rocks heroes, and Tropics & Meridians opens with what was probably their grandest musical statement, the lumbering, tension-driven, cybernetic post-rock of “Anisette.” “Lusitania” considers things maritime and tragic in a vein quite similar to the band’s first record, but it is “Lawn Bowler”, a rustic, rickety, shadow-laced instrumental that shows the band striving for something different. “June Leaf” is good but typical, and “Arms Over Arteries” recalls the finer, quieter moments of Engine Takes to the Water. The final track, “Sanctioned in a Birdcage”, is a curious affair, the band’s first approach to the noise-jam approach they would take on later releases. R: “Anisette”, “Arms Over Arteries”. (buy from Amazon)

The Anatomy of Sharks EP [1997] (A-): The Anatomy of Sharks marks a creative turning point for June of 44. While the highlight of this 3-song extended player is most definitely the uncharted nautical epic “Sharks & Sailors”, the record’s second track, “Boom”, is a harbinger of things to come. Essentially the band’s first foray into jazz fusion, it features an exotic trumpet passage belted above repetitive drum rhythm. Final track “Seemingly Endless Steamer” should not be missed. R: “Sharks & Sailors”. (buy from Amazon)

The Four Great Points [1998] (A): 4GP is the record where June of 44 achieved a winning synthesis of their angular post-rock and their fusion-inspired jazzier imaginings. Album opener “Information & Belief” delivers like a prettier “Anisette”, while “Cut Your Face” blazes ahead at a faster pace than we’re used to, but it’s first-listen head-scratchers like “Lifted Bells”, “Shadow Pugilist”, and “Air #17” that keep you coming back for more. This is a great record, equal-parts post-Slint hard rock and post-Tortoise sonic landscaping. Highly recommended. R: “Information & Belief”, “Lifted Bells”, “Air #17”. (buy from Amazon)

Anahata [1999] (C): Suffering from a sub-standard recording and a hap-hazard approach to song-writing, Anahata comes off as the band’s attempt to take the trance-inducing experimentalism of the last few recordings to the next level. Opening with an apparent re-write of The Anatomy of Sharks’ “Boom”, “Wear Two Eyes (Boom)” jumps right into things but fails to live up to the opening track standards that, by now, June of 44’s fans have come to expect from them. While the rest of the record has its moments, with “Escape of the Levitational Trapeze Artist” and “Equators to Bi-Polar” both achieving success in the band’s new style, attempts to write more traditional songs, like “Cardiac Atlas” and “Southeast of Boston”, come off with little impact. R: “Escape of the Levitational Trapeze Artist”, “Equators to Bi-Polar.” (buy from Amazon)

In the Fishtank EP [1999] (B): Thankfully, after the disappointing Anahata, the band closes its career on a high-note with the spontaneously-conceived In the Fishtank EP. Given 2 days to record, this is where the band captured more perfectly the sort of open-ended, live feel that they attempted on Anahata. The results range from meditative and sublime (“Henry’s Revenge”) to energetic and propulsive (“Modern Hereditary Dance Steps”) to languid and funky (“Every Free Day a Good Day”). The rest of the EP consists of a cycle of tracks (“Pregenerate”-“Generate”-“Degenerate”) that succeeds in lending the record a necessary overall unity. R: “Henry’s Revenge”, “Modern Hereditary Dance Steps”. (buy from Amazon)

other/rarities: The band released most of their recorded output on their major releases, with one notable exception: the magnificent Rivers & Plains”, released in 1995 on the Lounge Ax Defense & Relocation Compilation CD. This track is well worth seeking out (sample it below), and is perhaps the best single recording June of 44 achieved. There are live recordings of album tracks to be found in different places, and there was also an extremely rare “Magic Eye” single recording of a song titled “1000 Paper Cranes” credited to June of 44, although it sounds like it was probably only Jeff Mueller on an answering machine.

Worth Shouting About: The Young Scamels


“The Tempest” by The Young ScamelsScamelsWebsite_Cloud_500

More wonderful rock and roll forthcoming from the apparently indomitable Jason Noble:

Formed in late 2007 for a production of Shakespeare’s “THE TEMPEST” at Actors Theatre of Louisville, directed by Marc Masterson. The show ran from January to February 2008, then we recorded the majority of the album live with KEVIN RATTERMAN (Wax Fang). Additional editing and recording continued in 2009. Mastering was completed in December 2009. Our release date is now set for September 21st, 2010. The CD will be available at independent record stores { distributed by the fine folks at Carrot Top Records }. The Digital Download version will be available through the kindness of FILE 13 records {http://www.file-13.com/}.

OK, why wouldn’t I be excited about this?

  • Post-rock from Louisville? Check.
  • Shakespearean influence? Check.
  • Guitar work courtesy of Jason Noble of Rachel’s, Rodan, Shipping News, etc? Check.
  • String-work from Christian Fredericksen of Rachel’s? Check.
  • Nautically-themed? Check.

It’s as if they asked themselves “What kind of record would that guy at Sweet Georgia Breezes want to hear?” Thanks guys – you are, in fact, super-duper.

And check out their MySpace site for more clips.

Worth Shouting About: New Shipping News!

I am completely stoked to hear that there is a new Shipping News album on the way via Louisville’s own Noise Pollution Records. Last I’d heard, RMSN’er Jason Noble was undergoing treatment for cancer, so I am completely impressed that he has been able to take time off from battling away the abyss in order to make a new album.

via Touch & Go

Here’s the word on the aesthetic:

“Shipping News has jettisoned the long songs (and glacial tempos) of the past and is concentrating on energetic blasts of noisy rock (with a little gallows humor thrown in). While slipping into a slightly more sympathetic mood once or twice, the new songs ares tripped down and pretty much nasty.”

Well, I never had a problem with the long songs, but okay. There’s a link through to a sample track at the Noise Pollution blog, so go check it out!