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.

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

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

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!

Tracks of the Decade (so far)

1563_Pieter_Bruegel_the_elder_The_Tower_of_Babel-wl400There’s still more to come, but here’s a list of the Sweet Georgia Breezes’ Tracks of the Decade so far (in no particular order). What do you think of the list? What are your top 5 or 10 tracks of the decade?

Counting Crows – Mrs. Potter’s Lullaby
Wilco – I am trying to break your heart
The New Pornographers  – Myriad Harbour
M. Ward – Poison Cup
Kathleen Edwards – In State
Vampire Weekend – M79
Johnny Cash – The Man Comes Around
Built to Spill – The Weather
Neko Case – Star Witness
Belle and Sebastian – Funny Little Frog
Interpol – NYC
Wilco – Impossible Germany
Coldplay – Lost!
Ryan Adams – To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)
Fugazi – Cashout
Flaming Lips – Fight Test
Nathan – The Wind
Radiohead – Everything In Its Right Place
Rachel’s – Water from the Same Source
Fleet Foxes – White Winter Hymnal
Bruce Springsteen – My City of Ruins
The Low Anthem – Charlie Darwin

Tracks of the Decade: “Water from the Same Source” by Rachel’s

“Water from the Same Source”
by Rachel’s
from SYSTEMS/LAYERS
Regardless of Rachel’s indie roots, they’ve always shined brightest when they let loose with their brand of unassuming melodicism. Tracks like “Rhine & Courtesan”, “Lloyd’s Register”, and the fullness of MUSIC FOR EGON SCHIELE demonstrate the age old truth that music is most of all about connection and communication of the otherwise inexpressible. That being said, “Water from the Same Source” stands as one of the decade’s great tracks because it is GORGEOUS. Do we need any other reason? The original Rachel’s novelty, indie-rock as high art, has passed away, and the band excels here by crafting a track that is both song and symphony. Epic in arc and graceful in execution, “Water from the Same Source” strikes the tone of a leisurely walk through the Louevre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That is to say, it’s a bit of bliss ignorant of the cynicism and irony of modern pop. These days, I’ll take all of that I can get.

rachelsphoto0S“Water from the Same Source”
by Rachel’s
from SYSTEMS/LAYERS

Regardless of Rachel’s indie roots, they’ve always shined brightest when they let loose with their brand of unassuming melodicism. Tracks like “Rhine & Courtesan”, “Lloyd’s Register”, and the fullness of MUSIC FOR EGON SCHIELE demonstrate the age old truth that music is most of all about connection and communication of the otherwise inexpressible. That being said, “Water from the Same Source” stands as one of the decade’s great tracks because it is GORGEOUS. Do we need any other reason? The original Rachel’s novelty, indie-rock as high art, has passed away, and the band excels here by crafting a track that is both song and symphony. Epic in arc and graceful in execution, “Water from the Same Source” strikes the tone of a leisurely walk through the Louvre or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That is to say, it’s a bit of bliss ignorant of the cynicism and irony of modern pop. These days, I’ll take all of that I can get.

Breezes of the Week #1

BREEZES OF THE WEEK is the wrap-up post wherein I discuss my favorite music related items of the past week. Enjoy!

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Built to Spill’s latest, THERE IS NO ENEMY, is probably their most vital and consistent album since PERFECT FROM NOW ON.  I don’t like to cast judgments on records as soon as they are released, or even after a couple of listens, but I am very stoked about the direction BTS takes here. Which is to say that they haven’t changed a thing!

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NEW RADIOHEAD LP IN 2010:

Ed O’Brien told NME that with sessions planned this winter the band would “definitely” be releasing a full album physically next year. “We were misquoted,” claimed O’Brien of Yorke’s comments, loudly adding, “WE WILL BE MAKING AN ALBUM!”
(via ateaseweb.com)

This is great news. I really believe Radiohead is at their most vital right now, and let’s face it, the album format is integral to the DNA of pop music.  Individual tracks are like short stories and poems, great in one sitting, but the LP is the novel, the grandest statement of all. Radiohead is AOR, no matter how much they’d like to be different.

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TRAVIS GETS THEIR DUE:

I salute the music blog Aquarium Drunkard for naming Travis’ The Man Who as one of their favorite albums of the decade. Travis aren’t exactly the toast of indie-dom, but the lush melodies of their Nigel G.-produced second album had most of us thinking back in 2000 that they would be to this decade what Coldplay ended up being. True, they haven’t really made anything so great since, but for one shining moment they had a whole lot of folks’ heads spinning. THE MAN WHO is an undeniable classic.

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NORAH’S SOUNDING GOOD:

Go here to stream a fresh track from Norah Jones’ upcoming LP THE FALL. Nothing TOO revolutionary, but she’s definitely kicking up the groove factor and trying to incorporate heavier rhythms. All good things, since her last outing, NOT TOO LATE, was kind of a clunker. Looking forward to THE FALL. (heads-up via Stereogum)

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JASON NOBLE’S ILLNESS

When I was about about 15 years old, I heard Rodan’s RUSTY for the first time. All I can really say is that RUSTY shattered my previous conceptions of what music could be. That album was in large part the work of Louisville’s own Jason Noble, who went on to record countless other works (see Shipping News, Rachel’s, Per Mission) that have been a huge part of the last fifteen years of my life. It’s safe to say that Jason is one of my musical heroes, and a real inspiration to me. My prayers are with him as he battles cancer. God grant you peace and serenity in the face of it all sir, and may you continue to inspire us for decades to come.

As a glimpse of his genius, here’s the beautiful “Last Things Last” from the Rachel’s masterpiece SYSTEMS/LAYERS:

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Did I mention Rachel’s? While surfing for that video of “Last Things Last”, I also found this truly amazing guitar-based cover of the glorious “Water from the Same Source.” Wow:

Anyone know how to rip this to mp3?