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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LP Review: Song In The Air by Elliott

Elliott
Song In The Air
Revelation; 2003

My Rating: A- (83/100)

Best Tracks: "Land And Water", "Carry On", "Believe", "Drag Like Pull", "Song in the Air", "Away We Drift"

Next step: evaporate.

TRACK NOTES

"Land And Water" (4.5/5)

  • Very cool sound.
  • Still can’t understand a thing of what he’s saying. That’s his bag though.
  • Great guitar work by Benny Clark.
  • Production sounds PERFECT this time around. Not too hot, not too cold. Just right.

"Carry On" (4.5/5)

  • Pretty melody.
  • Again, nice guitar effects by Benny Clark.
  • Another somewhat Coldplay-ish tune.
  • Well written song. Great arc.

"Believe" (5/5)

  • Here’s an excellent example of the band just sounding more graceful than on False Cathedrals.
  • This is a gorgeous track.
  • The string work is perfect.

"Beijing (Too Many People)" (4/5)

  • You know, this reminds me of The Shipping News’ second album (Very Soon…).
  • Pleasant, but maybe a bit too long?

"Drag Like Pull" (4.5/5)

  • Excellent instrumental.
  • Tight as a snare drum.
  • Bet this one was awesome live.

"Bleed In Breathe Out" (4/5)

  • A bit faceless (?).
  • Still, I like it.
  • Especially dig the part towards the end where Ratterman starts in with a more martial pattern.

"Song In The Air" (4.5/5)

  • Strings, piano, and Higdon’s voice. Just great.
  • A perfect interlude. This really grounds the album. Makes it feel complete.

"Away We Drift" (5/5)

  • Another excellent rocker. This is the band firing on all cylinders.

"Blue Storm" (3.5/5)

  • Not much here. It strikes of filler.

"Genea" (4/5)

  • If that’s not Eno-esque, I don’t know what is.
  • Very cool.

ALBUM NOTES

  • False Cathedrals gets the props, but for my money, Song In The Air is superior. The album nails it in terms of cohesion and concept.
  • Eno might call this “Music for Airlines.”
  • It’s a shame the band decided to call it quits after this, as it is their strongest effort artistically (though I’ll always have a big place in my heart for US Songs). In all reality though, I don’t know what they would have done after this. Get MORE atmospheric perhaps?
  • Few bands have so dramatically transformed in the space of five years. Remember when these guys were writing power pop?

ATTRIBUTES
Cohesion (5/5)
Concept (5/5)
Consequence (4.5/5)
Consistency (4.5/5)
Songs (4.35/5)

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

Release Rundown: Fall 2010

 

from The Young Scamels page on Facebook

 

The air is getting cool, the wind is getting brisk, the leaves are changing color, and Death Cab is sounding fantastic again. Fall is officially here. Here’s a rundown of some new and/or forthcoming stuff and why I’m excited about it:

  • Belle & Sebastian, Write About Love: Their last full-length, The Life Pursuit, was their best since If You’re Feeling Sinister. It sounds like the record shares a kindship with The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds in being a pop record very focused on God and things spiritual. Listen to the whole thing at NPR.
  • Young Scamels, Tempest: I’ve already mentioned why I’m excited about this one, but I’ll just say it again. What I’ve heard sounds great, and it’s Shakespearean indie rock from 2/3’s of Rachel’s. I’m sold. Sample their stuff at Myspace.
  • Parlour, Simulacrenfield: I’ve loved everything they’ve done until now, and it’s been a long time since their last release, the excellent Hives Fives EP. “Imagine a heavier, more disturbing Neu! with more unexpected twists and turn. . .” Enough imagining, I’m ready! Get an MP3 here.
  • Shipping News, One Less Heartless To Fear: Shipping News is good news, plain and simple. It’s been a long time coming, and this one’s apparently going to be a little more hot and heavy than their previous releases. Sample a track here.
  • Over the Rhine, The Long Surrender: Over the Rhine is an old favorite at this point, and I’m looking forward to whatever surprises they may have in store. All I know right now is that it was produced by Joe Henry, it has a great title, and that I’m getting a sneak preview this weekend. Can’t wait! Band website here.
  • Young Hunting, Attachment in a Child and the Subsequent Condition: I know very little about these guys, but I’m very excited by what I hear on their Myspace site. Their first 7″ sounds really good – I might have to pick it up. File under Landscape Rock?
  • Pavement, Terror Twilight [Deluxe edition]: We don’t have an official release date from the Matador website yet, but I do have two unconfirmed “sightings” of a November release date. How about a tracklist already?
  • Real Estate, “Out of Tune” b/w “Reservoir”: One of my favorite new bands of 2009 continues to roll out new music. “Out of Tune” is a great track, and I’m excited for something new on the flip side. You can listen when you pre-order.
  • Sufjan Stevens, The Age of Adz: Listened to this a few times so far, and I am not too sure what to make of it. “Too Much” is insanely catchy, and he is definitely stretching himself in multiple directions. I’ll suspend judgment for now, but one thing is for sure: Sufjan has probably made his Kid A, for better or for worse.

I’ll be that new Strand of Oaks LP is going to sound even better with the dropping temperature as well.

If you’re in a band that’s looking for a review of a CD, 7″, or some other recorded format, drop me a comment and I’ll be glad to oblige with e-mail and/or shipping address.

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!