Debut of the Words on Sounds podcast!

(don't want to read an essay? Click here to go directly to the 1st Words on Sounds podcast)

Hello dear readers,

As many of you already know, I've been part of the Other Music radio show on KZUM for the last four years. I've really enjoyed doing the program, helping to get all kinds of creative, adventurous music out to new ears, and occasionally doing interviews and hosting live performances in the studio. But I'm regularly asked if there might be a way to download the show instead of listening live. It airs late on Sunday evenings, after all. It's difficult for many of my local over-the-air listeners to catch if they need to get up early for work on Monday, and squarely in the middle of the night for European listeners who tune into the livestream.

The answer, sadly, is no. For music shows that originate on terrestrial radio and also livestream, there are a number of weird FCC regulations and copyright issues that put downloads of such shows into muddy legal waters. While some stations have download archives of similar programming, our station chooses not to take that risk, and I can certainly understand their position.

That said, I want to make sure that the time I'm able to invest in various forms of creative music advocacy can help reach as many people as possible. The asynchronous nature of podcasting, that convenience of listening anywhere at any time, seems like such a huge advantage for potential listeners that I'm going to try out a weekly podcast format for a while. Consider this as a companion to my review work on this blog. While it takes me a lot of time to finish reviews because I try to listen as deeply as possible and take layers of notes before I'm ready to write, I'm continually working new recordings into my radio show within days of receipt. It's pretty clear when new records are amazing right out of the gate, after all, even though it takes me a while to go from a series of astonished expletives to more articulate waters.

So the podcast is going to mirror my weekly listening regimen, and I'm going to incorporate choosing songs for the program directly into my listening and note-taking routine. I think this is going to be really helpful and productive for me, too--I suspect that the quality of my commentary in radio/podcast work, and the quantity of reviews I can tackle, are both going to improve when they're part of a single workflow instead of two separate volunteer jobs.

I'm pretty excited, actually. I just rearranged my studio to make this process as smooth and inviting as possible. I uploaded the debut Words on Sounds podcast roughly 24 hours ago, and it's apparently already "making the charts" on Mixcloud, which is amazing!

I'll be posting the links to each podcast episode both here and on my Facebook page for Words on Sounds (which could use a few more "likes" if you're so inclined). You can also go to Mixcloud and subscribe directly through them. You can listen on desktop computers by following the link, and they also have easy-to-use smartphone apps for the site. Also, if anybody out there would be interested in hosting these podcasts as downloadable files for folks who would rather listen that way, I'd be interested in that possibility, too. Drop me a line.

My production values will surely continue to improve (gotta swap out that crackly microphone cord for starters), but I think you'll agree that the music in this first episode of the Words on Sounds podcast is amazing:

Pajjama - Karakasa

I've been following the work of Norway's wild Pajjama for quite some time--you may recall this little overview piece I did last year on the band. At the time, I really loved the Zappa/Magma weirdness of their "Starch" debut, and the 8-bit-YMO and 80s nostalgia of the followup "Jane Papaya" tape, but both are very short EP recordings that feel like teasers, only hinting at the potential for this band.

Enter "Karakasa," the first Pajjama full-length released a few months ago by Orange Milk. I knew these crazy kids had a wicked amazing album like this in them. Adroitly incorporating all of their previous influences and many more into a fun and satisfying soundscape that never fails to surprise, this is easily one of my top albums of the year. This tape hangs with the best of recordings along that Giant Claw continuum like "Mutant Glamour," but the Pajjama crew have a knack for occasionally visiting darker, proggier corners, and they love weird jazz chord voicings as a clever contrast to the sometimes simpler textures of early video game-influenced passages. And this is a band--rather than a solo recording project, this album is full of real drum, guitar, and bass work, beautifully played and perfectly recorded. Among the full bands that have explored this kind of video game-infused prog rock like Yakuza Heart Attack and Cheap Dinosaurs, "Karakasa" is the high point of the genre so far.

You know you're in for a new Pajjama experience within the first minute of "Karakasa." Album opener "Chromiel" is a slow, dirgey march through a handful of chords, with lots of processed sounds creating wild static and raw cosmic data above the main overdriven riff. When textures thin out around the 2:30 mark, we get a beautiful clavichord-driven melody supported by crisp drumming holding the piece to a roughly lento kind of tempo. Ultimately, "Chromiel" builds to a very lyrical and royal-feeling finale, pushed along with great low-bass synths drifting slowly through envelope filters. Epic. This is followed by "Ladyboys," which brings back the YMO-meets-NES vibes of the "Jane Papaya" tape. This one feels like it can't decide if it should be the soundtrack to an 80s drama series or a 70s game show, but while it's trying to choose, we get some stripped-down tribal passages, a great fusion guitar section, and swaggering synth funk meltdowns.

Pajjama has particularly stepped up their game in terms of writing incredibly memorable melodies and getting into really slamming grooves on "Karakasa." It's not often that I find myself humming melodies after days away from playful albums like this, but the themes from tunes like "Cream Corpse" (which reappears in modified form in "Cream Birth" later), or the slinky chromatic-inflected "Beach Detective," turn out to be powerful earworms. And the grooves! Early video game music has that characteristically stifled flavor of "swing" inherent to its programming limitations at the time, and while Pajjama often pay tribute to that kind of artificial feel in appropriate places, they lay down some seriously hard funk on this record, from the wild odd-time punch of "Smoke Your Eyes" to the driving triple-meter workouts of "Cream Corpse" and "Metasatan."

My favorite tunes on "Karakasa" are probably "Beach Detective" and album closer "Metasatan." On "Beach Detective," Pajjama swerve into timbral terrain somewhere near early 80s Residents jams, adding some great live basslines and lots of strange background sounds percolating in reverb and delay, eventually settling into the great fusion-y melody mentioned earlier. And "Metasatan" is just epic--a sort of fast-tempo companion to album opener "Chromiel," this tune contrasts a very aggressive rhythm section with relaxed synth melodies and pads that could hang with the most cosmic of kosmische albums. Just before its conclusion, the piece collapses into a great Zappa-ish guitar melody, and then a little hip-hop beat fades to the end.

Word on the e-street is that Pajjama have already been back in the studio working on new material. Now that they've had the chance to stretch their collective legs on a full-length, I suspect that we'll be hearing a lot more about this peculiarly potent band in the future. But be sure to pick up your own copy of "Karakasa" while you still can. Like most Orange Milk releases, this album has great artwork/design by Keith Rankin (who is rapidly becoming the Storm Thorgerson of avant-weirdo cover art), and the tape audio quality is fantastic. Highly recommended.