Category Archives: Instrumental

Horse Story

Dirty Three – “Sue’s Last Ride” from Horse Stories (1996)

I listened to this on the walk to work the other day and didn’t know whether to fall to the grass weeping or jump up in the air and raise my skinny fists like antennas to heaven. Thanks to the estimable Phil J. for turning me on to the Dirty Three.

Adam B. will be interested in Dirty Three’s collaboration with Chan “Cat Power” Marshall.

More Dirty Three at SWR

Buy the Stories

Posted by Glenn


Filed under 1990s, Instrumental, Post-rock


Demon Fuzz – “Past, Present and Future” from Afreaka! (1970)

I finally have a damned moment to myself and time enough to post.

This track is a real prize; a buried ember of the funk-rock era.  And it’s disturbingly good despite its anonymity.

Not without its debts to Fela Kuti, Sly Stone and James Brown, it still sounds as if Demon Fuzz knew what would be considered freaky-groovy for the next three decades and incorporated those elements into this album.  What prescience!  And what freakiness! (that cover is especially frightening)

The album is nigh impossible to find but was recently repressed on vinyl.

Posted by Jordy

1 Comment

Filed under 1970s, Funk, Instrumental, Rock

Night of the Living Dead

Grateful Dead – “The Eleven” from Live/Dead (1969)

Y’all may well disown me for this….

My apologies to SWR-heads, but I’ve been away for a bit, listening to the world’s most overreacted-against psychedelic jammers. Live/Dead is the only Grateful Dead record I own, but man is it a doozy. This track and the epic “Dark Star” are right up there with the best of Can and Miles’s Bitches Brew era. As far as songs go, the Dead left a hell of a lot to be desired…”Truckin'”? “Casey Jones”? Some of the shittiest attempts at folk songwriting ever. But their instrumental interplay, evidenced on this jam, was formidable. Garcia’s soloing is all major scale noodle, but against all odds, it works, not least because of the rubbery bass and in-the-pocket drumming of Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart. The Dead may flub a few more notes than Can or Miles, but the effect they achieve is similar: a hypnotic groove that you can drop into at any time and be amazed by. Just because every single asshole at your high school raved about “The Dead, maaaaan” doesn’t mean you should tune them out.

Try and count along

Posted by Glenn


Filed under 1960s, Instrumental, Live, Psychedelic, Rock, Space rock

So long to the Old Pueblo

Calexico – “Hair Like Spanish Moss” from Tool Box [tour release] (2007)

After three years of desert living, my wife and I are leaving Tucson to begin anew in Washington, DC.

I will miss this place, its landscape, and its people.  Southern Arizona is truly a wonderful part of the world.

My posts may be sporadic at best over the next couple of months so bear with me.  I know I can count on my colleagues to pick up the slack.

Viva Calexico

Posted by Jordy

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Filed under 2000s, Instrumental

Let them try and follow

Dirty Three – Sister Let Them Try and Follow from She Has No Strings, Apollo [2003]

I was on the speech team in High School, okay? People consider me articulate, and I can write in sentences that make sense. But my truest thoughts aren’t words at all. I think best in colored shapes that move together in space. Ribbons, or big giant squares. And they make sense to me, but I can’t really articulate it except by saying “it’s like a blue ribbon arced up, convex to the ground and then its parabola reversed and precisely at that moment, a red ribbon came up to it from the ground and wrapped around it, loosely, and they go on from there.” Which is a nice picture, I suppose, but what sense does it make to anybody else? People ask me what I’m thinking about and instead of giving long descriptions of esoteric colors, I just put on the Dirty Three and say “this it what it sounds like.”

Dirty Three were formed when God himself put weirdo zen guitars, time-signature-transcending drums, and insanity in a violin into an Australian crucible and crushed the living hell out of it, leaving only the best instrumental band on the face of the planet. I’m only slightly exaggerating. This particular song is a prime example of what makes Dirty Three work so well, namely that Mick Turner, Jim White, and Warren Ellis are doing such different things that shouldn’t work together but fit together so very well. Like holding hands with your girlfriend. But maybe she has ten hands.

I wrote out a list of the highlights in this song, but there were too many and they devolved into nothing but swears and “aaaaaaaaaaahh”s. I’ll spare you. But trust me, this song is better the louder you can get it. Listen to the violin scream and the drums fall in and out. I’ve never heard a guitar plunk and glimmer at the same time like this. Treat yourself to early hearing loss. There is not a better way.

You can buy this or other fine Dirty Three recordings here

Posted by Phil


Filed under 2000s, Instrumental, Post-rock

Hammocks, et al.

Tren Brothers – Gold Star Berlin from Ep [1997]

I just found out that the Tren Brothers are playing at Schuba’s in Chicago. Against my better judgment, I purchased two tickets and a round-trip plane ride in order to witness this event. Why, you ask?

Mick Turner and Jim White (two thirds of the Dirty Three) create loop-based, off-kilter sunset reveries (my friend says this should be called “the hammock song”) that demonstrate the perfect fact that they have insane chops and have transcended them. This band is good. Really good. Better than most everything in my music collection. So if you’re in Chicago, you should really make it out on Saturday. Their current tour is tonight in New York, two dates in Canada, Chicago on Friday and then a couple more dates in Canada. If you can call that a tour.

So go, already. Buy your tickets here.

Also, buy the music here

Posted by Phil


Filed under 1990s, Instrumental

An Exceptionally Brief Primer on Some Ambient Music

Brian Eno – “1/1” from Ambient #1 Music for Airports [1978]

Stars of the Lid – “Even If You’re Never Awake (Deuxieme)” from And Their Refinement of the Decline [2007]

If you have never heard “1/1,” then what the hell is your problem. This is the eponymous and seminal work of ambient music, a genre now flooded with dreck not nearly as thought-out as Eno’s work. Just reading the liner notes to records like “Music for Airports” and “Discreet Music,” you can see how much thought Eno put into the process of making ambient music. It’s not just keyboard drones, you see. It’s the method, and this is what makes Brian Eno more interesting to me than John Cage. Cage was all about ideas while Eno focused on means. Cage’s ideas were (are still) of the utmost importance to modern conceptions of music and what it should be, but Eno always had the engineer’s mindset. He would wrap loops of tape around the steel legs of office chairs to sync up the tape differently. He would set up a soundsystem to virtually run itself until external stimuli interceded. And I suppose that he and Cage were never that much different. It’s just that Eno’s creations were so much more accessible, so much less cerebral, that some dumb college junior could hear this and be instantly devastated. I’m telling you, most people who hear John Cage just get angry. People hear Brian Eno and they melt.

But all this is not to pet the already velvet ego of Brian Eno. He gets enough praise, some of it undeserved (Paul Simon’s Surprise, anyone?). What I would like to contend is that Eno never gave his idea of ambient music enough weight. From the liner notes to Music for Airports:

Whereas conventional background music [ed: he refers to Muzak] is produced by stripping away all sense of doubt and uncertainty (and thus all genuine interest) from the music, Ambient Music retains these qualities. And whereas their intention is to “brighten” the environment by adding stimulus to it (thus supposedly alleviating the tedium of routine tasks and levelling out the natural ups and downs of the body rhythms) Ambient Music is intended to induce calm and a space to think.

Ambient Music must be able to accommodate many levels of listening attention without enforcing one in particular; it must be as ignorable as it is interesting.

See? He’s very much onto something, with the importance of ambient music to create space, both external and internal, but he ends with that dilly of a quote. Ignorable? Sure, it’s noble to become smaller, to shy away from attention. But the weight of “1/1” is undeniable.

And it is this very weight that has been explored, spelunked, and mapped by Stars of the Lid. This is music that demands your attention, even in its minimalism. Because so little is happening at such a slow speed, the payoffs are three times as good. Trust me. A trailing synth wash followed by…wait! Wait! No! Wait! ANOTHER SYNTH WASH. Aah. There it is. And it sounds really boring on paper, but it just isn’t, in large part because their instrumental diction is impeccable, and nowhere is it more apparent than on this song, particularly at 3:36, 5:25, and 6:04. It isn’t just loop-based or long for the sake of being long. It’s a real, written-out song, with movement and parts and feeling. Everything has an important part to play, and they all come together, a dozen undeniable parts, and form something beautiful, compelling, and interesting.

One quick example: Listen to the piano in “1/1,” and you will be sweetly lulled into contemplation as the theme gets repeated throughout the whole song. But listen for the piano in “Even if You’re Never Awake” and it’s instantly clear, the whole song stops for this one tiny bit of what sounds like an upright played in the room next to yours underwater. And that’s why Stars of the Lid trump Eno: they make no grand statements about the nature of music or the place of ambient sound in this our modern world. They have simply created an unignorable soundscape. While their methods may not be as novel as Eno’s, they rightly bypassed the ignorable qualities of Eno’s methodology and went straight for the heart of the interesting. And then they flew away with it, light speed.

Ignore it here

Get interested here

Posted by Phil


Filed under 1970s, 2000s, Experimental, Instrumental