AMN Reviews: Thinking Plague – In This Life (2015 Remaster; Cuneiform Records)

In 1991, a friend and I were lamenting the relative dearth of interesting music in the U.S. at the time. During this discussion he told me about a Denver-based group called Thinking Plague that was “doing stuff no one else does.” Not long after, I tracked down a CD of their third album, In This Life, which had been released a couple of years earlier on Chris Cutler’s Recommended Records. Featuring songwriting by guitarist Mike Johnson, lyrics by vocalist Suzanne Lewis, the album was engineered by Bob Drake who also played drums, bass, and violin. From the first angular acoustic guitar riffs on Lycanthrope, I was hooked.

Now, the venerable Cuneiform Records, who have put out all of the Plague’s recordings since (as well as reissues of their first two albums), is releasing a remastered version of In this Life on October 2nd.

unnamedJohnson writes, “Thinking Plague means the disease of thinking in a society where too much thinking is considered as grounds for shunning…dismissal as out of touch with the ‘real’ world…the disease of the dreamer be she/he a scientist or a poet.”  In line with these words, the songs on In This Life have both intellectual and dreamy scope. Compositionally, the group has much in common with Cutler’s Art Bears, even having former Art Bear Fred Frith guest on one track. In addition to the above musicians, the group was rounded out by Shane Hotle on keyboards, Maria Moran on bass and guitar, Mark Harris on woodwinds, and Lawrence Haugseth on clarinet.

While Thinking Plague could have gone in a number of directions with this lineup, they focused on song-oriented avant-garde, albeit with elements of progressive rock and chamber music. But perhaps the most striking element of In This Life, aside from the songs themselves, is the uniqueness of each. Whether you listen to the swirling clarinet and piano motifs of Run Amok, the brooding deliberateness of Malaise, the haunting atmospheres and dense structures of Organism (Version II), or the poignant and evocative Love, each track is a stand-alone slice of dark Americana.

unnamed (1)Constant throughout all of these is the presence of Suzanne Lewis. Her vocals and vocal stylings, cadence in particular, are essential to her eerie lyrics and Johnson’s idiosyncratic compositions.

It was nine years before Thinking Plague would record a follow-up, and since then their output has been sporadic but noteworthy.  Good news for Plague fans however – the group just successfully funded a Kickstarter for their 7th album, which is being recorded now and is set for release in 2016. In the mean time, turn down the lights, and enjoy the rare beauty of In This Life. This is a top-ten, desert-island recording.

AMN Picks of the Week: Mostly Other People Do The Killing / Noah Preminger / Mats Gustafsson / Rich Halley / Michael Bisio

rich6medHere is where I post, at a frequency of about once a week, a list of the new music that has caught my attention that week. All of the releases listed below I’ve heard for the first time this week and come recommended.

Mostly Other People Do The Killing – Mauch Chunk (2015)
Noah Preminger – Pivot: Live at the 55 Bar (2015)
Mats Gustafsson – Piano Mating (2015)
Rich Halley / 4 – Eleven (2015)
Michael Bisio – Accortet (2015)

Cafe OTO in October

Source: London’s Cafe OTO.

Thursday 1 October 2015, 6pm
Cristián Alvear / Dimitra Lazaridou Chatzigoga / Ryoko Akama

Thursday 1 October 2015, 8pm
Akira Sakata / Giovanni Di Domenico / John Edwards / Roger Turner

Friday 2 October 2015, 8pm
Lau Nau + O Yama O (Rie Nakajima & Keiko Yamamoto) with Billy Steiger
£10 £8 Advance £6 Members

Saturday 3 October 2015, 8pm
Fataka Presents:
Phil Minton / Christian Marclay + John Edwards / Mark Sanders

Sunday 4 October 2015, 8pm
Tashi Dorji + Ashley Paul + Jim Ghedi

5–6 October 2015
Barre Phillips 80th Birthday Residency with Urs Leimgruber + Jacques Demierre + Eddie Prévost + John Tilbury + Angharad Davies + Rhodri Davies

Monday 5 October 2015, 8pm
Tin Angel Presents:
Ed Askew

Wednesday 7 October 2015, 8pm
Charles Cohen + Rabih Beaini

Thursday 8 October 2015, 8pm
Labyrinths Presents:
Maurice Louca / John Bence / Sam Shalabi

Friday 9 October 2015, 8pm
Baba Commandant and the Mandigo Band

Saturday 10 October 2015, 8pm
DJ Marcelle

11–12 October 2015
Peter Brötzmann / Jason Adasiewicz / John Edwards / Steve Noble – Two Day Residency

Tuesday 13 October 2015, 6pm
Pálinka and Tea – Budapest Meets London (and a Few Other Places):
Ernő Z. Rubik / Dávid Somló / Ernő Hock / Paul May / Julie Kjær / Rachel Musson / Ian Mclachlan / Peter Marsh

Tuesday 13 October 2015, 8pm
Cafe Oto & Upset the Rhythm Present:
Aaron Dilloway + Sissy Spacek + Moor Mother Goddess

Wednesday 14 October 2015, 8pm
Mike Cooper with Steve Beresford & David Toop

Thursday 15 October 2015, 8pm
Bill Orcutt + Yann Gourdon

Friday 16 October 2015, 8pm
Folklore Tapes Presents:
Magpahi + Mary Stark + Arianne Churchman + Paper Dollhouse + Ian Humberstone + Sam Mcloughlin + David Chatton Barker + Arianne Churchman

Saturday 17 October 2015, 8pm
Match&fuse Festival London 2015:
Leafcutter John & Isabel Sorling + Alexander Hawkins + Laura Moody + How Town + the Jist &Amp; Rachel Musson + Eirik Tofte Match&fuse Orchestra

Sunday 18 October 2015, 5.30pm
John Corbett – ‘Microgroove: Forays into Other Music’ Book Launch + Joe Mcphee (Solo)

Sunday 18 October 2015, 8pm
Joe Mcphee Survival Unit Iii (Joe Mcphee / Michael Zerang / Fred Lonberg-holm)

Monday 19 October 2015, 8pm
the Electrics (Axel Dörner / Sture Ericson / Joe Williamson / Raymond Strid) + Dominic Lash / Alex Ward (Duo)

Wednesday 21 October 2015, 8pm
Alessandro Bosetti / Chris Abrahams (the Necks)

Thursday 22 October 2015, 8pm
Apartment House Are Strung out

24–24 October 2015
Sun Ra Arkestra – Under the Direction of Marshall Allen – One Day Residency (Inc. matinee Show)

Monday 26 October 2015, 8pm
Baba Yaga’s Hut and Hands in the Dark Present:
Bitchin Bajas + Tomaga + Demian Castellanos

27–28 October 2015
Roscoe Mitchell / John Edwards / Mark Sanders – Two Day Residency

29 October – 1 November 2015
Okkyung Lee – Four Day Residency with Christian Marclay + Lasse Marhaug + Stephen O‘malley + Mark Fell + More

Point of Departure 52

English: Mary Halvorson with Anti-House at Clu...

Source: Point of Departure.

Issue 52 – September 2015

Page One: a column by Bill Shoemaker

Mary Halvorson: Variety and Contrast: by Troy Collins

A Fickle Sonance: a column by Art Lange

Misha’s Cows Comes Home: by Kevin Whitehead

Ezzthetics: a column by Stuart Broomer

The Book Cooks:
Lion Songs: Thomas Mapfumo and the Music That Made Zimbabwe
Banning Eyre
(Duke University Press; Durham and London)

Jumpin’ In: a column by Greg Buium

Moment’s Notice: Reviews of Recent Recordings

Travellin’ Light: Myra Melford

Charlemagne Palestine Pipe Organ Concert in St. Louis

Source: New Music Circle.

Sunday, November 8, 2015
6:00pm doors / 7:00pm concert
Historic Trinity Luther Church. 812 Soulard, 63104
Charlemagne Palestine – Pipe Organ

Charlemagne Palestine may not be a considered a household name in all circles, but his moniker is one you would be unlikely to forget. Now at the age of 70, Palestine has made a name for himself as a musician unlike any other, his signature style being comprised of long evolving drones and sustained notes, often involving installations of stuffed animals that envelope the performance space.