027: Kath Bloom

An interview with singer-songwriter Kath Bloom + album downloads and our writers panel on World Standard's 'Asagao' and Alan Braufman's 'The Fire Still Burns'

Kath Bloom

Kath Bloom is a singer-songwriter from Connecticut. She released multiple albums with Loren Connors throughout the late ’70s and ’80s, and has since continued to make music both collaboratively and solo. Her newest album, Bye Bye These Are the Days, was released by Dear Life Records. Joshua Minsoo Kim interviewed Kath Bloom via phone on August 13th, 2020. The two discussed Bloom’s musical career, the importance of compassion, being afraid of death, and more.

Kath Bloom at The Hideout in Chicago, 2018. Photo by Julia Dratel.

Joshua Minsoo Kim: Hi Kath! How are you?

Kath Bloom: Hi Joshua! I’m good. We live on a tiny little dead end turnaround with woods all around and someone just hit this telephone pole up front. We just got through the big storm without losing our power, but now… we’re going to lose our power for a long time. It just happened.

Well, I’m glad things are okay.

Yeah. Sort of.

Better then the—

Yeah, nobody’s lying in the road or anything. So, let’s get to it! (laughs).

Yes, yes, yes—Hello, hello, hello! So first off, I want to say thank you so much for all the music you’ve made. It has been very calming, very nourishing for me. I’m only 28, though, I think I’ve only known your music for like eight years now?

So many people I know are 28! (laughter). Really, it’s true. I do have to say, I didn’t really take compliments to heart a lot of my life. Maybe I just had a—I can’t say I was suspicious, but maybe a little perverse. I mostly played with my friends and… I don’t know, sometimes I try to figure it out but all I know is I really love who I’m playing with now. We’re really in it, we’re really centered in it and it’s strong and a lot of give-and-take, and that’s the way I gotta work. I don’t like overdubbing and all of that stuff, it’s really not in my nature.

I think your music is better for that too.

Me too. Did you ever hear It’s Just a Dream?

Yeah, I have.

Because that's another album where we played together in a room, or in a field—there wasn’t any management or anything behind it. That’s what I would do, make sure that if I thought something had heart and feel to it I would record it, as a record. Not that I ever did anything with it but… (laughter). So where are you from? Where are you calling from?

I’m from the Chicagoland area. I’m not directly in the city, I’m a little outside of it, but yeah.

I love the, um—oh god my mind is drawing a blank—there’s a place I played where you walk through the bar and there’s a big room in the back. It’s in Chicago, I’ll think of it while we’re talking.

The Hideout?

Yeah, The Hideout!

Yeah, great venue. You know, I wanted to start with a question that I’ve been thinking about. If you can remember, when was the first time you realized you were really capable of loving someone? And I’m not asking about when you first felt loved by someone, but when you really realized you could love someone else.

Hmm. Oh boy. Y’know, I hope this isn’t too hokey, but—

No, it’s fine!

I really loved animals. I always had an animal I really loved. I eventually worked with horses a lot, especially abused horses. Y’know, what kind of love are you asking about? That’s a big question, you know?

I guess you can talk about the animals you’ve loved and then we can talk about different people.

(laughs).

I’m actually into hearing you talk about animals! So what’s the first animal or pet that you had that you loved?

We had cats in our family, but the first dog I had—I have a lot of pictures—her name was Tenny. I got her when I was 10, maybe a little younger, and I had her all through when I went to college and lived in communes. I took her everywhere. I didn’t stay in college for very long, but I took her everywhere. I took her for granted too. I didn’t realize until after that I took her for granted in a lot of ways. Once she ran 20 miles to find me, and she was old and she didn’t live too much after that. I think I have some guilt about that, still.

Why do you feel guilt?

Well because I was a teenager, then older than a teenager, and, you know, hanging out, smoking pot, listening to music, whatever. You know, being into demonstrating and some too. (laughs).

You said you had horses, and took care of horses, can you talk a bit about that?

Well, my parents had enough money for me to have lessons when I was little. I was always just crazy about horses. I took in a couple of beat-up horses in my young 20s. I’m trying to remember, I guess I had them on loan. Then I eventually got a pony that even came from New Hampshire to New York and then to Vermont with me. I eventually sold him, and then I was off of horses for a long time, and then I got back into them. But then I really got back into them after my kids, my three kids, were all at least 11 or 12—that kind of age. I have three boys. I would buy abused horses and kind of turn them around. Or make them unbroken, I liked them unbroken. I like ponies, because I’m very little (laughter).

What draws you to horses? What do you like about them and ponies?

I don’t know, I actually haven’t lived with them in about four years but, y’know, they’re just like a medicine. It made me feel strong. I think I always felt very vulnerable and was hurt easily and working with horses made me feel strong.

Do you feel like a strong person today?

I think I’m pretty strong. I feel like I care. I care enough to be strong now, I’m not thinking just about myself all the time. You feel strong when your compassion grows—that’s when you’re really strong. 

I guess this goes back to the original question then. In terms of people, who is someone that you were able to show compassion to, that made you feel like a stronger person, that made you feel like you were learning just who you could be? And this doesn’t have to be the first time you felt this either.

Different people, I mean I just started realizing more and more that I loved and needed music. I had my first—well, I guess not my first—my first serious boyfriend, Bruce. I just sang with him and we’d go all the way out from New Hampshire to Wisconsin; I sang harmony with him. I mean, I hadn’t even picked up the guitar then. I picked up the guitar after we split up, and then I was with some other people, kicking around. I kept playing it though, and at some point, things started really falling apart and I had to go back to my mom’s. But I already started playing, and as soon as I could play it, I was making up songs.

And that was when I met Loren Mazzacane [Connors] and Tom Hanford, and I fell in with them in New Haven—we just started kicking around together. I worked at a graveyard in the morning and after I was done I played for a while and then I would do massage—this was before you needed to have a license. I was also really attracted to healing. I started doing massaging and I think I was good at it. I got clients—people who owned restaurants and stuff. Anyway, we had enough money to live on, and I just played more and more with them and I just started writing like a fiend, all the time.

At the time, people thought we were really weird, so we didn’t get a lot of great feedback (laughter). It’s funny, when people started to talk about it in like 2007 I was like, “Are you kidding me?” We just weren’t very well received. But anyway, I don’t know, do you like that music?

Oh, that’s how I initially got into your music, because I was a huge fan of Loren’s work. And then I eventually worked my way back to the albums he had with you and they are among my favorite singer-songwriter albums from that time period for sure.

It was intense—I mean, it was. But it came very naturally to us, it’s just that we didn’t get a real lot of encouragement. Also, I was still kind of perverse, I would get real nervous to play out, that’s the thing. I could write, write and play, but putting it out for others was very hard.

And then that kept going, and it got kind of weird. I got into acting, I don’t know, it just kind of dispersed a little. And then I married another guy, and Loren finally met Suzanne [Langille] and we all worked together for a while on this play that Loren wrote. I was acting then, I wasn’t playing—you have to understand, I wasn’t totally committed. It was something I did to connect. It wasn’t ever like, “Oh, I’m gonna play music and be a singer and a songwriter.” I never said that (laughter).

I guess I’m wondering what gave you the courage to come back and create music again?

Well, I never stopped playing. I had a little band in the later ’80s. We recorded. I just did it for the music though, not for thinking I was getting anywhere really. That’s just who I was, I just kept writing songs. And I was painting too, and doing other things—it was part of who I was. Then we moved to Florida and I started working with little kids doing music, which is something I’m very, very committed to, and still do. I love just jumping around with little kids and I feel like I’ve gotten really good at it. It’s very rewarding.

Anyway, I had a women’s band in Florida and we really enjoyed playing. But you have to understand, I didn’t have any professional ambitions. I had three kids, and I wanted to be known in some way, but I just didn’t have a clue what to do. I didn’t fit into anything. I wasn’t a country singer, I didn’t know where I fit in.

You’ve mentioned a lot of stuff that I wanted to talk about. I had read before that you work with kids and do music therapy.

It’s not really therapy, it’s just—this is music, and it’s really great, and I hope you can have it in your bodies and in your souls all your life because it can really help.

How do you approach working with kids and with music at the same time? What is your philosophy behind trying to get students comfortable with music, to really allow the music to—

(laughs). These are kids that are between 1 and 4. (laughter). I’ve worked with older kids quite a bit, but the age I love is that age. They don’t have any preconceptions, their spirits are free, they’re right there in the moment. They have a short attention span but really so do I, so it all kind of works out (laughter). They just love the enthusiasm, it’s the call and response. That’s what music is all about, the call and response. That’s why I love playing with David [Shapiro]. I call, he responds; he calls, I respond, and same thing with Flo. That’s what I feel is alive with music. That’s what I had with Loren, that's what I had with Ginny [Hale Meredith], who played violin with me in Florida. That’s what it is to me.

L-R: David Shapiro, Kath Bloom, Flow Ness. Photo by Kyle McEvoy.

It makes sense, you said music is about wanting to connect with people. 

Yeah. I just didn’t know quite how to do the audience thing because then I would have to move out of the relationship and go out towards the audience. I don’t think I was really ready for that for a long time, unfortunately for me (laughs). I just never, I don’t know, maybe I just lack ambition, or lack self-confidence. I’ve always been good with music with the children, with musicians that I trusted and loved.

I understand that. It’s a lot harder to do these things in front of strangers. Kids, they’re going to be receptive, they’re going to be enthusiastic, but with an audience of older people you never know what to expect. There’s a different dynamic there because you’re playing to them now instead of it just being you and the other artist making music together. 

Right, and that’s why I still… what state do you live in?

I live in Illinois.

Oh right, you’re in Chicago. I like to, I don’t do a lot of it, but I like to bring the audience in on certain songs. That “Let’s Get Going” song that’s on the album—that’s one of our fun songs to do live right now. I hand out pieces of paper with the chorus on it, and everyone sings real loud. It’s really fun.

I know your father [Robert Bloom] was an accomplished oboist and teacher. What was it like growing up in a musical household?

I loved hearing my dad play. My mother played cello, too, and eventually taught cello. My dad was beloved by people and got quite a lot of attention, in the classical music world anyway. I don’t know, I just heard it, it was what was in my blood. Working with kids you just realize that that’s who you become. I heard music a lot. There was classical, but I started listening to folk songs when I was about five or six, and I just love melody. I could live for it really, I love melody.

Is there a particular folk artist that really resonated with you when you were younger?

When I was really young I liked Burl Ives. When I was young he sang a lot of folk songs, like “The Big Rock Candy Mountain.” I don’t know, a folk singer from when I was a kid? Not really.

You said you went into acting. I was wondering if you could talk a bit about that. What kind of things did you act in? Were these plays?

I did different things. I wrote my own monologues, I even studied in New York for a while with a couple of really prominent people. I got lots of attention for a little while and like usual I just kind of froze up. I felt like I couldn’t do the same thing over again. Maybe I just shouldn’t have tried it for so long, but I guess I finally realized that you don’t ever do the same thing over again anyway. With music, it’s easier for me to be fluid. With acting, it was easier to feel hemmed in by scripts and stuff. I don’t know what other way to put it. We’re all on our own journey to find freedom, where we can most be ourselves and express ourselves. What do you do? Do you play anything?

I play some instruments. I don’t pursue creating music, though. I’ve played guitar, I’ve played piano—I haven’t played either as much as I used to in the past. I’m actually a high school science teacher.

Oh, cool!

So that’s my main gig. And I obviously do this music writing on the side, just for fun, to write about music I care about. Those are the main two things I’m pursuing at the moment.

Are you going to go back to school?

I’m not planning to, no. I actually already have a master’s already, and I don’t want more—

No I didn’t mean that, I mean are you guys going to be teaching?

Oh, no, we’re going to be doing everything online. We’re not doing anything in person thankfully. I didn’t want to have to deal with—

Can you believe what the governor of Florida is doing? I just can’t believe these monsters. Who do they think they are?

They care more about these businesses and money coming in than the lives of the people living there.

It’s disappointing, really. I’m proud of our state. We like our governor. I have a new t-shirt I’m gonna make: It’s a pain in the ass, but wear your mask. Do it right, snug and tight (laughter).

I like that.

People have to! If everyone did it, we would be almost over this. Not totally, but we’d be in the groove, and we’d find our way.

Has it been difficult for you during this quarantine to find connection with people? Obviously you have your family, but I’m wondering about ways in which you’ve tried to keep yourself sane and healthy during this time.

I’m really writing a lot of songs. And I don’t mind any of it except that I can’t—well I’m not teaching little kids right now, not yet—but also, we had two tours cancelled, maybe going on three. I guess during the last few years I’ve begun to really enjoy touring and playing out and stuff. I know I’m old but anything can happen at different times in your life, and you’ve got to be ready for it. I was just like, “Are you kidding me?” (laughter).

I have another thing, I was going to call us Porta Potty Productions, because in order to play anywhere all you need is a porta potty! I’m not going into public restrooms, are you?

(laughs). No, I’m not.

You’re not? Do you have kids?

I don’t have kids, no. And I’ve mostly been at home this entire quarantine, unless I have to go grocery shopping or something like that.

Right, that’s what we’re all doing. I live near the woods so I can go walking around all the time. Very fortunate.

I might have misheard, but earlier you said that you used to go to demonstrations? Is that what you said?

Well I did the Black Lives Matter around here. I didn’t travel to New York, or even New Haven. David was in New Haven. Isn’t David an amazing guitar player?

Yeah, so good.

Isn’t he? He’s just so good! And the thing is, he’s loved my music since he was—and he’s only your age, how old are you?

I’m 28.

28?

Yeah.

Yeah that’s how old he is. 29 maybe. Yeah he’s a gift somehow. And Flow [Ness] has just become my best, best friend. I guess it has a good feeling to it, it has a lot of forward motion and it’s fun but it’s pretty intense. It’s kind of spiritual really, I don’t know what other word to call it.

Do you think being with them has been instrumental in helping you feel more comfortable with playing live and touring?

Yeah, because David is the one—he was touring all the time. He does solo guitar. A lot of things changed. I have been to England five times. I’ve been invited to Japan and Australia. And those times were really, really good. Almost surreal, compared to my regular life.

(laughs). Why was it surreal?

Well because suddenly I was just getting on an airplane alone, going 30 hours away. And I did work with Jeff [Hassay] in L.A. quite a bit. That’s where I did the two albums before this one. I always have had support, but it’s just kind of been one thing after another like this.

You said whenever you do something it’s always going to be something new. How do you feel you’ve changed with this new album compared to your previous albums?

Changed—do you mean my attitude towards the music, or like… in what way?

I guess it could be anything. Do you feel like there were new things that you’ve learned, or do you feel like you’ve grown in some way and you feel like it’s come out in your music either instrumentally, or in the way you’re singing or in what you’re talking about?

I guess, first of all there wasn’t any baggage going in. There was no history, there was no real past together. I don’t know, I guess I really believe in time… I mean, it wasn’t serendipitous. I don’t know, really. I really do believe in destiny. There are a lot of forces at work. They both have helped me take my music more seriously, to believe in it, to believe that it’s worth it. I feel worthwhile. I know it’s hokey to say but it’s really what it comes down to.

No, that’s good, that’s good! Everyone hopes when they get older and can continue to feel more and more worthwhile in general. We don’t stop—we continue growing and hoping that we continue loving other people. That’s a good thing to realize, it’s a good place to be at.

I’ve had a lot of doubts about myself as a mom. A lot of things just… everything is going on at once, so it’s very hard for me anyway, with my family. Everyone is grown up now, but, that’s a part of this too. This group came along when I could kind of let go a little bit more.

As in this group of musicians you mean?

Yeah, you asked what changed, and it’s about timing. It’s all about timing. And also I felt like maybe I better look at my destiny in the eye, and see if I was really avoiding something. You’ll see, you’ll get to those points.

Are there things you felt like you’ve avoided for a good portion of your life that you’re only now confronting?

I think maybe I avoided… maybe I never really asked for that much attention for my songwriting because it really is who I am and what I do. It’s become that in the last 30 years—it really is my life. I’m always making up songs. They never stop. Maybe I kind of took it for granted and maybe I should feel a little more proud of it. I mean, I had “Come Here” in the movie, and that was surreal because, you know, (laughs) “What is this!” And I had three kids and I was living miles from any paved roads. I’m proud of it, but… did you ever hear that, a long time ago? No, you were too young. Do you know that song?

Which song?

“Come Here,” in that movie Before Sunrise

Oh, yeah! Right.

That came along when my kids were very little. That was kind of surreal.

Yeah, did Linklater actually reach out to you? How did that happen?

Yeah, because he knew a young guy named Caveh Zahedi. He’s a director in New York who knew me and liked my music when he was at Yale and I was in New Haven. It’s really just one of those weird connections, I think. That’s really, you know, I thought if I could just do that then that would be really good because if you have a successful song in a successful movie it’s an easy way to make money, if you get royalties and stuff.

I liked you talking about this music being who you are, and how it’s inseparable. When I listen to your music it’s clear that this music is who you are, and I’m happy you feel the same way. I want to ask you, and it’s hokey, because I’m all about hokeyness—

I’m pretty hokey, too (laughter). You would never guess, I love Whitney Houston!

Whitney Houston is great!

I love all kinds of people that are really good, like Billie Holliday is my favorite, like tons of jazz from the ’30s. Van Morrison, Tom Waits, Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, John Coltrane… anyway, go on. (laughs).

Well I was going to ask you, can you name one thing for me that you love about yourself.

Myself?

Yeah. What’s something that you love about yourself that is something you can say, “This is great about me” without shame or guilt or lack of confidence.

Well, I love that I can feel stuff deep enough to like… I probably tear up about thirty times a day. I’m tearing up right now! I feel very grateful that I can feel. I don’t always know if it’s right or wrong but I do feel there’s a lot of people that can’t. And I can’t imagine what that must feel like, you know what I mean? I feel very grateful that I can feel.

I like myself better since I’ve learned to slow down a little. I have a really quick metabolism and I feel better doing breathing and yoga-type stuff. I like myself better. And I like myself around little kids. I don’t know, is that good enough? I don’t really know what to say, that’s kind of a hard question.

It’s okay! You don’t have to worry about it, those are good things! I would also say that I am a very emotional person, and I feel like I can feel things deeply. I tear up a lot in general too.

Aww! You should send me some pictures! I actually didn’t want to do the Zoom thing because then I would probably never wanna see your face! (laughter). I don’t like those things yet, I just can’t get used to having a face staring at you, but—

It’s a little weird when it’s a stranger’s face just staring at you, and when they’re not physically in front of you.

And the words aren’t coming out at the right time sometimes, too. I’m not used to that. But I do appreciate it, I mean I use all these forms of communication, maybe even three or four years ago I wasn’t using them like I use them now, but I do. I text, I email, I use Facebook messenger, I use some social media—I’m in and out of that. It really can be depressing and overwhelming sometimes. But there are aspects of it that are great!

I wanted to ask you about your new album. Of the ten songs on it, which song are you most proud of? I guess that could be like asking you to pick your favorite child or something.

I’m the one that pushed “Blinded” because it’s got a connection. I love playing harmonica, and David and I really connect with the harmonica playing and the guitar playing. I felt that happening in rehearsals right from the beginning. And Flow did too. I feel good about that one. I was reading the words today and I thought, “These aren’t bad,” I don’t know.

I like the lyrics a lot! There’s one song that i wanted to ask you about--

Which one do you like?

I like a lot of them, but one that I wanted to talk about is—

Bye Bye” is a good song.

I was gonna say “Bye Bye”!

I did it at a funeral, that was the first time I ever played it in front of people, about five or six years ago. One of our best friends died, and it really resonated, and I was so happy that it had come to me. I have the chills right now! I do think it was a good one because it really has a sweep to it. I’ll do it in Chicago if I see you (laughs).

I’ll definitely be there. I like that song a lot because it’s clear it’s about someone who is leaving, passing away. But I like this question you ask, “How do I know what you are teaching me? How do you know what I’m teaching you?” I’m imagining just in these final moments of reflection, or even in someone’s death, you asking, “What have I learned from them, what am I learning from them, what am I learning from this?” Those things come to mind. Did you have a specific person in mind when you sang that?

No, no one specific, no. Just the feeling of life and eternity and, you know, we’re here for (in a high-pitched tone) a tiny little speck. And it’s so overwhelming if you don’t try to make something good of it, right?

Yeah, exactly.

And I try to do music with it, I don’t know. There are different things, being kind is very important.

Are you worried or scared about death at all?

All the time.

All the time?

Well, not for all 24 hours, but maybe for 10 (laughter). You know, everyone just has their quiet moments where we go, “Oh, crap—what am I doing here?” (laughter). I get so much good energy—I’ve been listening to the Dalai Lama speak about anxiety during the pandemic, and I just get so much peace and energy listening to him. Do you ever listen to him?

I have before, yeah. I haven’t listened to any of his quarantine things though. 

It’s all of us! Together! It’s something we are all doing together. It’s really everywhere, all humans.

Is there something specific about death that is keeping it on your mind? Is it this notion of feeling that you haven’t done enough with your time? Is it just the fact that not existing is scary?

Yeah, all of the above (laughter). But really, the past few years, it all kind of happened together, I feel like… this is the time, just do it. Open your heart, do the best you can do, stop being afraid. I’m not going to ride wild horses anymore but maybe there are even more important things I should do, you know? And then not being here too, but so many others I have loved and cherished and learned from have lived and died so I’d better humble up and do it too!

This goes into nicely about another song I wanted to ask about actually—“How Do You Survive”?

Oh yeah. Hold on, let me just check what this engine is going on outside here…

Do you need some time?

Oh, it’s okay. Alright.

The song really moves me a lot, because it starts off with you asking “How do you survive? How do you stay alive? Where do you go when it’s all hurt you so?”

(singing) Where do you go? Well, that’s a new song, so I’m glad you like it! I really just finished that song not that long before we recorded it. So that gives me hope, if I can write kind of moving songs. 

I am wondering, where do you go when “it’s all hurt you so?” Do you go to a specific place, or to a specific person?

Yeah, I go to music! (laughter). And nature, I don’t go out with my tent for days and days but I’m really outside a lot. I walk in the woods, besides the river. I’m very fortunate that I can, and that’s the way I prefer to be. There isn’t a whole lot happening around here either. New Haven is an hour away, and that’s where David lives, and Flow just lives about 15 minutes away.

You have a song on the album called “Your House is Burning,” and it seems very much like an actual story that happened.

No, I made it all up!

Oh, are Jimmy and Martha not real people?

Yeah, I just made it up (laughter) but it feels pretty real! There’s one thing I have to say—when he’s walking at the end, it was a little inspired by a Raymond Carver story. Do you know him?

No, I don’t! Who is he?

He’s one of my favorite short story writers. But, no, I made it up, but no one really makes anything up. I’m sure there were things in the air—I’ve never been in a fire, thank god, I’ve only imagined them all the time since I was a little kid. It’s really about looking back on your life and that whole thing. I like that one too. I love the way David plays on that one. Who knew?

It’s a really good song.

It’s good you like it! I love the guitar on that. 

Me too. So the song is about looking back on your life. We talked a little bit about you looking back on your own life. Are there moments that you are proud of with your life that you know you will take with you, whenever you do pass away?

(contemplative sigh) I don’t know. Do you really think anyone would take that with them? (laughs).

I don’t know if “take” is the right word, but there are things that you do in your life that you are happy to have had the chance or ability to do. Obviously I’m younger, but there are still things I’ve done and am happy about where one day, when I do die, I know I’ll be content with having been able to experience them.

I definitely feel better and better about what I’ve done. I think I’ve done a lot of self-flagellation. I was really, really messed up for a long time, I really was. Emotionally, I was just off the wall. And that’s how most people knew me, I would think. I don’t know, I feel like, first of all when you get older your emotions calm down, but I feel now they are more compassionate. I feel for others, I’m not so crazy in myself all the time. That’s really all I can say, I don’t know.

Thanks for sharing that.

When you’re young you’re really self-involved, unless, maybe you’re not. I’ve met young people that amaze me. You’re kind of self-involved when you’re younger.

Kath Bloom and her granddaughter Jada

That makes sense. So you would say you are less self-involved now and consequently more content. Does that make sense?

I don’t know. You can put anything in the article. I’ll just sue you, if I don’t like it I’ll sue you! Are you worth anything? (laughter).

No! This was going to be a Q&A interview.

Are you taping it?

Yeah I am, yep.

Well that’s okay because, I hope you see I have a lightheartedness to me also. I like to laugh!

Every time you’ve laughed so far in this conversation I’ve appreciated it. It’s nice to hear.

Well, send me some pictures, I can’t talk too much longer.

I’m pretty much done! Is there anything else you wanted to talk about or that you wanted to mention?

Umm, nah. I’ve got lots of good songs coming! (laughs) I’ve got a COVID song. It made a few people cry. Kinda sentimental, but…

I feel like you do sentimental very well, and it’s not like—

It’s not gushy-mushy, it’s just kind of—

It’s very real!

Aww, thank you! I’ve gotten the chills a lot during this interview. Well I’d really like to know more about you some time. I’m going to send you some pictures of my granddaughter, who I’m crazy about. I’ll send you a couple of things that she’s just sung off-the-cuff that I recorded, and maybe a little puppet show that I did with her. I’m just gonna say that with the kids, the spontaneity I can feel with little children—it really has enriched me, it’s a beautiful thing! And I know she’s going to turn into a teenager, oh boy. (laughter) We’ll see what happens, right? (laughter).

I really enjoyed this. I’m not being short here, I just have to go now and help out. I really, really enjoyed it. I really have, I mean it. I don’t usually enjoy these anywhere near as much. Give yourself a pat on the back (laughter). Send me a couple pictures with your whole name so I don’t forget. You can call up any time if you wanna chat.

That’d be fun, I will.

You can purchase Bye Bye These Are the Days at Bandcamp.

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Download Corner

Every issue, Tone Glow provides download links to older, obscure albums that we believe deserve highlighting. Each download will be accompanied by a brief description of the album. Artists and labels can contact Tone Glow if you would like to see download links removed.

Maher Shalal Hash Baz - Return Visit To Rock Mass (Org, 1996)

A quote from the liner notes of From a Summer to Another Summer succinctly sums up Maher Shalal Hash Baz better than anything I could write: “Error in performance dominates MSHB cassette which is like our imperfect life.” It’s not immediately clear what Tori Kudo aims to accomplish with this alter ego project he sometimes records under rather than his own name, but one thing is for certain: it is not meant to be a perfect art. With an astonishing 83 tracks on Return Visit to Rock Mass, perfection might as well be out the window. Some of the tracks are more typical song lengths, many of them are less than 20 seconds, one of them is particularly long and indulgent, and barely any of them sound the same. A quote from Tori’s wife Reiko Kudo adorns the obi, and I think this one gets a little closer to sticking a pin in the thematic throughline of the project. It reads:

This music was found in a small apartment room, where there seems no stain of blood can be found. But, it seems there has been a battle, a rather big one, midst of ordinary markets, children’s parks, walking cats and crows, as you see them everywhere in Tokyo. The sound is rough, it always sounds like it should have been played better, but I know it’s the best. Now the speed of life and the speed of music become much the same. We sing as we live.

The “speed” of life and music becoming the same feels like the operative phrase here. Tori Kudo claims to have played in ensembles ranging from jazz to classical to protestant church music before starting his band. He claims Syd Barrett and T. Rex as influences in equal parts. Asked to define the sound of Maher Shalal Hash Baz in an interview, he simply answered “I am punk.” All of these elements feel present on Return Visit in some form or fashion, along with, seemingly, nearly every style of music Tori Kudo has heard in his life. Surf rock, acid folk, jazzy piano improvisations, ragtime, and god knows what else lives symbiotically here. Life is a constant battle between your thoughts and feelings, your intentions and experiences, what you want to happen and what just happens, and this record feels like Tori Kudo’s expression of that struggle. Most artists curate that experience and let something particular come to the fore, but what if you didn’t? An autobiographical record can be a special thing, but this almost feels like I’m reading his diary. —Shy Thompson

Download links: FLAC | MP3

Tabloid - Inland (Night Slice Recordings, 2012)

As annoying and disappointing as it often is, I believe there is something to be said for discovering something “too late.” I’m a young person perpetually playing catch-up to decades of music, curation, and other forms of musical appreciation that existed long before I was born, so that feeling is one I experience frequently, and also one I’ve learned to value. Yes, I still feel wistful when I come across a label or scene after its heyday has faded, frustrated at the reality of never being able to see an artist perform live or even officially own any of their work, but the emotion has evolved into something more bittersweet as I have grown to appreciate the beauty of impermanence, the split-second majesty of flashes-in-the-pan, the richness imbued with something having already begun and ended.

For all possible meanings of the phrase, I discovered Tabloid “too late.” It had been over two years since its release when I found their final LP in a record shop (the single-sided Music for Tape and Voice, put out by Helicopter in 2016), but I wasn’t aware of that at the time—I just knew that for some reason I needed to own this piece of music. I have a love/hate relationship with minimal packaging, so that definitely factored into it, but I am hardly ever one for on-a-whim purchases, so both now and at the time it’s a bit confusing. One thing, however, is absolutely certain: when I got home and put that unadorned black record on my turntable, it spoke to me in ways music hardly ever does.

Tabloid was a project with a limited tenure, producing just three releases from 2012 to 2016, frequently undergoing periods of “hibernation” between albums. Their definitive end can be almost entirely attributed to the tragic death of member Luke Molloy, who comprised one half of the duo, along with Phil Geraldi (interviewed here). There is hardly any information available on either of these artists; I only learned of Molloy’s passing a year or so after I discovered the band, via a conversation at a show with John Wiese (Helicopter honcho). Since then, I’ve encountered a few people who knew one or both of the two personally or through various connections, but overall Tabloid seems to be a band lost to time. Death, obscurity, nostalgia, fading memory—these are all elements that feature just as prominently within the duo’s music as outside of it, as if its eternal elusiveness was always destined to be a self-fulfilled prophecy.

Inland is Tabloid’s debut declaration, brought to the world in 2012 by the mysterious Night Slice Recordings (Inland is the only entry on its Discogs page, despite the catalog number implying at least ten other preceding releases), fourteen tracks filled with dust and rubble and warble. The band sources sound materials from low-fidelity field recordings, tape manipulation, bubbling electronics, droning melodies, and other familiar techniques, yet these various threads aren’t so much delicately intertwined as congealed into a single, mostly homogeneous mass. There are almost always things happening at the same time, quite disparate things on occasion, but it all appears to spout from a single origin point, an undammed, unified current of sound. Submerge yourself in this current and you’ll find that it contains even the most unutterable of intangible emotions: feelings of abstract wistfulness you once had as a child and forgot about; that tight, inextricably solidified pairing of loneliness and comfort with which we’ve all become familiar this year; the often unbearable melancholy of time simply passing.

Navigating these rushing sonic waters is much like life itself. Amidst confusion, ambiguity, even dissonance, we endlessly search for the spots of light and safety we know to be there, and we find them: the comforting, smile-inducing, yet fleeting beauty of “Reflections on Glass”; the oddly tranquil embrace of the initially tense synth swells on “A Place on Earth”; the woozy catharsis of “Totality.” Inland is an album that always seems to end more quickly than it should, in much the same way a whole week flits by unnoticed, or an entire semester dissipates in the blink of an eye, or an entire lifetime is over before you know it. Try to slow down every now and then if you can, and just wade. —Jack Davidson

Download links: FLAC | MP3

Arayots (アラヨッツ) - Michikusa-Syobon (みちくさしょぼん) (Pong-Kong Records, 2018)

Eddie Marcon, a duo consisting of Eddie Corman and Jules Macron, are both alumni of legendary psych-rock group LSD March. Deciding to go their own way and make music that is much quieter and more introspective though still swirling and psychedelic, they immediately made a strong impression with the incredible Shining on Graveposts. They created their own imprint shortly after, Pong-Kong Records. The label mostly consists of releases by Eddie Marcon themselves in the form of limited run CD-Rs with an incredibly charming and cute design philosophy. Their music has, for the most part, not evolved much from the inception of Pong-Kong until today, but that’s certainly not a bad thing. I could enjoy Eddie Marcon doing their thing until the end of time, but there are a few surprises on Pong-Kong Records.

This short little EP credited to Arayots—a collaboration between Eddie, Jules, and Jun Muraoka of Test Pattern—surprised me a little bit. The gentleness you expect from Eddie Marcon is here, but the music is warmer and brighter. There’s a veneer of influence from pastoral American folk, and Jun Muraoka brings a bit of soaring synth and silly sounding samples. This song titled “Nōminzunō”—a transliteration of “no means no” and also a play on nōmin, meaning “farmer”—never fails to make me smile with the imitation of a cow’s moo by one of the vocalists. Eddie Marcon show their range here, and seem to be having fun while they’re at it. —Shy Thompson

Download links: FLAC | MP3


Writers Panel

Every issue, Tone Glow has a panel of writers share brief thoughts on an album and assign it a score between 0 and 10. This section of the website is inspired by The Singles Jukebox.

World Standard - Asagao (Conatala, 2020 reissue)

Press Release info: 1982, the season from spring to summer. Two young men in the peak of their youth, eager to immerse themselves in the recording of a single cassette tape.In March of that year, Soichiro Suzuki and Michio Kojima began to claim the group name “World Standard”.

The music was produced in a room in Kojima’s parents’ house in Nishi-Ogikubo, Tokyo, making full use of ping-pong recordings on two cassette decks. With the focus on guitars, mandolin, and ukulele played by Suzuki, Kojima’s upright piano, which was placed in a room between Japan across the corridor, was occasionally added. In addition, percussion was recorded using the echoes of the bathroom; toys such as pianica and trumpets, and drums made of cardboard were used as musical instruments.In the background, the sound of the TV and the subtle sounds of everyday life were intentionally mixed into the music. Listening to the delightful performance - Kojima’s grandparents, who he lived with, occasionally opened the sliding doors and came to see the boys recording. They would even have lunch together from time to time.

As they repeated their recordings while the tape turned, the young men felt like they succeeded in intercepting the soundscapes of the world - like a folklore in a far-off distant country to one corner of the city of Tokyo. They were so excited.

In contrast to the techno pop and new wave sensations that swept the musical subcultures of Tokyo in the 80’s, the analog and acoustic sounds they played were somewhat nostalgic. Instead of edgy and futuristic synth sounds, they intentionally tried to portray in the sound the scenery captured on the monochrome screen of an old European movie, and the Japanese houses of the 1950s where they were born and raised. They yearned for the landscape on the veranda. D.I.Y. - a time when there was no word for bedroom recording. Suzuki and Kojima dreamed of nostalgic, new, popular music that no one had heard on cassette.

This work, Asagao, is the first cassette work in a series of several demo tapes produced before the debut of World Standard (produced by Haruomi Hosono from NON-STANDARD label in 1985). In addition to being distributed among the members’ friends, copies of the cassette tapes were sent to NHK-FM “Sound Street” (Tuesday personality: Ryuichi Sakamoto) - a demo tape special that had started broadcasting from the previous year, as well as cassette magazine TRA and Alpha/YEN labels who dubbed and passed out about 20 copies of the cassette. The original tape was restored by remastering, without changing the order of the songs at that time, and will be released for the first time on vinyl LP.

Purchase Asagao at Conatala.


Nick Zanca: At the risk of a recent curatorial cliché, I fondly remember what a watershed moment it was to hear Spencer Doran’s mixes of Japanese minimal music for the first time. This was long before the resulting barrage of blogs, reissues, retrospectives and algorithmic interventions led to hyper-saturation and a loss of personal interest on my part; even a few years from the point I was made aware of the presence of the YMO boys behind the boards on most of these records. My spirit of inquiry was at an all-time high trawling those tracklists on Discogs and digging for vinyl rips on Soulseek. Before the inevitable interference of Western exploitation, these were sonic documents shrouded in mystery where organic and synthetic textures coalesced effortlessly, steeped in high-fidelity state-of-the-art studio trickery; fully illuminating, in Doran’s words, the “illusion of nature in a hyper-urban environment.” Considering the consequential contexts in which this music served as my soundtrack in retrospect—always at home, never in transit; always in the background, rarely ever focused listening—I hesitate to say that these collective works ever amounted to much more than musique d’ameublement in Satie’s sense of the term; regardless of whether or not the “environmental” label was adopted, I don’t know that they were supposed to. 

I was fully prepared to cast off this collection of demo material for the above reasons and was pleasantly surprised that those expectations were exceeded. The familiar Fairlight and FM synthesis signature to the Hosono sound are absent; in their place sit humble, home-recorded and emotionally resonant pastoral chamber arrangements I would sooner associate with the quiet frisk of Pascal ComeladeSimon Jeffes or Robert Wyatt’s Rough Trade releases, tailor-made for sleepy Sunday mornings. Though it could be an interesting exercise to determine which elements of these demos would have been transfigured into prefab production gymnastics, it’s almost better that we’re left to revel in the room tone and the occasional clipping percussion—it feels more like the real thing. There’s an unsettling, concentrated sanguinity at play here that evokes the domestic dramas of filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda—every subtle gesture seems to build on top of each other and yet at its end, so much still seems to be left unsaid. This could very well be that quintessential furniture music and nothing more, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t tie the room together.
[7]

Sunik Kim: I wanted more from this than it could ultimately offer; the ramshackle production, a kind of cartoony Bone Machine, is special, but the non-stop rigidity of every song on here—the endless, evenly-spaced ticking, the sound of a giant, well-oiled wooden contraption—actually saps the music of the vitality that the production offers. In attempting to forge a counter-path to the “techno pop and new wave sensations” of their time, World Standard end up making music that ironically sounds cold, robotic and somewhat lifeless in comparison to the entirely synthetic, “edgy and futuristic” YMO.
[4]

Vanessa Ague: With Asagao, Soichiro Suzuki and Michio Kojima make lo-fi music with whatever materials they have at their disposal: guitars, ukuleles, chatting neighbors, the echoes of the tiled bathroom walls. The make-music-however-you-can premise of this demo is appealing, especially as DIY is an increasingly monetized and polished endeavor. But its twee, carefree simplicity rarely strikes a compelling note.

The plain, nonchalant melodies of each song are meant to call to mind a still from a coming of age film like Boyhood, but consistently fail to create that imagery. I want to imagine two friends sitting on a bench in the park drinking lemonade, or cooking dinner together while the TV yammers with the news, as I listen. But instead, songs like “Strawberry,” for example, stagnate in their naive sense of wonder. 

The best moments on the album come with “West is West,” whose folky melody is instantly catchy, and “Hat and Walking Stick,” whose sly dissonance provides a new depth of texture. Yet, “Hat and Walking Stick” is immediately ruined by “Wipe Sweat with a Handkerchief,” whose nonchalant guitar crosses the line into superficiality. If they’d included more of those subtly dark moments, of those grittier textures or intricate layers, the blasé attitude of the music would be less off putting.
[4]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: While it doesn’t have the gloss or spark of World Standard’s Hosono-produced albums, Asagao does channel the same whimsical spirit. I expected something even more pastoral and breezy—something I could put on while wanting to sleep—but that proved difficult given how many of these tracks feature a persistent beat or have a cyclical, loop-like feel to them. I find it best to approach these pieces as vignettes, as the homespun music-making exercises they are. Asagao is a reminder of the beauty that exists in child-like melodies and simple, percussive rhythms—something I’ve experienced when playing toy instruments with my nephew. When I put on Asagao, I feel both nostalgia and an innate urge to create music with whatever I can, with whomever’s around me—what a beautiful gift an artist can impart on a listener.
[6]

Jack Davidson: The many gossamer layers of this reverently exhumed early document from World Standard, the longtime moniker of Japanese dream-folk musician Soichiro Suzuki, lazily unfold with tremendous grace and weightlessness into hypnotic hazes of bedroom-pop beauty. This is no vanity project that hides its insubstantiality behind veils of no-fi recording or other gimmicks, however; with the help of fellow founding member Michio Kojima, Suzuki stitches together sparse musical skeletons that only reveal their curiosities and complexity with patience, the often minimalism-esque phrasings and structures created with the simplest of instruments and materials. The resulting atmosphere hovers in an unusual no man’s land of stubborn neutrality that only ever subtly tips into undisturbed pleasantness—I’m occasionally reminded of Pale Cocoon’s Mayu in this regard, though Asagao isn’t nearly as cold or alien.

“Sand Water,” one of the most severely fuzz-marred recordings on the LP, is one of its most austere, weaving sonorous vocalizations and tense melodic cells with incessant, plodding percussion. It doesn’t evoke any overt unease, but demonstrates how reticent the emotional range at work here actually is; opener “Wheat Harvest” is perhaps of an equivalent absolute value on this scale, yet leans toward the opposite side, that of soft sublimity. But when they are directly compared the two tracks have the same tautness, the same subtle currents of electric tension that simultaneously hold everything together and threaten to tear it all apart.

For a lost demo collection, Asagao is quite consistent and solidified as a unified work, one that knows how to embrace the true spirit of dreamy whimsicality without letting it float you too far from the Earth: the LP is a freeing drift through the crackling, unpredictable air of what might be a coming storm, the sky appearing to be about clear up at some points, to threaten rain at others, but finally the dance concludes with the slurred pink sun finally peeking through the clouds, bare feet stomping on the dirt and reaching hands splayed toward the heavens as the humbly seraphic final notes of Asagao ring out.
[8]

Jesse Dorris: Very, very late on a hot, dewy night I put on headphones and walked around my neighborhood with this album playing quietly. Trees rustled a touch, they were backlit. I had a small scuff on my heart, to be honest. I hated the little squeak at the start of “Canary” and then loved everything all at once, the echoes of records I’ve lived with over decades, the Morricone and Moondog and O’Rourke and Pram. I wondered if the nods were as deliberate as they were brief; I walked around thinking about the evidence of their enthusiastic taste and lack of showing off. No idea if the fidelity was intentional. And then I passed through a water sprinkler, texted a friend to send him the album. It’s a pal of a record. Come to find out it was made in the middle of the memories I surrounded it with, chronologically, a bridge that sounds like an opening gate.
[7]

Shy Thompson: For music that I love, it’s really exciting to take a peek behind the curtain. I spend a lot of time with my favorite music and devote a lot of mental real estate to thinking about it, and having something new to think about can often revitalize my love for something all over again. I had the time of my life listening through the five disc edition of The Beach Boys’s landmark archival release of The Smile Sessions, examining every single facet of the early versions, track stems, and studio chatter therein; an entire disc, twenty-five tracks, were dedicated to different aspects of recording “Good Vibrations” alone—that is the kind of granular detail I crave. I have since indulged in every archival Beach Boys compilation that Capitol has released. I took particular joy in a track on 1967: Sunshine Tomorrow—a collection of odds and ends relating to Wild Honey—that is a supercut of session highlights of the closing track, “Mama Says.” It mostly consists of Brian Wilson barking orders to The Boys in his typical perfectionist fashion, agonizing over the minor detail of whether the final sound on the album, a breathy “poof,” should be a pitched note or not. I’ve listened to this silly track far more than the finished studio version; it’s not even close.

In 2014 an expanded remaster of Slint’s Spiderland, an album that was a frequent soundtrack to my teenage angst, similarly renewed my appreciation for it and gave me more to think about. I’ve long known the stories about vocalist Brian McMahan writing and recording vocals separately from the rest of the band because his anxiety prevented him from singing such personal lyrics around others, but hearing the 4-track demos of him practicing vocal takes while incubating in his parents’ car in the sweltering heat elevated my appreciation for his process. Similarly, Prince’s Piano & a Microphone 1983 also became an obsession for me; it’s a thirty-four minute cassette that was probably intended to be nothing more than a sound check, with Prince running through a quick gauntlet of his material, experimenting with segues. “Is that my echo?” the record begins. He requests a different mic, asks for the lights to be turned down, and for his voice level to be lowered, all while not removing his fingers from the piano keys and not missing a beat of his iconic B-side “17 Days.” I didn’t love that track before I heard this version, and it elevated my appreciation of the original.

World Standard’s Asagao brings me that same joy; I feel as though I’ve discovered their music again, and it gives me new ways to appreciate something I’ve loved for a long time. World Standard’s first two records, I and II, are beautiful, meticulously crafted masterpieces. They fill me with a warmth and comfort that few other records manage. The eclectic range of instruments, the inclusion of calming nature recordings, and the keen ear of Haruomi Hosono to tie the stratospheric talents of Soichiro Suzuki and Michio Kojima together in an immaculately produced bow elevates these albums into forever-favorite status for me. It’s tempting to give Hosono the lion’s share of credit for these records turning out the way they did, but Asagao reveals that the heart of everything I love about World Standard has been there all along. The low fidelity background noise of television sets, the sounds of a sliding door when Kojima’s grandparents enter and exit the room, the background chatter—these things elicit a similar feeling to what the nature sounds bring to the studio records, but differ in an important, fundamental way: it doesn’t just sound like a beautiful place in the world, it sounds like their corner of the world.
[10]

Average: [6.57]


Alan Braufman - The Fire Still Burns (Valley Of Search, 2020)

Press Release info: 45 years after his debut album Valley of Search (1975/India Navigation), jazz saxophonist Alan Braufman returns. The Fire Still Burns has that gritty, forthright sensibility we hope to hear in sonic collaborations borne out of beauty and struggle, but there’s a populist ease that comes with age and reflection. Put simply it’s natural music – complementary, individual, and full of the sweet, hot taste of celebration.

Purchase The Fire Still Burns at Bandcamp.


Vanessa Ague: In 1975, saxophonist and composer Alan Braufman released the electric Valley of Search. And then he disappeared from the world of recorded music. With this background, it’s no surprise that his first album since, The Fire Still Burns, opens as if it’s a swan song: lush unison mixed with light cymbal rolls exemplify sweeping melodrama.

But the intrigue of “Sunrise,” the first track on the record, is its subtle hints at what’s to come, as virtuosic riffs and explosive celebration hide just beneath the saccharine surface. With The Fire Still Burns, Braufman blends virtuosity and simplicity, drama and fun, and never loses sight of vivid energy. Songs like “Block Party,” an infectious toe-tapper, and “Home,” a panoramic and luscious ode, succeed in delicately balancing the chaos of improvisation with rambunctious, melodic zeal. The band’s continual focus on groovy syncopations helps drive the danceability of the music.

Other tracks, like “Creation” and “Alone Again” don’t succeed as much. The pandemonium of “Creation” exhibits impeccable craft but lacks cohesion, while “Alone Again” is so trite that it becomes overbearing. The album is most compelling when its focus is on fun: making the kind of music that forces a smile on your face. Each soloist provides highly skilled riffs and improvisations, which lend themselves to the record’s polished quality. But when the music becomes too bogged down in showing skill, it loses sight of its intoxicating vitality. Fortunately, “City Nights” closes out the record with fiery vigor: crashing upright bass and spirited bongo solos bring back the exuberance that makes the music shine, reminding us of all the ways in which The Fire Still Burns is a celebration.
[7]

Marshall Gu: Braufman’s story is an interesting one that, in the internet age, has become increasingly common. Braufman’s debut album from 1975, Valley of Search, had long been forgotten, and it wasn’t until his nephew Nabil Ayers reissued Valley of Search in 2018 that there was renewed interest in Braufman. Another prominent example from jazz in recent memory: Hailu Mergia, who acheived success in Ethiopia but failed to cross over in America in the ’80s until reissues decades later brought him out of his cab-driving exile.

While it’s unfair for me to expect an album from a 69-year-old to sound remotely similar to the album he made when he was in his twenties, it’s also impossible for me to reconcile that these friendly chords are from the same person that made the post-Coleman, post-Coltrane, post-Sanders Valley of Search. After “Sunrise” briefly evokes the very thing of its title, the opening melody of “Block Party” sounds like it wandered in from a pop ditty, and frankly the fact that you can hear Cooper-Moore pressing down on the piano pedals makes it sound like a demo of a pop ditty. “Alone Again” and “The Fire Still Burns” make me think of Kamasi Washington: jazz that’s so obviously indebted to some of the very same players and styles but so very far removed thanks to the hyper-modern sound that ultimately removes the human component.

The harmonies on “Alone Again” from Braufman and James Brandon Lewis sound like the same ones that has graced so many ’80s pop albums that wanted to evoke a car commercial idea of nighttime: it’s overcooked, and yet, the song itself is underdone, abruptly switching into the title track just as it reaches its climax. Would-be centerpiece “Home” feels big and cinematic given its underpinning strings and snaking cymbals, but the drama feels fake, and whatever sense of danger Braufman is trying to evoke falls flat. The fire does still burn, clearly! But it's burning in an electric fireplace sort of way. At least Kamasi Washington typically gives you two or three discs worth.
[4]

Jesse Dorris: I’m not the one to speak on the how and how well this was made, although the gold of the horns and the clear lagoons of piano and the crunch of the drums are a consistent rush. There’s a generosity in these brief moments that honestly unnerved me, mostly because of my own bullshit around kindness. A number of times, the tumble of “No Floor No Ceiling” and “Creation” seemed gratuitous—and, listen, I still struggle like a fool through new Autechre jams so I do love the wanton—and a way to make the subsequent breakouts sound like breakthroughs. And yet: as with the World Standard, I let this in on walks, I’ve been walking around in New York a lot lately because I’m worried in a few months the risk once again won’t feel worth it, and it came together so hard for me. “Sunrise” sounds like no morning I know; those cymbals positively rattle with optimism, and “Block Party” doesn’t sound like the ones I’ve walked past but if I did, how I would shimmy. “No Floor” felt so intimate, the idea of a people falling into this together, sweat and focus shining, there was suddenly a rush hour crush of bodies around me. I was grateful. I don’t understand how the last 90 seconds of “Home” sound exactly like struggling to the end of a day and reaching your door with groceries and a bottle of something and exhaling with relief that the cats haven’t died and throwing yourself on the couch. It does, though. I don’t know how, it just does.
[7]

Sunik Kim: The production on here carries the album—Cooper-Moore’s piano, especially on songs like “Sunrise,” possesses a rich, glowing aura, almost fake-vintage but not quite, exactly the kind of ringing sound I miss on a lot of contemporary jazz. The straight-ahead, melody-driven sections (“Home,” “City Nights”) veer dangerously into the cheesy, and maybe even a few weeks ago I might've dismissed the whole album based on those moments. But right now, corny numbers like “Alone Again” just work for me; they zero in on a very specific, devastating feeling that I’m tuning into more these days: one only accessible through overblown power ballads and late ’80s K-pop tearjerkersThe Fire Still Burns unexpectedly reminded me of this scene from Wang Bing’s Tie Xi Qu: there is a burning, smoldering core of sadness that only be cracked open with a MIDI saxophone preset, a verse that unashamedly bellows, “In tonight’s chill wind and blinding rain / The storm of memory breaks / I’m a boat in search of a safe harbor / You are the memory I can’t leave behind.”
[7]

Joshua Minsoo Kim: What an immaculate sounding album, so pristine and radiant that the playing and arrangements almost feel secondary. The brightest, most overtly charming moments are justified, and they wouldn’t have the same impact if the production wasn’t so clean. “Sunrise” is at once gentle but firm—it’s the sound of a friend forcing you to smile when you’re down. On the surface it’s cloying, but it ultimately reads as a compassionate gesture you can’t help but feel grateful for. And as the LP progresses, there’s continuity along each of its sides, and the members’ passion never lets up; you can never remove yourself from the proceedings.

Whether it’s the blown-out raucousness of “No Floor No Ceiling” or the moody “Home,” the album’s louder tracks are forthrightly committed to making sure expressiveness is understood. On the latter track, the saxophone is played with such vigor and pomp that the emotions it conjures up are forced upon you. “Alone Again” is equally aggressive, albeit in the opposite direction—it’s so laid-back and smooth that it’s a shock we’re hearing the same group of musicians. But that’s the real delight of hearing this album: you get a sense that everyone is choosing a particular style or emotion and channeling it as best as they can. The Fire Still Burns is more than just a title, it’s a direct fact—Braufman offers no moment where it can be denied.
[7]

Samuel McLemore: As always, Cooper-Moore on piano is the standout here, and any excuse to get him out front and center playing more jazz is fine by me. His immense vocabulary of piano style and fine sense of when and how to “serve” both the audience and his fellow players are in top form here. Cooper-Moore is most famous for his long involvement with William Parker, playing on some of the band leader’s best recordings, but before that came his time with Alan Braufman and the NYC Loft scene during the mid-70s.

He spent years playing live weekly with Braufman back then and they’ve remained close enough in the decades since (Cooper-Moore became the godfather to Braufman’s nephew, a rep at 4AD who produced this album). This close relationship and wealth of experience is plainly obvious on record; they support each other perfectly while leaving the rest of the quintet in the dust. Braufman’s searingly emotional leads would sound untethered and over the top without Cooper-Moore’s piano cushioning and guiding them; the chords and melodies Cooper-Moore plays would often be saccharine or incomplete without Braufman’s sax to finish them. You can hear them talking to each other all over the record in ways both subtle and direct. It’s what makes the record so rich and engaging to listen to, what we mean when we say the sum is greater than any of the parts.

And though this is in many ways a very straightforward and unsurprising record given its pedigree, it is also deeply unpretentious—they make no bones about their influences, don’t waste time getting to the emotional core of the music, and nail it pretty much every time.
[7]

Average: [6.50]


Still from Before Sunrise (Richard Linklater, 1995)

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