elcome to the Digital Meltd0wn Music Blog. The aim of this blog is to introduce the readers to music that is out of print, commercially unavailable, released under a creative commons license, or with approval by the featured artist. The majority of the music posted here would be considered underground. Don't let that fool you into thinking that the music featured here might be any less enjoyable than that of the mainstream artists you hear on the radio, as this couldn't be further from the truth.
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Here is the second volume of prison songs, a collection of field recordings made by Alan Lomax during his visit to Mississippi's notorious Parchman Farm state prison in 1947 and on February 9, 1948. The songs collected on Volume 1 were originally released by the Tradition label as Negro Work Songs. Volume 2 features songs that didn't make the cut for the original Negro Work Songs release, though one shouldn't let this fact persuade them from giving this a listen. The songs on Vol. 2 have somewhat of a harsher quality to them, which may be why they were excluded from the original release, yet the heartfelt soul of prisoner's . As with the first volume, there are also tracks featuring Lomax interviewing various prisoners on a variety of subjects, although this volume contains several more than the first.
"For those who may not know, the worksong tradition was a practice carried over from Africa, which manifested first in slave plantations and then in the prison work gang. John Lomax, together with his son Alan, began recording these songs in Southern penitentiaries in 1933. In 1947, and again in 1948, Alan returned to Parchman Farm to gather in the songs we have here. So charged with passion are they that claims of a declining tradition make very odd reading. Yet, when I listen to the Lomaxes earlier collections, I have to agree. Pre-war, the ages of the singers was lower and the melodies were richer and more plentiful. Where the present material wins out is in the march of technology. Pre-war equipment was too limited to record the convicts while they worked. Instead, most of the material was gathered after hours, with the singers worn out from performing the very songs the Lomaxes were trying to capture. By 1947, however, the first modern tape recorder was on the market. With this device it was possible to preserve the sound of negro worksong in full flight."In and out" was a common pattern in Southern penal institutions. It developed from a system of race relations and social attitudes moulded in slavery days and dragged into the twentieth century like a feudal relic. The penitentiary was an important element in the suppression of the negro population. Along with lynch law, the Klan and a system of injudiciously administered floggings, the threat of a spell in the pen kept a potentially unruly black populace in a state of servility. The prisons held their share of hard cases, but for most of the inmates, sentences were short, sharp, frequent and brutal, and they were usually meted for trifling misdemeanours.
Impressions of a high turnover of prisoners are supported by these two CDs. Volume 1 is exclusively from Lomax's 1947 recordings and features protagonists with such colourful nicknames as Bama, Tangle Eye, 22, and Hard Hair. Volume 2 is mostly from Lomax's return trip in 1948, by which time additional singers seem to have found their way into the pen. They include Dobie Red, Curry Childress, and 88. The impression is strengthened when one reads John Lomax's reminiscences of collecting songs in Parchman Farm before World War 11. Of the singers he mentions, only Dobie Red and Tangle Eye were in the pen between 1947 and 1948.
So influential was Murderers' Home that the name Parchman Farm has become synonymous with axe wielding convicts roaring ferocious choruses. However, the institution embraced much more than group worksongs and some of this is reflected in the programming. Axe and hoe songs predominate, but there are one or two solo work songs, several field hollers, including Bama's superb Stackerlee, and a couple of blues. There is also an interview, split over two tracks, during which Bama talks about song leading and about his lot as a three time loser caught in the web of the Mississippi penal system. "In and out, in and out, for the last eighteen years." It fades, heart-rendingly, into a mournful holler by another long time prisoner, Tangle Eye
Listening to the lyrics and how they were sung, I form the opinion that the songs were far more about making it through the can than they were about synchronising work. In all these verses you will not find the slightest iota of fantasy or escapism. If there were any would-be lottery winners in Parchman Farm or Angola they do not show up here. Instead the songs are vested with stark reality and sweat. They are the channelling of rage and resentment against the iniquity and brutality and rank injustice of a penal system which was nothing more than the legitimised extension of plantation slavery. All folksongs involve catharsis but, inside the pen, song was the only voice which allowed prisoners to kick against the system. Shared songs did more than alleviate the work, they alleviated the misery." - Fred McCormick
"These songs belong to the musical tradition which Africans brought to the New World, but they are also as American as the Mississippi River. They were born out of the very rock and earth of this country, as black hands broke the soil, moved, reformed it, and rivers of stinging sweat poured upon the land under the blazing heat of Southern skies, and are mounted upon the passion that this struggle with nature brought forth. They tell us the story of the slave gang, the sharecropper system, the lawless work camp, the chain gang, the pen." - Alan Lomax
Year of Release: 1958/Reissue 1997 Label: Tradition/Rounder Genre: Field Recording, Folk, Blues
Track List: 1. Don'cha Hear Poor Mother Calling 2. John Henry 3. Strongest Man I Ever Saw 4. Well, I Wonder 5. Lies 6. I'm Goin' Home 7. More Lies 8. O' Berta 9. Disability Boogie Woogie 10. O Rose 11. Hollers 12. Stewball 13. Fox Chase 14. Katy Left Memphis 15. About Prison Singers 16. Rosie 17. High Rollin' Sergeant 18. Garbage Man 19. When I Went to Leland 20. Prodigal Son 21. I'm Goin' to Memphis 22. (Untitled) - (hidden track)
I must apologize for my posting absence. I have recently embarked upon an intern position at NY1. Between the internship, my online job and school, I have been trying to get accustomed to the changes to my work and social life. But enough about my plight and onto something that may interest the good people at the Digital Meltd0wn community.
Through my fixation with the Melvins, I have discovered a lot of artists would have otherwise slipped through my fingers and into obscurity. One of my best discoveries was one time Amphetamine Reptile Records label mate and noise rock artist, Cows.
Hailing from Minneapolis, Minnesota, the Cows possessed the raw energy and stage presence of a hardcore punk band with erratic live antics like hurling harmful objects into the crowd. But they were also complimented by their ability to sustain structure with blues rock riffs and lead singer, Shannon Selberg, belting out paint-peeling, warbling vocals and occasionally lending his talents on the bugle.
Released in 1992 on Amphetamine Reptile Records, Cunning Stunts was the Cows fifth studio album and although now, out of print, it remains one of their most successful albums. With the sound effect of a smack and a baby's wail, the album blasts off into "Heave Ho." This track embodies everything the Cows are about from the escalating vocals and rampant bugle of Shannon Selberg to the opening rockabilly riff leading into a full fledged punk rock assault that continues throughout the album.
Year of Release: 1992 Label: Amphetamine Reptile Records Genre: Noise rock, Punk rock, Experimental, Blues rock
Track List: 1. Heave Ho 2. He Walks Alone 3. Contamination 4. Mr. Cancelled 5. Mine 6. Everybody 7. Two Little Pigs 8. The Woman Inside 9. Terrifique 10. Down Below 11. Ort
SSubduction is an avant-garde electronic project brought to life by the duo of William (Brian) Van Huss and Ian Briscoe. They formed with the intention of releasing one collaborative effort capable of perfectly capturing the unique bond that exists between the two, as well as humanity as a whole, yet also comparing and contrasting what makes them unique as indivduals, painting a bleak musical picture of the great divide between two souls and the .
Little is known about the mysterious Ian Briscoe. Briscoe builds and plays his own moog synthesizers, including those heard on this album. He also contributes vocals on the track "Celebrate". William Van Huss is certainly a mysterious and enigmatic figure in his own right, although he happens to have the better documented artistic career of the two. Van Huss is a multi-talented artist, known for producing works in several different mediums. In 1989 he founded Psyche Zenobia, a company created for the purpose of distributing his creative works. Although he has received the most recognition for his musical output, he has also responsible for producing numerous paintings, drawings, poems, essays, fanzines and photography pieces. Under the Psyche Zenobia Music imprint, he has released five albums to date, including this joint release with Digital Meltd0wn Records. "Bad News From the Inner Solar System" could be considered a "return to roots" album for him. One of his first bands, Ghoul Feeding, was a noise rock band that experimented with improvised sounds using a wide variety of found instruments. His career demonstrates an undeniable ability to continuously evolve as a musician, always seeking out and exploring new territory, with his music reflecting his growth and maturity on a personal level.
"Bad News from the Inner Solar System" is anything but a conventional album, and attempting to pigeonhole it into a specific genre would be futile. "How Very Much (I've Loved You)" utilizes tape loops, moog synthesizer, and various other elements. The tape loops are samples from the notorious "death tape" recordings of the Jonestown massacre, discovered by the FBI during the aftermath. The samples, accompanied by what sounds like blasts of steam, along with an eerie moog give the track a very haunting sound remeniscent of early industrial musicians such as Throbbing Gristle.
The next track uses samples in a much more upbeat way. All of the samples used in "Greetings" are from the Voyager Golden Record, a gold plated phonographic record containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth, which both Voyager spacecraft carried during their launch in 1977. The track opens with a sample of a female singing a Peruvian wedding song recorded by John Cohen, followed by samples of songs from Indonesia and Africa, and finally the U.N. President's greeting for those who might discover the Golden Record. These samples are backed up by a groovy beat, which wouldn't seem out of place in an old school hip-hop record. One might normally expect to hear such songs accompanied by bongo or djembe drums, yet it works perfectly in this case and helps to tie it all together.
"Celebrate" is the only track on the album which features vocals contributed by the artists involved. Ian Briscoe delivers the vocals on this one, which backed up by Van Huss on stylophone and short wave radio. It could be considered EBM (Electronic Body Music), as it combines elements of both industrial and electronic dance music.
The grand finale of the album is the epic "Anything In here", which clocks in at just under 23 minutes. It could be considered an electronic jam session of sorts, as it was recorded live in one session. As with the previous tracks, it features a variety of different synth instruments, audio samples, and various other sound effects. Some of the samples used are taken from the movie "The Fly". The sound similar to a fax machine heard throughout is actually the teleportation device from the movie.
This is an outstanding debut release from the duo of Briscoe and Van Huss. "Bad News from the Inner Solar System" is at times earthly, at others celestial, often desolate, and yet heartening also. If the goal was to make a statement concerning the human condition, it achieves it remarkably. If you consider yourself a fan of experimental music, or the other genres mentioned, you owe it to yourself to listen to this.
Year of Release: 2009 Label: Digital Meltd0wn Records/Psyche Zenobia Music Catalog #: DM 001 Genre: Experimental, Sound Collage, Electronic Bitrate: 256kbps
1. How Very Much (I've Loved You)
4. Anything In Here