Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Hangtown Revisited

I've written about Tracey Trance before, back when he was calling himself Quincy Quartz, but I still haven't figured out what makes his sloppy, childish, drenched-in-potsmoke music so endearing. Anyone can take a few bong rips and wile out on a cheap keyboard, but no one else can make it seem like a genuine spiritual exercise.

Tracey Trance, also known as Tyler, came through town this weekend for a cramped house show in Pilsen, and was in fine form: trailing clouds of potsmoke and grinning ear-to-ear, wearing what looked like either a prison jumpsuit or girl's pajamas, and bearing a new cassette--Hangtown USA Two, a follow-up to last year's Hangtown USA One. He also had a new "drummer," a very stoned-looking kid from Portland, OR, who'd decided on a whim to jump in Tyler's car and go on tour. I've seen Tyler play a couple of times with different percussionists, and even had the pleasure of filling in one night myself, but this new kid's absurdly loose sense of rhythm lent the music a special Shaggs-like exuberance. And Tyler traipsed up and down his keyboards in his inimitable style.

Which is--I don't know what. I honestly don't know what Tyler's doing in any music-theory sense (though I suspect he's playing only the white keys of his "wah-fucked Casio" ) but the result is always unique and exotic. It can sound like Javanese temple music, or an underwater wedding party, or like a precocious three year-old fucking around on grandma's consolette organ, punctuated by clattering unrhythms and splashes of elven yelping--it sounds, in short, like nothing else in the universe.

I'm not the only music writer who's tried, and struggled, to describe Tracey Trance--he supersedes our hack's thesauruses and makes us really dig for descriptors. One internet scribe tries a poetic angle: "Lost somewhere in the frenetic energy of misaligned molecules, scattered bits of thrown sound ampli-fry in the luminous dawn..."; another offers the slightly-helpful "sprite songs." Foxy Digitalis finds his music "whimsically foreboding;" another blogger coins a new genre, "psychedelic zydeco." Visitation Rites, meanwhile, describes his sound as "like tuning into a May Day celebration in a Playmobil village via stethoscope."

A sonic rorschach test, maybe. Anyway, Hangtown, USA Two rules. The drummer kid earnestly gushed to me that it really is a sequel to Hangtown One; I'm not sure I've sussed out the whole narrative thread, but I do know that it's primo Tracey Trance. The tape is maybe even more lo-fi than previous releases, and while lo-fi is still seemingly riding a wave of hip, Tyler's lo-lo-fi sound may be due to simple frugality--it's dubbed over one of those free truck-stop sermon cassettes, with scotch tape over the protection tabs, that had already been dubbed over who-knows how many times (the last few minutes of Side A reveal the previous dub, some warbly Jamaican dancehall).

Tyler seems to be on basically a perpetual tour, so please do attend if he comes to your town. In the meantime, here's some fairly representational footage of Tracey Trance in full rapture mode:

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Dither in Dallas

Secret Beach devotees have been clamoring for my Super Bowl predictions, and as I make a point of giving readers what they want, here's what I see going down:

At Super Bowl XLV, a wide receiver pulls down his pants and starts waving his thing around on the jumbotron. There's a collective gasp, and then roaring laughter, and then everyone begins to disrobe. Women bare their breasts and scream like banshees. A cable correspondent is doused with a Gatorade cooler full of blood. Halftime comes, and the entertainment is a nervous teenager playing popular songs on a set of crystal glasses.

Simple things around the stadium begin to malfunction. The pretzel vendors go on strike. Someone hijacks the ventilation system, causing it to circulate sage-scented air. TV anchors go into their best Hindenburg routines: I just can't believe what is happening here at Super Bowl XLV! I've never seen anything like this! The crowd is just... people are shedding everything. There's a sense that football will never be the same again.

Indeed it won't! Advertisers retract their advertising even as it's being broadcast. The third quarter begins in an atmosphere of general chaos. A running back trips off some sort of buried landmine at the 20-yard line that tears off his leg with a deafening explosion. The referees start gesticulating at each other like madmen, and are soon involved in a savage brawl that to the viewer is a dizzying kaleidoscope of black and white stripes. It's if all the tension embedded in the game has suddenly burst, and primal feelings of love and war are coming suddenly to the surface. The game ends with no clear winner, and no one leaves the stadium. The locker-room showers are used for impromptu cleansing rituals. In the stands fathers weep and embrace their sons. Ritual cigars are passed around. People sprawl out on the playing-field as the sun goes down, passing around beer and hot chocolate. Sponsors are enraged; the commissioner goes into cardiac arrest; and in living rooms across the country tumultuous scenes ensue. Something new is happening at Cowboys Stadium, and no one knows what to make of it.