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:

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