This is the new album on my Greasy Coat Productions Bandcamp site, it's a sequel to an earlier Chromentary album I made back at least a decade ago. Each song is based around the name of a color and here's a track by track overview --
This song definitely wants to go hang out with my favorite african-american gospel-blues ring-shout songs - like the ones Blind Willie Johnson and Washington Phillips recorded - but its very Gnostic in its mystical hierachy and also sort of anti-gnostic in its insistence that the body, that the material substance of reality, is not to be despised or rejected; this song is convinced that the world of earth is as important as any world of spirit. I’m a little obsessed with the health of my spine as I get older; a gentleman I talk with at the farmer’s market from time to time shocked me yesterday when he said he was seventy - I feel like he has kept his spine strong and straight and, despite the health problems he can relate as a litany, he doesn’t seem all that much older than me. So I dedicate this one to all my dancer friends and other body-health-culture friends. A specific track from a Smithsonian Folkways album of music recorded among the Elewe of Nigeria had a particular influence on this song as well, I just loved the immediacy of the singer who I assume is either busking or performing a curative ritual for passers-by, or indeed, likely both.
I didn’t realize how much the image of the first plants colonizing the dry land and preparing the way for all the rest of us terrestrial beings was going to run through this album. ’Silurian Grey’ was a color I’d never heard of until I found it in “A Dictionary of Color” from 1930 & I’m still not finding much in the way of explanation as to where the heck the authors found such a color being referred to originally. But it sure captured my imagination and I came to really love this track - no, I haven’t actually been having dreams where I psychically project back 420 million years ago but maybe if I listen to this track enough times I can go visit. A musical influence that appears a number of times in this album & definitely in this song is the sort of hocketing work you hear in African communal music gatherings I'm thinking particularly about recordings I've heard from the Upper Nile, the Sudan and Chad where individual players contribute only a few notes at a time to a larger, organic, repeated musical phrase.
I made this album for my own birthday - I figured it was what I really really wanted - and one of my intentions was to think about and reference all the music that ever made an impact on the landscape of my imagination. Some of the earliest music I remember from my dad playing records in the house (my dad maintains a ridiculously massive collection of vinyl) are odd little piano ‘tone-pictures’ of toy animals by Heitor Villa-Lobos, an early 20th century Brazillian composer. My song ‘Carnelian’ is a go at being as clever and whimsical and surprising as those pieces. I wound up wanting it to sound like a musician proposing this song to a choreographer - I actually in my head set the scene in the second floor dance studios that had big windows over Broadway uptown around 72nd St in Manhattan, I used to walk past those on my way to violin lessons once a week when I was a kid.
THOUSAND YEAR OLD GREEN
So there’s a traditional Japanese hierarchy of color that seems to be mostly associated with dyeing fabric; 'Chitose Midori' translates directly as Thousand Year Old Green - a very dark piney green. As an American with most of my roots in the British isles the phrase got me thinking strongly about the forests where English was only beginning to come together as a specific language a thousand years ago. I toyed with doing a sort of Beowulf themed song but wound up avoiding any sort of epic, heroic 'swords and sorcery' type story and focused on more personal everyday life, and I really enjoyed getting to talk about fairs and markets. My music for this one didn’t start out with me trying to get any Lord of the Rings kind of vibe, but that certainly wound up being a part of the palette.
This one is truly one of my favorites for just being so unrelentingly odd. Specifically, I had no idea where I was going with this song and then every time I would decide on a direction to take it, the song itself would suddenly choose sharp turns away and head off somewhere else. In a way it reminds me of a Bob Dylan lyric for that quality of unruly and stubborn surreality. The title was actually the last element to enter the picture, I’d finally decided that the song was gonna represent some sort of bluish… but the peacock image showed up at the very end: before that I couldn’t decide if it was going to be ‘azure’ or ‘electric blue.’ One of the many musical ‘flavors’ I thought about while doing this one was the now wonderfully dated midi keyboard underscore music from 90’s X files episodes, a sound I would typify as unnervingly near yet also incomprehensibly huge.
ECRU & LICORICE
I find this one utterly charming and it makes me think of how the music for children’s cartoons is often way more imaginative and better executed than any of the other writing or animation. This doesn’t sound like any of the 80’s cartoons I grew up with, but it has that same jaunty, charming, but ready to shift into menacing or just frantic at any sudden moment quality. It sounds very English to me, the harpsichord and winds trio arrangement definitely contributes to that, so I totally associate this with the odd stop motion animation series the BBC did of The Wind in the Willows, which I only very recently learned about. This track was mostly done before I decided what colors were involved; I had an A-list of colors I thought needed songs and, well, Ecru and Licorice just seemed like the perfect names for two cartoon teddy bears.
This one seems like it should be the single from this album - it’s the one I’ve found myself singing the refrain to while driving or futzing around the house. It think of it as an homage to that pop-gloss that Hollywood brought to jazz, that sort of ill-defined ‘retro’ which I see in cool movies like Chinatown and the Long Goodbye - the seventies trying to capture a 50’s film noir interpretation of the thirties… And then of course somehow it sounds absolutely like I’m trying to do a Sade song - I mean, I didn’t even have that in mind when I made this but now it just sounds like 'Smooth Operator'. Seriously, I was thinking about Mancini’s soundtrack for Touch of Evil, medieval music, African highlife… and yet… absolutely came out as 80’s new soul/ jazz pop - lounging by the swimming pool.
Hearing Tom Waits’ Raindogs for the first time in the studio apartment of a sculptor way back in high school put some things in motion in my heart and mind - Waits' old man tragic existentialist surreal troubadour aesthetic has had a lot of influence on my musical choices and this song wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for that. I love old man bars, even if I’m not really a drinker and I often don’t agree with old man viewpoints, but that grumpy camaraderie of weathered and worked-over old men, especially if theres a roots-related music culture to go along with it, say, a jukebox full of old 70’s Nashville country or an Irish traditional session going on in the corner… that’s a very particular and to me important American flavor. So yeah, this is my sad country waltz and every album should have one.
This song got that supercharged supersaturated sound even before I had decided what color to make it about. Mostly I was trying to render the sound of South East Asian folk music, specifically I mean Vietnamese gong ensembles and Laotian flutes, with that overt cyberpunk J-Pop gloss. Another part of the formula was thinking back to the kind of electro and latin-freestyle proto hip-hop/ post disco that I remember one particular school bus driver rocking out to before I was old enough to process my own musical tastes - I had such unreserved grade school curiosity about that just raw eager cheap and tacky oh so NYC diva synthpop…
RUBY OF ARSENIC
Ruby of Arsenic is a naturally occurring arsenic sulfide that was used to poison rats and as a chemical agent in fireworks and also to produce pigments for paints and dyeing - both red colors and yellow ones - I wanted the music to reflect that odd dangerous, explosive, beautiful and somewhat schizophrenic quality. I tend to make music first and then guilt myself into writing words to go along with them later - that wasn’t happening for this one, it has something much more direct to communicate with no patience for any language; complex and pushy, I labeled it ‘Anatolian Faux-hawk Adagio’ in my notes, ya dig? I had been listening to a Turkish psychedelic folk-rock band from the 70's (Mogollar) and a Belgian prog-art-rock band from just a touch later (Aksak Maboul) as well as smaller chamber works by J. S. Bach and somehow this piece was the result.
I think this song needs a whole TV series to explain its aesthetic, all about goth-cyberpunk kids mixing vigilante crime fighting and black magic on the internet trapped in America’s ever-deepening blueprint for suburban cultural decline. I found some utterly bizarre and yet perfectly mainstream Albanian reggaetonish-pop on Youtube and it kind of lead me down this path (Sinan Hoxha) but really, a main inspiration for this song was the fact that paint companies keep trying to name their colors after opals. The whole modern business of diversifying and defining colors so they can sell crayons and housepaint and automotive finishes is horrifying and hilarious, especially considering how many colors any one shimmering iridescent opal will manifest. Kind of like children, no matter how you try to compartmentalize a kid’s imagination, no matter how culture tries to monetize creativity, its always going to wriggle out and throw everything for a loop.
Quinacridone replaced Alizarin as the chemical constituent of fine art and industrial red dyes and pigments back in the 50’s. From oil paints and art history classes I was used to Alizarin which was a turn of the century replacement for the natural dyestuffs that preceded our age of fossil fuel dependancy: madder rose was they most esteemed but folks also used pokeberry, which is a common wayside plant all up and down the eastern seaboard & also a herald of spring (you gotta go get those tender leaves for salad long before the berries appear). This whole album is very much about humankind’s step-by-step walk away from the forests that bred us; in our search for brighter and shinier colors we keep turning to more intense and dangerous partners in the quest, petrochemicals and plastics, and now we just want to live our lives on the internet and never get our hands or feet dirty. I want to make beautiful and intense music and I want to share it with everyone I can… that’s what art is about, what life is about… and so my folk music, my electronic music, it’s a needy and deeply flawed entity and always grasping at the new colors it sees beyond the computer screen.
What can I say, I was raised before Nazis thought themselves clever & cute, before they got their kicks fooling white American grandparents into shaking their fists at the government via cable news and the internet. We got a lot of trouble coming our way and its gonna be willful ignorance and viral fandoms trying to get their kicks in real time with lots of guns and dwindling resources/ dry land to play with. I like people but I really sometimes I have to face the fact that don’t think much of humanity so hey... rock on, & good luck my fellow travellers.