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Out There

"Out there" music (like, "Wow that's some weird and far out free jazz") is one thing, but what about when music is literally out there?

"Out there" music (like, "Wow that's some weird and far out free jazz") is one thing, but what about when music is literally out there, like it was recorded in fields, caves, meadows, and the seaside? What are you going to do then, buddy? If you have a brain and a heart, you are going to love it.

The members of the San Francisco Bay Area collective Jewelled Antler make the most of their surroundings, hiking to all the natural wonders that hippie haven SF has to offer, carrying strange homemade instruments slung over their shoulders, looking for the perfect cave, crevasse, or tide pool to switch on their trusty mini-disc/stereo mic combo and let the music move through them like an ancient animal spirit. "There is so much natural beauty in this part of the country," says Jewelled Antler founding member Glenn Donaldson. "There are lots of old military bases around here that became national parks. All of our friends were really into hiking anyway, and then one day [fellow Antler honcho] Loren [Chase] said, ‘We should be recording music in these places.'" And so it began. "It made sense," Glenn says. "It was like, why not bring a guitar or a harmonium to the beach instead of a Frisbee?" And why stop at a harmonium, guys? Why not lug 12-string guitars, banjos, bouzoukis, Jew's harps, accordions, maracas, mandolins, penny whistles, and more into the wilderness? "We're basically just shambling back into the woods, where all music started," says Glenn. And it's true—most Jewelled Antler music sounds like it was made by a mysterious tribe of mountain folk who've been overlooked by anthropologists. The sounds have infinite space and are completely improvised. It's like if ambient music was not only fully organic, but also, you know, good. To further obscure things, Jewelled Antler music is released under the auspices of a few different "band" names, even though it is mostly varying configurations of the same people. One of the most effective releases is by the Blithe Sons (which is just Glenn and Loren). The album is called We Walk the Young Earth and it sounds like a bunch of hippies invented a time machine, traveled to the Paleolithic Era, and hopped out to tweak and twang amid the 50-foot ferns and humid gases of an adolescent planet. The liner notes say that it was recorded "under a bridge" and "in a bunker." You can hear wind, birds, water, and music all working perfectly together, a gestalt that people have been trying to achieve in studio environments since LSD became a required lesson on the way to learning to play the guitar. "We started out just adding field recordings to our home-recorded music, à la Pink Floyd," Glenn says. "But if you think about it, why add bird song when you can just go to the birds?" There are points on the Blithe Sons' album where a lilting drone is all you hear and you can't tell whether it's a guitar or a saw or a mythic beast breathing, and then all of a sudden these deep resonant tribal drums start beating out a simple little marching tattoo and it's like, "Whooooaaaa." Try not to let the primal Altered States apeman inside of you take over. Another major spoke in the Jewelled Antler thing is the group Thuja (this is Glenn, Loren, and two other guys). Thuja sounds a lot like The Blithe Sons, but a bit denser and busier. In fact, many Jewelled Antler things sound same-y, but in a "These are related pieces of a larger whole" way, not a "This is getting boring" way. Thuja was the first musical incarnation of Antler folk. "Even when we started," Glenn recalls, "we were living and recording in a warehouse full of plants. Now, whenever Thuja plays live, we bring along lots of plants to create an ecosystem to perform in." The most song-based group in the Jewelled Antler family is The Skygreen Leopards, comprised of Donovan Quinn and—you guessed it—Glenn Donaldson. Their album, One Thousand Bird Ceremony (Soft Abuse Records) is a jangly affair of 60s British folk mumblings and liltings that sounds like it was recorded on a cliff in Scotland. It's hard to believe after hearing it, but the basic tracks were completely improvised and the lyrics are all off-the-cuff, with choice overdubs and flourishes occurring later at home. If you think Devendra Banhart is pushing the envelope (and for the record, we like him), buy this album today. This stuff makes Banhart sound like Britney Spears. One Thousand Bird Ceremony is an essential record, and a good way for the short-attention-spanned to ease into Jewelled Antler music. Finding some of this stuff will be hard. Last time I checked, HMV didn't have a Field-Recorded Ambient Avant-Folk section. A lot of the best Jewelled Antler stuff, in fact, has been released only on CD-R. "CD-R culture is so exciting right now," Glenn says. "It's like cassette culture was in the 80s—total freedom." The handmade feel of these releases is, of course, a perfect complement to the Jewelled Antler musical ethos. But it also makes getting a copy from the limited runs of these CD-Rs quite difficult, so get on it, before they're gone forever. More established labels release Jewelled Antler music, too; the aforementioned Soft Abuse and Family Vineyard put out Skygreen Leopards and Blithe Sons, respectively. Meanwhile, at Jewelled Antler HQ things are getting more and more complicated. They have set up a sub-label called Pink Skulls to release the more fucked and noisy side of their meanderings. Imagine if cavemen started punk bands. JUNE SPRIG
See: jewelledantler.com, softabuse.com, and family-vineyard.com. Send your CDs and mixes (weird shit only, please) to: Out There, Vice Magazine, 97 North 10th Street, Suite 202, Brooklyn NY 11211


Out There CD Mix of the Month

The number-one mix CD we came across this month was made by Massachusetts folk music master Joshua Burkett, who gave it to Brooklyn one-man-band Jukeboxer (Noah Wall), who gave it to us. It is a compilation of all the Canned Heat tracks that feature the guy with the high-pitched voice who sings “Goin’ Up the Country.” His fucking name was Blind Owl! It’s the best music we’ve ever heard for smoking “grass” in a green field upstate in the summer.