Published on September 16th, 2015 | by The Beige Baron0
Exclusive Album Stream: Algae & Tentacles
At times angular and discomfiting, and at others bursting with restless punk energy, the self-titled 10-track collection proves that a big budget—in fact, any budget at all—is not necessary for the creation of vital and original art.
The songs on Algae & Tentacles range from loose but catchy skuzz (Little Body, Cuddle Up) to dissonant, unsettling experiments in guitar noise, ambient sound, and ritualistic vocal collages, all stitched together with singer/guitarist John Melillo’s voice. At times the lyrics take on an almost nursery-rhyme-like quality, evoking images of broken dolls lying in some forgotten attic.
“The concept for the album is layers,” Meillo tells BNU. “Some of the songs have had a long life (like Cold Dark Teeth) while others are fairly new (Magellan). For me, it was a chance to see all these layers of Algae & Tentacles’ history together and hear them in a unified setting. Sort of like cutting a chunk out of a mountainside and reading the strata.
“The songs revolve around movement and stasis, noise and voice. I like the idea of encasing the voice inside of noise and decentering it: also like the way that the voice itself is just another noise among noises.”
A researcher and lecturer at the University of Arizona, Melillo is part of a small avante garde poetry, performance, and sound experimentation collective in Tuscon. I wonder if Algae & Tentacles arose from there?
“A&T has been my solo project for about five years, though I’ve been playing with many drummers during that time.
I started out with two drummers—Nate Affield on snare and tom and Akil Wilson playing a big marching-band bass drum.
“On this album, all the drums (except for on the track Fire Song) are by Hannah Ensor, who is a poet/performer that I played with a lot during my first years in Tucson. The plan for A&T has always been that it will be flexible and nomadic: these days, every set is a new thing, whether I’m playing solo with a broken keyboard that I picked up at the swap meet or playing with four electric guitars all tuned to the same note—a trick I picked up from playing in Rhys Chatham’s guitar orchestras.”
The songs revolve around movement and stasis, noise and voice.
Algae & Tentacles is unashamedly lo-fi and has DIY spirit leaking from its scuffed seams. How was this record captured?
“It was recorded in a quonset hut called The Hangart here in downtown Tucson. On the tracks with drums, Hannah and I recorded live with a variety of microphones, Dictaphones, and any other recording apparatus we could find. There would be a cellphone in a corner far away, there would be a vocal mic in the bass drum… we haphazardly experimented with placement and resonance.
“We layered all the tracks together and then added vocals. On the other tracks without drums, I used my home four-track recorder and added sound after sound. Geoff Saba of Itinerant Home Recordings (who also has occasionally played drums and guitar with A&T) worked with the sounds at the end of the process, too.”
It’s heartening to see talent such as A&T’s recognized and promoted on a respected label, in this case Lightening Records, which is also home to psych rockers Pontiak. How did that relationship form?
“Seth Olinsky (of Akron/Family, Cy Dune) moved to Tucson in 2011 when I first moved here from NYC. We knew each other from performing together in Rhys Chatham’s 200 Guitar symphony, A Crimson Grail, which was performed outside of Lincoln Center in 2010. Seth was my section leader (a kind of “sub-conductor” who led 50 guitars). Every guitar had all six strings tuned to E, and Chatham’s minimalist piece played with resonance and spatiality and noise and heaviness. It was like you were inside of the sound, not just listening but floating, living, breathing it.
“I say all this because that was Seth and I’s first point of contact—this amazing noise bliss—and I think that some of that feeling translated to a smaller, more mobile ‘rock n roll’ context and it’s what Lightning is all about.
Lightning is not just a system for spitting out music; it’s an aesthetic
“Seth and his partner, the artist Ali Beletic, wanted to make the label in order to clear some space for the simple power of Rock & Roll—which doesn’t mean just one thing—but suggests something minimal, heavy (again, that means many things), energetic, life-saving.
“So much music is being made. So. Much. But what Lightning is about is creating a platform, even a manifesto, that seeks to bring back something like ritual and fun to the music rather than hyper-professionalization and gatekeeping.
“I’m glad to be a part of it, because it automatically creates this irresistibly awesome context around Algae & Tentacles. Lightning is not just a system for spitting out music; it’s an aesthetic, an adventure that we fit into. From Moan to Cy Dune to Sam Amidon to Ohioan to Pontiak, all the artists on the label are bands I connect with in so many different ways.
“I have worked with Ryne from Ohioan on a variety of rock ‘n’ roll and drone guitar events in Tucson, but I also hope, via the label, to work with some of the bands on other happenings and improvisations. Lightning was always planned with these kinds of collaborations in mind: Seth & Ali want it to include not only bands but artists, writers (there is a journal connected with it), designers, and more. So look out, there’s more to come!”
EXCLUSIVE: Stream Algae & Tentacles below: