Rustle VV – various releases
Rustle VV is a cassette label run by Brooklyn based artist Joshua Sullivan. He releases new work mainly by solo artists who explore underground territories in and around the noisier singer/songwriter genres. In Joshua’s own words, the aesthetic of the label has been described as American Gothic and I don’t like that very much. I took a lot of inspiration from all over the place but maybe it helps to name a few: the poetry of Samuel Greenberg, Emily Dickinson and Fernando Pessoa, early American folk and blues recordings and post-war field recordings, zine and d-i-y photocopy culture, 19th century photo-postcards, 80s post-punk and gothic bands (like Bauhuas), Junior Kimbrough, Jandek and Corwood Industries, G.I. Gurdjieff and Thomas de Hartmann.
I think that these days, in the claustrophobic world of new music based on popular idioms, you need to have a clear idea of where you’re coming from if you want to find a niche. I think this label does that very well, finding a niche, and for what it’s worth the music hovers around areas that I’ve always enjoyed – broadly music with strong roots such as folk and blues, as opposed to a lot of the fashionable disembodied indie pop, usually of UK origin, which makes me want to strangle somebody, then slit my wrists.
The label started as a private collection of various home recordings and has since branched out to include a range of artists found either online or seen in performance.
Linda Spjut – The First Stone (2012)
Linda Spjut, in common with several of the artists on the label, is both visual artist and musician. The most distinctive trait in The First Stone is heard in the treatment of the voice, described as the husky and darkened voice of a masked female character, as if a persona has been deliberately adopted for the album. However she manages it technically, her voice comes over as a very low tenor of indeterminate gender. In fact the first track, Love is Gone, could pass for a lo-fi version of Daniel Lanois’ 1995 production of Emmylou Harris’s Wrecking Ball, a highly stylised album characterised by the range and register of the voice, what I’d call a deep Southern treatment of the songs, and a warm blend of distinctive reverberation and chorus in the instruments. I can hear the same stylistic traits on track 6, Steel. The fact that I’m constantly reminded of other artists goes with the territory of reviewing music by singer/songwriters.
How do you do? has shades of Lennon’s solo albums after the Beatles. All the Tears is simple, very well produced, minimal but never monotonous. Unfortunately it clips into distortion at a couple of points, probably not intended, which tarnishes the otherwise excellent overall production.
Homeland smacks of early Dylan, mixed in with a dash of U2, yet it remains always folky, well grounded. The Deep Dark oh the Wild, a simple but effective couple of chords and a slack beat, keeps the work consistent. The vocals are simple but engaging, the accompanying sounds exceptionally well orchestrated. Crossroads offers more of a bluesy Southern stomp, conjuring up visions outcast snake healers and dodgy redneck misdemeanours, for which I have a particular soft spot. I’d say that the visions or mental images that come to mind with this music sets it apart as highly stylised, dark and filmic, folky and bluesy, conveying mood and atmosphere. Want it Back is the only track out of kilter with the rest of the album. The guitars in particular are especially well produced and there is never too much at once. Yet it’s all done undoubtedly on a shoestring. This is honest music, more so than much of the posturing in the so called experimental scene. My only question would be to ask why the tracks are so short. I’d have happily listened to much longer versions of some of this material. If this is a side-effect of mp3 culture then it’s unnecessary because we’re not talking about a big commercial venture here.
PERFVGIVM – Le Mal Voisin (2009)
The first song, Wings of the Heart, offers us a mix of field recordings and heavily clipped distorted guitar, the guitar being the distinctive trait across the three tracks. Not forgetting a voice like Muddy Waters through a tin can microphone. The approach to the guitar is in my opinion a bold and admirable statement. Distressed beyond anything reasonable and miles away from what the music industry expects from a guitar, the sound incorporates what most guitarists and record producers spend hours (and buckets of cash) trying to eliminate. So, an emphatic distortion that doesn’t attempt to strip the enamel off your teeth.
At heart we still have a folky and bluesy archival feel to the whole album. Following shades of Ray Davies in That’s a Woman, Le Mal Voisin has the cadences and spirit of an old blues song – relaxed phrasing means that the guitar is occasionally left to feed back, sounding at times like Hendrix noodling about in the studio or at home in the armchair. After several listens I began to love it. We finish with field recordings, broadband noise, or, from the sleeve notes, a recording of night entering with rain falling outside on the sea, wind whistling in an attic, the inside of a clock tower, a dog on a chain howling, a boat rocking over crests, and a neighbor rehearsing opera. All these while a guitar makes thunder.
More from the catalogue up next…