too much typing—since 2003


through stars, through nights, and back, through you

You've probably been there. For whatever reason, there's an enormous alcohol-shaped hole in your heart (or so its outline suggests to you), and you've been diligently filling it, working toward a state of bar zen, spirits having lifted you from your body, which you observe impassively as the world rushes around the stillness that remains. You observe, empirically, that the universe is an enormous wheel in motion, at whose center you are, as objects near you move at a magisterial pace, while the further away from you things are, the more they revolve into indistinctness, turning to mere blurs at the room's penumbra. Maybe there's a band playing, or a jukebox, or maybe it's just a song in your head, but music crashes periodically in waves at an indeterminate distance. Someone is yelling at you, or maybe at someone else; somehow you're on the street, walking; and then at home, or not at home; you blink, and it's twilight.

Most of the time, CDs with twenty-minute bonus tracks full of random noise or silence are merely annoying. If the "bonus" is a separate track, you program it out, and if it's not, you think you should probably burn a copy of the CD without the annoying twenty minutes, particularly if there's an actual song after the endless noise. For a long while, this is how I felt about Maki's Tears on the Blastshield (one of the most appallingly overlooked CDs of recent years: googling the title reveals a couple hits from the label that released it, Lunch Records, a couple random lists that mention it, and its entry in my own 2002 best-of list). The album's last track, curiously entitled "Distressors Ring on 5" (presumably something an audio engineer might say in the recording studio), runs nearly thirty-seven minutes, half the length of the CD, and its middle twenty minutes is, at first listen, a field recording of some night out at a bar, with a few stray and indistinct passages of music popping up now and again. The first few times I played the CD, I turned the CD off after the first nine minutes or so of the track, which is an actual song. For a while, I just fast-forwarded through the middle twenty minutes directly to the song occupying the track's last six minutes or so. So I certainly didn't expect what happened after one evening when, letting the CD play in the background while I distractedly did something else on the computer, I heard the whole thing again, and realized that the last song was in fact a much better song when it came after that twenty-minute interlude.

It would make a better story, of course, if I'd said that the track clicked for me when I listened to it in a drunken haze like that it seems to depict. No such poetic justice here - but certainly the distracted state of non-listening helped, in that I wasn't actively expecting something to happen during that twenty minutes. Taken on its own terms, then, the track suddenly was no longer an annoyance; in fact, in many ways it's the album's boldest and best track.

I'm sure most people aren't going to agree, and I'm sure part of my response is personal, for one reason because, as I suggest, I've been there. But also because this band and I have a history of sorts. As the Lunch Records website linked above notes, the band members are Milwaukee expats, and for a time in the early '90s, the band Tim Buckley and John Daniels were in, Wobble Test, was not only my favorite local band but one of my favorite bands, period. It was frustrating to me that they didn't receive the acclaim I felt their music deserved, even though I recognized that "deserving" had little to do with actual acclaim. It was also frustrating to see the band in that often, they succumbed to a Replacements-like belief in the virtues of being utterly blotto - particularly, it seemed, Buckley. The band's raggedness could be a virtue, to be sure - but there were times it seemed they were going to fall to pieces right in front of you. And I remember one night, at a Buckley solo show in some decrepit cheapo Riverwest pit of a bar, he was so drunk he could barely stand or speak - and yet, even though he rarely finished a song and his voice was ravished, there were nevertheless moments of transcendent musical beauty there.

Perhaps because the band's other half is studio pros Alan Weatherhead and Miguel Urbiztondo (of Sound of Music Studios), Maki lacks that quality of dancing blindfolded on the edge of a cliff - but they make up for it by a subtle layering of sounds, along with Buckley's impressionistic but impassioned lyrics. The bandmembers' impressive list of connections (Mary Timony, David Lowery, Crooked Fingers, Sparklehorse, the Blow Pops, and lesser-known but musically fab Koester, for whom Maki has served as backing band) serves as a reasonable ingredients list for their own sound, but they've received far too little critical notice on their own. Unfortunately, that lack of notice translates to little info on the web: whether they're still a going concern or not is unclear.

At least there's the one CD. I'm past worrying that my favorite local act isn't as successful as they deserve to be (and there's been at least one fave band of mine in the last three cities I've lived in that are every bit the equal of their far-more acclaimed peers locally and nationally), I'm only happy that I'm able to hear the recordings that do exist.


Anonymous said...

holy shit! while blogging maki i came across this review. brilliant & hits the nail on the head. . .

for further info (and tunes!) on maki, wobble test, koester, and releated brethren of the deep check out

2fs said...

(Meta) Hey, cool: Blogger now allows us to actually delete posts without leaving a marker that we deleted them. There was a spam post here, the most amusing part of which was the following phrase: "the information you show us is very interesting and is really good written."