Album of the Week: Weyes Blood’s The Outside Room (2011)

In February 2012 I went to a Thurston Moore solo show at the small New Hope Winery, near Doylestown, where my dad lived at the time. Thurston’s stripped-down, sad-sack divorcee songs were pretty decent, but I was mesmerized by the opener: local artist Weyes Blood*.

Four months later I went to Siren Records on a beautiful summer night to see the Doylestown-based Weyes Blood perform to a room of about 25 people. I spoke to her briefly and purchased a hand-made copy of her only CD at the time, The Outside Room. I was actually so excited to meet her that I forgot to pay her, until she politely pointed this out as I was walking away: “Um, excuse me!” I was a dumb 17 year old… I took an awkward picture of us on my flip-phone that exists… somewhere.

So check this out: The Outside Room rules. I’m not gonna tell you it’s better than Titanic Rising, or that I was ever friends with her, or that I predicted her success (not that it really surprised me either). One thing was really clear both times I saw her live playing, as I recall, solo on a synthesizer to a small room: she was very talented (and still is)! With no fame or following she created a thick atmosphere and hypnotized the audience (or me, at least). The Outside Room rarely left the 2003 Honda Pilot that I constantly drove around in high school.

Listening to it today, it’s clear that from a young age she could write great songs. From the jump, the organ and watery echo of the drums suggest an incense-filled room, and Mering’s melodies carry you through. There’s a kind of fantastical storybook feeling: “In the pale night / When the mood changes you…” “Storms That Breed” is definitely one for the Ouija board crowd. I love it. “Romneydale” is another highlight. The guitar riff is not dissimilar to a country ballad, but among the swirling chimes and vocals it all kind of melds together into a psychedelic folk track. Things get weirder on the penultimate track, more sound-collage-y than song-based. Based, nonetheless. The closer “His Song” absolutely sounds like levitating.

It’s not surprising that she eventually worked with Ariel Pink (on a supremely underrated EP that is maybe my favorite Weyes Blood release): the lo-fi, bedroom pop style is indebted to his early classics. And maybe it’s just that “Candyboy” is titled similarly to “Chocolate Girl” (both killer songs), but this album also reminds me of Animal Collective’s early lo-fi classic Spirit They’re Gone, Spirit They’ve Vanished. I think that fans of that release will quickly appreciate The Outside Room. It’s also worth noting that this album was mastered by Graham Lambkin. I don’t think that Weyes Blood plays these songs anymore (I haven’t seen her in nine years), but it’d be cool to see them adapted to her current style!

Listen to The Outside Room here.

*The original article on NJ.com had this to say: “Weyes Blood (first name Natalie) has been around since the mid ’00s and is a conventional folk artist.”

Album of the Week: Shuggie Otis’ Freedom Flight (1971)

17. How’s that for writing “Strawberry Letter #23”? Yes, Shuggie Otis was 17 when he sported that cool mustache and wrote and recorded Freedom Flight, the predecessor to his masterpiece Inspiration Information and an excellent album in its own right. It’s one of his only records, as he essentially disappeared after 1975.

According to a 2016 profile in The Guardian, the guitarist “admits he enjoyed being out of the spotlight, away from the pressures of being Shuggie Otis, the erstwhile teen prodigy who never quite managed to capitalise on all the acclaim”. It is not often that an artist takes over 40 years to release their next album, but that is exactly what happened with Shuggie Otis. 2018’s Inter-fusion proves that he never lost his guitar-playing chops (or, you know, died or anything), but the songs aren’t there. The only track with vocals is “Ice Cold Daydream” a pale remake of the first track on Freedom Flight.

The Freedom Flight version of “Ice Cold Daydream” starts things off with pep. Then we have the classic “Strawberry Letter #23”, an all-time love song that became a hit for the Brothers Johnson several years later. Shuggie plays “Me & My Woman” with a blues expertise that would make B.B. King proud. “Purple” is a bit formless, but it still rips. Then there’s the title-track. “Freedom Flight” is a stoned 70s classic, a peaceful psychedelic odyssey. None other than George Duke plays keys here, and his assistance gives the track some rhythm after a few minutes.

As a listener, you can’t help but feel a little frustrated that there isn’t more to Shuggie Otis’s discography. Maybe his youthful spark didn’t last. Maybe he was too hard-headed about playing solo, or the alcohol got in the way. Whatever the case may be, Shuggie is a living legend, and Freedom Flight is a standout album of the rich 70s.

Listen to Freedom Flight here.

Album of the Week: Roy Montgomery & Grouper’s Split EP (AKA Vessel) (2009)

In 2009, veteran New Zealand psych-guitarist Roy Montgomery (of Dadamah and Hash Jar Tempo, among other things) and Liz Harris’ Grouper released this magnificent split 12″ on Harris’ Yellow Electric label as well as ambient artist Jefre Cantu-Ledesma’s now defunct Root Strata label.

Montgomery’s side is dedicated to Sandy Bull. Bull was a groundbreaking folk-guitarist who became a staple performer in the Greenwich Village scene of the early 60s and pushed boundaries on his albums, mixing international instruments, sounds and genres. His “Blend” is presumably the inspiration for Montgomery’s “Fantasia on a Theme by Sandy Bull (Slight Return)”. Like “Blend”, “Fantasia” is a roughly 20-minute piece of marvelous acoustic guitar work, with multiple changes in tempo and melody. A significant difference is that on “Blend”, Bull was accompanied by jazz drummer Billy Higgins (of Ornette Coleman’s band, among others), where Montgomery’s “Fantasia” has no drums. This is made up for by the reverb on Montgomery’s guitar, which gives the effect of the artist accompanying himself. It’s a brilliant psychedelic piece to get lost in.

Grouper’s side comes from one of the strongest periods of her consistent career: between the releases of Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill and AIA, arguably her two best full-lengths. If you’re a fan of Grouper you know what to expect: music that is hazy, delicate and touching. There are four songs, the standout being “Vessel”, which recalls (to me) the melody of “The Star-Spangled Banner”. “Pulse”, the instrumental closer, features some prominent dog-barking (presumably from the one pictured here).

Harris and Cantu-Ledesma would later collaborate as Raum on 2013’s Event of Your Leaving, and Harris featured on Roy Montgomery’s 2018 album Suffuse.

This split is not on Spotify. Check out Grouper’s side on Youtube, below.