Repetition and simplicity: an interview with Brian John McBrearty


The last couple of years have been especially fertile for minimal guitar music. The emergence of new voices such as Tashi Dorji and Richard Dawson have opened up a whole new language for the most overused of all instruments, while Ben Chasny – the go-to experimental guitarist in indie rock for over a decade now – has proved uncontent to rest on his laurels, pushing his musical envelope further and harder than ever before with his Hexadic albums in 2015 and accompanying book of tarot-influenced musical theory.

Alongside The Library of Babel‘s Shane Parish, the next name in deconstructed guitar that you need to remember is Brian John McBrearty. Brian’s debut Bandcamp release, Things I Recall, was one of our most played albums of 2015. Largely simple, repetitive and minimal, Things I Recall weaves hypnotic guitar figures around slowly unwinding ambient drones.

This is elegant and original music, full of restraint and feeling. Listen and be bewitched!

Brian John McBrearty – Second Story Tune

“When I began writing the songs for Things I Recall, I made an effort not to have any preconceived notions about what the music should be like. I think that for a while I had some ideas that were fairly limiting—e.g., that an American primitive-style guitar album had to be all acoustic guitar compositions, etc. Then I saw (Philadelphia guitarist) Chris Forsyth do a set of solo guitar music in which he played an electric guitar in stereo through two amps with a phaser pedal on the entire time. The compositions he played were definitely rooted in American primitive-style type techniques and writing, but when I saw him play a light sort of turned on in my head and I realized that there was no specific set of rules that I had to play by. That was a freeing moment that allowed me to take my compositions in a direction that I might not have before.

“I think the American primitive and ambient/drone styles work well together for a couple of reasons. First, for me personally, I have been listening to those types of music for a long time and my only goal for Things I Recall was to create music that I wanted to listen to. Second, fingerpicked American primitive-style guitar is basically a drone on the lower strings (picked with the right hand thumb) combined with a melody played on the higher strings. If a song involves many chord changes, the drone effect is lessened, but the songs on my album tend to have a relatively static bass figure picked by the thumb, which interacts nicely with ambient/drone textures.

“Touchstones influences for many years have been Brian Eno, Jim O’Rourke, John Fahey and Jack Rose. They are artists that I repeatedly come back to. Recently, I have been diving into the catalogs of Sonny Sharrock, Steve Reich, Terry Riley, Rhys Chatam and Glenn Branca. Perhaps not as evident on Things I Recall, but still nonetheless huge influences on my musical point of view are Wilco, Sonic Youth and Explosions In The Sky.


“I like to think that from a composition or playing standpoint, I try to have no limitations. Obviously, as a player, I have my own technical limitations that I need to deal with, and when I record music I have to deal with the limitations of my recording setup. I like to finish things, so perhaps the only limitation that I impose is that, if an idea or song is not working, I will shelve it for a while and move on to something else.

“Some pieces on the album, such as Shimmering Black Wave, are totally improvised. For that tune, I was playing a 1965 Fender Mustang and really enjoying the particular tone and vibe I was getting at that moment so I hit record. I think I only did two takes of that song. The fingerpicked American primitive-style portions of other songs are composed, but usually those tunes begin from an improvisation or through experimentation with a concept. At the time I was writing for this album, I was reading George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization. It is a fairly dense book with a ton of concepts that I have not even begun to explore, but it did get me thinking about, and experimenting with, the Lydian mode, so a few of the songs on Things I Recall incorporate that element.

I was intentionally trying to keep things relatively simple for this record. Although I have recorded a number of group albums at home and in studios, this was my first foray into recording solo guitar-based music and it was a learning experience. So, I think on a practical level keeping things simple allowed me to record this album on my own without pulling my hair out (too much, at least).  I wanted to create music that sort-of washed over the listener and evoked the sensation of controlled deep breaths.


“I think repetition and simplicity in music can have a spiritual or healing effect. I work a 9-5 office job that I enjoy, but it can also be stressful at times. Playing guitar and writing music, although challenging at times, offers me a way to relieve some of that stress and I view my time spent making music as very special (I hesitate to say “sacred,” but, yes, perhaps in its own way that time is sacred). I think this is something that I appreciate more as I get older and these thoughts and feelings have influenced my compositions.

“I recorded an EP of solo electric guitar pieces in the week between Christmas and NewYear’s. The pieces are all improvised, recorded with one microphone and no overdubs, and the vibe is a bit similar to Neil Young’s Dead Man soundtrack. I will be mixing those tracks soon and sending them off to be mastered. I am trying to concentrate on playing shows this year, but I am writing tunes for another full length album. Those pieces are still taking shape so I am not sure how similar or different they will be to the tracks on Things I Recall, but I am excited to see where they end up!”

Buy Things I Recall from Bandcamp

Gifs by Volvulent 

I was a teenage beefcat at a pep rally in Compton


This week, our headspace became a party for audio scientists and frekazoids arrived from the pages of “How to Wreck a Nice Beach” (HTWANB), Dave Tompkin’s  history of the vocoder, recommended to us by Optigram.

Thematically, this is the perfect 20JFG book: cryptography! futurism! breakdancing! science fiction! Can! Alan Turing! H.P. Lovecraft! Laurie Anderson! Vincent Price! Rammellzee!

It tells one of the greatest technology diffusion stories ever heard, the journey of the vocoder from Bell Labs, where it was developed by math nerds to encrypt radio communications between WWII Allied leaders, to the arsenal of weirdo musicians all over, and especially the electroid department of the Afro-space industry.

It shows how technology can be plied by artistic and cultural forces: a system created to vex German Turings became a tool to make humans fail the Turing Test, in a process driven by humanity’s fascination with its voice, the voices of possible machines and aliens, and the possibility that by changing our voice we may acquire super-powers, escape from a fucked-up world into alternative universes of zero-g funk.

The book is a combination of secret history, biography and exploration of conceptual and underground social networks in the style of Pynchon. It efficiently encodes in words the sheer “Sesame Street After the Singularity” craziness of so much vocoder music.

FFS, it contains the expression “I was a teenage beefcat at a pep rally in Compton”

Get it here.

Perhaps the most wonderful feature of HTWANB is that it isn’t a Borgesian review of an imaginary cultural movement (great as that would have been). No, it tells a true story. Its unlikely protagonists and artefacts mostly existed. The fantastic music existed. We can listen to it.

There is a great companion mixtape in the book’s website, and here you have some bonus tracks we particularly like.

The Jonzun Crew – Ground Control

An example of the otherworldliness of vocoder music: a synth epic about some FTL alien psychodeleans headed our way. It sounds like an early noughts Oneida ballad if you replace Barbarians with Cyborgs. Included in The Jonzun Crew’s Lost in Space.

The Fantasy Three – Its Your Rock (Instrumental)

An spectral locomotive beat, MC revenants and a whole grimoire of ectoplasmic sound effects (starting with that eerie droid music-box melody) soundtrack some wobbly chugging through New York streets empty and sad like a level in Dark Souls 2 after being depleted of its enemies.

More info about Fantasy Three here.

The Radio Crew – Breaking & Entering

This is the soundtrack for a documentary about California breakdancing. It collides The Egyptian Lover’s whiplash inducing martial electro beats with John Carpenter paranoid syntheses. Ice T is in there somewhere. If the gang dudes in Assault on Precinct 13 had shot lasers with their eyes and bled neon, it would have sounded a bit like this.

Saturday mixtape : 20JFG Legends of tomorrow

Featuring : Podcast


It’s taken some work but we finally have what we need. The worst of the worst. There’s rumors, that some of them have… abilities. We have seen things.

We wanted to assemble a mixtape of the most dangerous people on the planet who we think can do some good. And if anything goes wrong we blame them, we have plausible deniability.

XXJFG – Legends of tomorrow mixtape

The Sea Doesn’t Care

Featuring : Alex Smoke


XXJFG is already blocked by most workplace web filters but just incase we’ve used the Mt. Olympus of NSFW artwork up there.

Fall Out pulls that great trick of lulling you with a looped music box melody before hitting you with a sinister treated vocal.  Thus casting the melody in a newly sinister light.  Which would make for a fine closing album track.  What causes us to skip back and back and back is what happens exactly half way through.

Alex Smoke – Fall Out

The melody and Alex’s voice — thus far forming an uneasy equilibrium — are cast into the midst of a tempest as the synths arrive and take over.  It’s as if a shore line torch song has suddenly been thrust to the top of a great cliff by a wrathful god.  The skies open and the words pour out, paranoid and primal.  Perhaps a jilted, stalking lover or the machinations of a surveillance state.  The sea doesn’t care.

Fall Out is taken from the album Love Over Will on R&S.  You can get the album on digitial / CD / Vinyl from Alex’s Bandcamp right here.

A flock of eagles fucking: an interview with Unfollow


This ghostly techno might be insistent in momentum but that loud beating pulse could be coming from the adrenaline of fear or paranoia as much as a reliable indicator of health. Here, hearts don’t have to be healthy to be strong.

With samples reportedly summoned from the non-place that is the hospital, during a time of stark loss, Unfollow’s Zero Likes album on Kikimora Tapes adopts a strange, indefinable mood appropriate to those settings.

It is full of energy, but the energy is circular – almost obsessive. It could denote pacing or the frantic attempts to order a mind in disarray and overloaded with thoughts.

Somehow, the looping irons out the creases in these wrinkled mental states, makes them soothing. The infinite panacea of ordering and systematising.

Unfollow is one alias of the Toronto-based musician Tony Boggs. Tony thinks the below Third Eye Foundation song would “be totally fine as the last thing I would ever hear” and we grabbed a quick chat with him about his own music.

Third Eye Foundation – Donald Crowhurst

“I think my tendency for repetition comes back to my admiration for shoegaze or drum & bass, just taking a blissful moment and stretching it out as far you can. There is some sort of state of otherness you reach once a sound has been pounding into you for a while. It’s like a k-hole for the soul or something. It’s becomes a background for your imagination, it gives you time to dream and make it your own as you listen. Trance in the truest form. Wolfgang’s Voigt’s Gas project and Steve Reich were big influences to me; they definitely use repetition to their advantage.

“I think I find hope in repetition. People become more agreeable the more time you spend with them. A record you may find annoying could become your favourite after you’ve given it some time. When you download albums for free five months before they’re supposed to come out, it’s quite easy to scan through the tracks and pass judgment pretty quickly.

“I try to make things so they’re just slightly off, I embrace the glitch. Make it wrong. In the end, I kind of think of my music as sad techno. I’m really excited about dance music these days as there are a lot of amazing things happening. The nod towards industrial/noise is something I’m really, really into but nothing I’m really anxious to reference. Everyone has their own trajectory and I try to stay true to that. I was the goth kid in small town Kentucky in the 90’s with teased hair and all that… Skinny Puppy, X Marks The Pedwalk, Front 242, Chemlab, Invisible Records playing all the time. This is what I think of when I think of industrial and because of this I honestly don’t really see the reference most of the time, but I get it. I know that what is mostly being referenced is Clock DVA, TG, Neubauten.. the OG stuff.

“Once you’re able to give something a label it gets played out pretty quickly. IDM, witch house, vaporwave… There are amazing artists that get lumped into these categories and these things then expire pretty rapidly regardless of how groundbreaking it is and it all goes down with the ship and everyone is ready for the next reference.

“There are people who have been down since day one who are just now coming up. Like Beau Wanzer for instance. Beau has been Beau since I met him. When everyone was doing IDM, when IDM was not vogue and everyone started doing minimal techno.. Beau was still doing what he is doing now. Everyone was running Max/MSP and Beau would bring out his 909 and a wall of synths. It’s sort of like how they tell you if you get lost in the woods to just stay put and someone will find you. You just have to do what feels right and people will come around to it or they won’t.

“I certainly try to make dance music, but I feel I come up short. It always sort of circles back and ends up sounding like me, sort of like a curse. I’ve always been able to clear a dancefloor pretty quickly. I’m not sure that’s a skill though!

Unfollow – daysnofun

I think about hard times when I listen to my own music, blissful yet painfully monumental times. Leaving a loved one in intensive care and driving away from the hospital with the music super loud and just pounding away on the steering wheel. When you need something that’s heavy but not ignorant of the emotions you may be feeling. I think my music is good for drinking alone or maybe at 3am on the dancefloor when everyone’s drugs have run out and all the poseurs have taken Uber rides home.


“There are so many tracks I’ve made that I think are just horrible. More often than not, it is one annoying sound that keeps coming through that just ruins it. A hi-hat that is completely too loud or maybe a really rad part that you cannot hear for shit. A melody that goes on too long… These things have fucked up many a track for me. I would rather leave things unsaid rather than shoving it down someone’s throat. I think this helps serve my minimal/repetitive tactic these days.

“What music made by other people do I really hate right now ? I hate to hate, cuz who the fuck am I? So, I would never single anyone out. EDM is a an obvious scapegoat as it seems so ignorant of the music and culture that made it possible in the first place. I’ve never been a fan of the wobbly dubstep bassline. I fucking hate “the drop.” I guess what I think of as “groovebox techno” is especially lame. With everyone turning towards outboard gear, the idea that if you have this certain piece of gear that you will be all set is an annoying notion. For myself, the move away from the computer as the main brain is pretty much a no brainer as I spend all day at work staring at a computer, so the last thing I want to do when I feel creative is fire up the laptop. That shit stays downstairs. I think that’s the same for a lot of people. But in the end, it certainly doesn’t matter what you use, it’s all relative.

“If I were asked to make an album using instruments or software that I’ve never used before, I’m sure It would still sound very much like me; again a very reliable curse. When Mitchell Akiyama and I were working on the second Desormais album he brought out his viola, which we certainly didn’t know how to play and it ended up being our sort of secret weapon. The dry track sounds something like a flock of eagles fucking, but once it goes through all the fx and gets smeared it becomes very personal and makes sense.”

Buy Zero Likes by Unfollow from Kikimora Tapes

Young Girl Eating a Bird – The Pleasure by René Magritte, 1927.
Le frisson des vampires by Jean Rollin, 1971.
via http://framevsframe.tumblr.com

Infinite zest

Featuring : David Bowie

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The idea of an informational universe gives us some solace in the face of death. We survive in the information we leave behind, the information we have created, the information that others create about us, the information encoded in our descendants.

Now do this for us. Visualise this informational universe as a refulgent, complex network crackling with energy.

Can you see that big fat shining node in the centre of the network?

That’s David Bowie, and he is alive.

David Bowie – Moss Garden

Moss Garden is included in Heroes. We found the image in UI BAKA.

SATURDAY MIXTAPE: The Faked History of Böwlemmie

Featuring : Podcast


It is very sad that David Bowie and Ian Lemmy and Hans Gruber died this week. But MY GOD, I don’t think any of us ever need to hear Life On Mars or Ace of Spades again now do we?

As an antidote, here is a crate-digging mixtape venturing into the darkest recesses of Lemmy and Bowie’s careers – alternate versions, pre-fame playfulness, wrong turns, collaborations, side projects, unreleased stuff and weird experiments. And Silver Machine.

Because always Silver Machine.

Features The Rockin’ Vicars, The Riot Squad, Sam Gopal, The Spiders from Mars, Hawkwind, The Robert Calvert Band, Motörhead, Probot and more, but we drew the line at Tin Machine.

Because never Tin Machine.

XXJFG – The Faked History of Böwlemmie

Sadly that beautiful picture up-top turned out to be a fake. In real life, David Bowie was this lady: