The "blind bluesman" is perhaps the dominant image of the genre, and one that evokes a number of associations. As noted by scholar Joesph Witek, the idea of the "blind genius" dates at least as far back as Homer. Given that many of these musicians were extraordinarily talented, their blindness might have fed popular interest in their music. However, blindness was almpso a debilitating condition for many of these men, especially in the rural South, so that the blind musician occupied a place of pity in the public mentality. Economic necessity is probably the most compelling argument for the relatively large number of blind blues musicians. Most African-Americans living in the South had few other possible careers outside of manual labor, and playing music was one of the few options left to a blind man. Even the schools for the blind offered musical education as part of their curriculum, and several musicians got their start in schools. Record companies were quick to play up the fact that their musicians were blind and the suffering that their condition brought them. Paramount Records' Book of the Blues, in its biography for Blind Lemon Jefferson, wrote "Can anyone imagine a more horrible fate than to find that one is blind?" But as writer Luigi Monge also points out, blindness also gave these musicians a certain degree of musical freedom. Cultural taboos barred most musicians from mixing gospel songs with secular songs. Blind musicians could skirt this barrier by virtue of their handicap; because they were playing music to make ends meet and had no other recourse, they could operate with relative immunity. As blind musicians often acted as mentors to young musicians, this fed the diffusion of the two genres into popular music.
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Blind Gary Davis

Blind Gary DavisBlind Gary Davis, also known as the Reverend Gary Davis, is one musician who captures the sacred aspect of the blues. Born in 1896 in South Carolina, he was one of eight children and became blind as an infant. He moved to Durham, North Carolina in the 1920s and became a street musician in what a burgeoning center of black culture in the South. In those years, record store owners often doubled as talent scouts, and Davis was discovered by a now-famous scout named J.B. Long in 1935. Gary Davis played in what is known as the Piedmont Style, which was a heavily syncopated fingerpicking that sounds akin to ragtime. In 1937, Gary Davis found religion and was ordained as a Baptist minister. From then on, the music he played was predominantly gospel, though he sometimes revisited his secular songs for white audiences. In 1940, Davis moved to Harlem, where he lived for the remainder of his life. Unlike many of his contemporaries, he never stopped making music, though his audience was now largely middle-class and white. He was renowned as one of the best guitar teachers in Harlem, offering advice to several future rock and folk stars, including Dave Bromberg, Taj Mahal and Jorma Kaukonen. Davis was a phenomenal guitar player with a powerful voice, and there are numerous tracks of his music worth checking out. "If I Had My Way" is one of those blues songs that was adopted by folkies and then rock musicians, and listening to Davis, one can understand why: Davis' shouts and hollers combine well with his nimble fingerpicking. "Death Don't Have No Mercy" is a darker song but still showcases so much of what made Davis memorable. Finally, "Cocaine Blues" is one of his most famous secular songs.1 Blind Gary Davis - "If I Had My Way" [audio:/mp3/Reverend-Gary-Davis_If-I-Had-My-Way.mp3|titles=Blind Gary Davis - If I Had My Way] Blind Gary Davis - "Death Don't Have No Mercy" [audio:/mp3/Reverend-Gary-Davis_Death-Dont-Have-No-Mercy.mp3|titles=Blind Gary Davis - Death Don't Have No Mercy] Blind Gary Davis - "Cocaine Blue" [audio:/mp3/Reverend-Gary-Davis_Cocaine-Blues.mp3|titles=Blind Gary Davis - Cocaine Blues]

Every year, we interview a number of musicians and artists about the intimate details and philosophical underpinnings of their album cover artwork. It's an ever-massive undertaking, but we make sure to include every genre, from doom metal to disco, minimal electronic to mainstream pop, with the intention of highlighting the best visual art, regardless of why or who created it. You can see entries from previous years here, and browse 2013's entries by either scrolling down or selecting a category below. > Narrative & Mythological Album Covers > Photographic Album Covers > Illustrative Album Covers > Mixed Media & Collage-Based Album Covers

To pay proper homage to the musical grandness of 2013 and to usher in the new year 2014, we've once again decided to call upon our tastemaker friends to compile their favorite up-and-comers throughout the Pacific Northwest. Here, James Scheall, Cameron McCreery, and Katherine Humphreys of Seattle's stylish boutique shop and venue Cairo throw out their wide-ranging picks for Seattle bands to watch. Those who are interested in the Portland scene can also check out the list compiled by the innovative nightclub, Holocene, here.
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Cock & Swan __ soundcloud.com/cockandswan

Cock & Swan’s Ola Hungerford and Johnny Goss are a couple of weirdos making beautifully intricate, often kaleidoscopic pop music. Layers of analog synths and bass guitar provide a hazy, warped framework for Hungerford’s subtle, dreamy vocals to build on. Their 2013 LP, Secret Angles, sounds like something you’d find under a stack of scratched-up Boards of Canada and Broadcast CDs, in the best way. Trippy in the least annoying way possible. - CAMERON MCCREERY

Black Hat __ blackhat.bandcamp.com/album/covalence-ep

Nelson Bean's music as Black Hat exists somewhere in the strange, hazy middle-ground between dance music and noise. Harsh drums and lurching bass give way to droning synths and eerily beautiful melodies in a constant vortex of sound. There is a definite darkness to Black Hat’s music, but it’s more than just a gothy occult obsession; there is a very natural, very real darkness at work here, one that will draw you in and never let go. Hypnotic head nods 'til the end. - CAMERON MCCREERY

La Luz __ laluz.bandcamp.com

Melancholic oohs and ahhs drift sweetly from rain to the Puget Sound, sung by the harmonious spirits of La Luz, who are taking the foggy beaches and rainy side-streets of Seattle by storm. Not only can they hang ten with their epic surf rock shredder tracks, but they've somehow have perfected the balance of drifter sadness and hilarious campiness. Not to mention, they totally survived an insane car accident and have bounced back like it’s no one’s business. Pick up their cassette via Burger or their LP via Hardly Art. - KATHERINE HUMPHREYS

A lot of the problem with viewing the universe as being comprised of matter comes with the idea that it's devoid of conscious experience somehow. More and more, little by little, we're starting to wake up to the insane limitations of this philosophy. Renders people humorless if you ask me. Nothing adds up, which creates profound existential desperation resonating throughout the collective psi-grid of humanity. There is no explanation for why anything happens, so we instead focus on how things go down in obsessive detail. Not to knock this approach, as it creates order by combining with the mystical chaos of internal infinity. Too much mystic psychic sizzle and you'll get torn to shreds, but when you look at only shared perceptual experience, you're editing out the vast majority of reality. It's all dark matter through those eyes. Endless blacked out pages on a declassified UFO report. What I've found is that by shifting models of reality interpretation just slightly from conceiving the world as being made of matter to one comprised from conscious experience, coherent macro concepts of conjoined narratives learning lessons throughout cycles of shifting lifetimes starts to take shape (which I talk about all the time on Facebook; friend me). When you start looking at things through the neo-Occult lens regarding the meaning of our existence as participants in a small cog of a much larger 5th dimensional art creation device, things begin to click into place on an even deeper level. Try it; it's fun. What works about this model is the fact that art is getting more plentiful and expansive by the day. Whether or not that was the purpose, that's what's happening. The average person now spends their time lost in a greater collective imagination in a way that wasn't even possible a decade ago. We've entered the era of the information addict. We're turning ourselves increasingly inward and tying together disparate narratives without asking why we're so unconsciously compelled to veer in that direction. I'm more helplessly entrenched than anyone, spending my time existent in my own celestial enclave of sonic enchantment. Fact of the matter is, more people are taking psychedelic drugs at this point in history than ever before. The loosening of the pot laws is just going to ensure that trend continues to spike upward. Unsurprisingly, this has created a congruent upsurge in fantastically brain-altering tunage. I can't even begin to keep up with it all, and I'm an obsessive music weirdo. For all intents and purposes, there are an infinite number of great albums being made every single year, but I'd say Joe Sixpack isn't truly aware of that fact. I can't imagine any of the records on this list sold a ton, which is sort of the problem and why you need geeks like me. Next time you want to trip out on the weekend rather than getting blitzed drunk, go pick up any of thesem and they'll serve to lift you on high rather than binding you to the lower dimensions. Now, I almost apologize, because there really should be more trip-hop and electronic freak outs on here in general -- that's where drug music is heading and has been since I was a kid. But I've listened to a lot of the higher profile releases this year and most of it was decent, and little of it struck me as sufficiently psyche-warping. I've got to dig deeper next year. I will say that Seattle's Debacle Records consistently brings the strange vibes (Editor's Note: See the mixtape they made for us earlier this year) -- and as if intentionally living up to our newly minted west coast weed city status, more great psychedelic albums came out of Seattle this year than ever, so this list is also a bit heavy on that because no one else is really talking about it. You've been warned.

Lumerians Band Interview - The High FrontierIt's an early afternoon the day after Lumerians have played their last show of the year, headlining on a Friday in late November at The Chapel in San Francisco. The night was something of a hometown multi-generational happening, as local turn-of-the-'80s industrial pioneers Factrix, sometimes described as "gothadelic" and definitely ahead of their time back in the day, made an uncommon live appearance. Such a lineup is a reminder that to be a band from the Bay Area and play anything approaching psychedelic rock is both a natural choice and one that surely comes with a keener sense of history and expectation than it would in almost any other region. Able heirs with omnivorous musical appetites, Lumerians seem aware of – but certainly not burdened by – any weight of legacy, instead infusing it into their experimental approach. Lumerians' second album, The High Frontier, is about different manifestations of exploration. The record is named after a somewhat obscure book from 1977 about mankind moving into outer space, written by Gerard K. O'Neill. I speak to bassist/vocalist Marc Melzer and drummer Chris Musgrave one afternoon, and as Melzer explains, O'Neill's book isn't really science fiction, but a thoughtful manifesto about the colonization of deep space by human beings – perhaps as a means of preserving a unique life form. The band -- which also includes guitarist/keyboardist Tyler Green, multi-instrumentalist/vocalist Jason Miller, and percussionist Tony Peluso – was drawn to the idea of moving toward uncharted internal and external territories.
"For us, music is about exploration. We may start down a traveled path, but our real objective is to discover what is beyond. We're no retro-fetishists, but it seems like the future used to be more boundless and inspired," explains Melzer. The High FrontierThe band was initially inspired by seeing some of the artwork that was created for O'Neill's book, and were subsequently drawn in by its forward-thinking perspective, as it wasn't really about the destruction or abandonment of Earth, but about "taking what was cool about humanity and moving into other places." Given the innumerable times and ways people have been inspired by that boundless realm above our heads, I ask Melzer what he thinks it is about mankind's relationship to outer space that makes it such a creative influence. "It's all about exploration... and just wondering what else is out there. Also, on top of that," he continues, "... just sort of seeing what other peoples' visions of other worlds and other states of being really is, because there's an infinite amount of different worlds out there, whether it's internal or external."

Out with the old, no matter how good it is! Here's our comprehensive list of Top Albums of the Year 2013, schizophrenic as always to reflect the diverse tastes of our staff, though there is some overlap. It's highly recommended you check out every release here, as each has its own creative strengths.
Matthew Carter - electronic, experimental, metal, pop, rock Vivian Hua - dance, indie, pop, psychedelic, soul Troy Micheau - classical, electronic, experimental, instrumental Judy Nelson - dance, electronic, indie, pop, psychedelic, soul Elizabeth Perry - indie, mainstream, pop, rock Peter Woodburn - classical, instrumental, metal XUA - electronic hip-hop, mainstream, pop Albums of the Year 2013

Iceland Airwaves 2013
Iceland Airwaves started back in 1999 in an airport hangar outside of Reykjavik. Since then, it has grown into one of Europe's premiere music festivals, showcasing the insane amounts of musical talent coming from the land of few people and many sheep. Each year, the festival curates some of the best up-and-coming international talent to supplement the Icelandic artists, and introduces a ton of off-venue shows. The total schedule is 10 pages long, and the whole festival turns Reykjavik into a musical paradise for five nights. It is all incredibly overwhelming, so let's break it down into two parts to try and help you out:

 

The Icelandic Musicians Amiina Daníel Bjarnason FM Belfast For a Minor Reflection Ghostigital Hermigervill múm Samaris Sin Fang Sóley
The International Musicians Anna von Hausswolff (Sweden) Electric Eye (Norway) Fucked Up (Canada) Goat (Sweden) Jagwar Ma (Australia) Kithkin (United States) Kraftwerk (Germany) Royal Canoe (Canada) Stealing Sheep (United Kingdom) Yo La Tengo (United States)

The Icelandic Musicians

For a country of under 350,000 people, Icelanders sure love their music, enough so that just about everyone and anyone forms a band -- or two. The Iceland Airwaves Festival showcases this proud musical tradition perfectly, and many of the Icelandic bands hop on board in support, sometimes playing over five times throughout the festival. Iceland isn't all Sigur Ros, Bjork and Of Monsters and Men. There is a lot of fantastic music coming from the island, and here are some bands to check out, many of which we have covered in the past. (Those who would like a more intimate understanding of the country's musical climate are encouraged to read our essay, The Real Icelandic Music Scene: Interviews, which include excusive mixtape downloads and Icelandic musician interviews, or explore all of our articles related to Iceland).

Amiina

Gamla Bíó - Saturday @ 22:00 Amiina are well-known for recording and touring with Sigur Rós; any of those strings you hear underneath Jonsi’s howl: that is Amiina. The band combines a contemporary classical style with a minimalist’s touch, ambient littered throughout.

 

Daníel Bjarnason

Harpa Kaldalón - Friday @ 23:20 Daníel Bjarnason is an Icelandic composer of the highest caliber, who has had works commissioned and debuted by the Los Angeles Philharmonic. His pieces are emotive, complex and riveting. That should be no different in a live scenario.

China: a land of nearly 1.5 billion people, 56 recognized ethnic groups, and 292 living languages, spanning over 5,000 kilometers and 34 land divisions. Massive in size, notable in history, and influential in its economic and political maneuvers, China is simultaneously exciting and terrifying – something of a contradiction to the outside world, much loved and much feared.
中国:一个有着近15亿人口,56个民族,292种仍在使用的语言,跨越5000公里,由34块地域组成的国家。中国不仅地理广阔,也有着丰富璀璨的历史,影响世界的经济及政治力量。中国不仅令人震惊兴奋,也令人担心害怕 – 她似乎是个与外面世界不太相同的国家,令人热爱也令人畏惧。
Yet hidden beneath the gargantuan, State-driven China that is emphasized over-and-over again in news coverage lies an artistic day-to-day that few people see. As in any developing country, China has become a breeding ground for new and often innovative ideas – and included in that are an increasing number of musicians searching for their own identities. Many of them are following and documenting their own creative impulses, thereby bringing some musical change to a society otherwise dominated by mainstream Asian pop.
尽管中国一直以来都以庞然大国,国家统治形象示人,她所蕴含的日渐浓重的艺术氛围与文化发展却往往为人忽略。如许多发展中国家一样,中国正孕育着许多新颖,极具创造力的艺术思想 – 这些思想都来自于那些努力发声,力求为大众所见的艺术家、音乐家们。众多音乐家正跟随记录着他们自己的艺术脉搏,运用着他们的创造力,努力为日渐单一、主流化的亚洲流行音乐市场带来不一样的声音及改变。
English text by Vivian Hua; Chinese translation by Summer Fang
"The world's image of China is that of a faceless factory worker, the tasteless new rich Chinese buying property everywhere, the 1.5 billion black dots in the horizon sucking up resources. It doesn't realize that there are also 1.5 billion potential creative minds in this country as well. I think it will take time to make that true." – Helen Feng of Nova Heart "世界对中国的印象一直以来都是千篇一律,毫无特征的工厂工人,只有金钱却毫无品味的中国买家,以及用力耗尽资源的15亿人口。然而大多数人都没有意识到,这15亿人口也是15亿个潜在创造力。我想这需要时间去使其成真。" - Nova Heart (新星心) 的冯海宁

AURAL DEVASTATION is a regular column about heavy rock music. This month, Cloudkicker streams his ninth record, Subsume, Jesu returns with a new track, plus songs from Doomriders and the supergroups Mutoid Man (members of Cave In and Converge) and Black God (members of Coliseum and Young Widows).
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Cloudkicker - "Subsume"

Ben Sharp, who creates under the moniker Cloudkicker, has been blasting the instrumental music scene to pieces since he started releasing music back in 2007. Everything is written, recorded, mixed and mastered at his home in Columbus, Ohio, and like the true lover of music Sharp is, all of his releases are streamed for free online. Physical copies exist, and if you love Cloudkicker’s jams enough. you can always pay Sharp for his efforts as well -- and money should definitely be thrown his way for his prog-metal influenced take on instrumental music. His ninth (!!!) release since 2007, Subsume is streaming on his Bandcamp page, with a limited vinyl run scheduled for sometime in the early Fall. Do yourself a favor and hop on this wagon. It is well worth the ride.  

Jesu - "Homesick"

Jesu, the brainchild of metal God Justin Broadrick, is back out with a new album soon, and it seems like it has been quite some time since his last. Every Day I Get Closer to the Light From Which I Came has the appropriate long-ass title befitting of any post-metal album, and as the first track "Homesick" shows, Broadrick has gone with a more guitar-oriented approach this time. Granted, is about as thrilling as watching paint drip off a wall and slowly dry into chips, but don’t let that deter you. Any Jesu release is well worth the effort to soak in, and as fall approaches, the soundtrack for the season has arrived with it.