Lungfish and Daniel Higgs

(Copyright © 1999 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions )
Necklace Of Heads , 5/10
Talking Songs For Walking , 5/10
Rainbows From Atoms , 6/10
Pass And Stow , 7/10
Sound In Time , 6.5/10
Indivisible , 7/10
Artificial Horizon , 6/10
Unanimous Hour , 5/10
Necrophones , 5/10
Love Is Love (2004), 4/10
Feral Hymns (2005), 4/10
Daniel Higgs: Magic Alphabet (2004), 6/10
Daniel Higgs: Plays The Mirror Of The Apocalypse (2006), 5/10,
Daniel Higgs: Ancestral Songs (2006), 7/10
Daniel Higgs: Atomic Yggdrasil Tarot (2007), 6.5/10
Daniel Higgs: Metempsychotic Memories (2007), 6/10
Daniel Higgs: Hymnprovisations For Banjo (2008), 5/10
Daniel Higgs: Devotional Songs (2009), 6/10
Daniel Higgs: Say God (2010), 6/10

I Lungfish, provenienti da Baltimore, sono uno dei gruppi hardcore che piu` ha sperimentato a rinnovato nell'arco di una lunga e prolifica carriera.

Partiti come il veicolo musicale della poesia di Daniel Higgs, bardo un po' all'antica, erede di quelli di Hyde Park a Londra, che ama urlare a squarciagola la sua frustrazione con la societa` e i politici, vennero alla luce con l'esplosivo singolo Nothing Is Easy. Ma gia` Come Clean, sul mini-album Necklace Of Heads (Simple Machines, 1990), lasciava intuire che il gruppo era fondamentalmente diverso dai tanti imitatori dei Fugazi.

Talking Songs For Walking (Dischord, 1992) e` un album ancora alla ricerca del formato giusto. Higgs e` spesso prolisso e ampolloso (Friend To Friend In Endtime), piu` efficace quando lascia spazio al chitarrismo ipnotico di Asa Osborne, come in Broadcast (memore dei Led Zeppelin stordenti di How Many More Times).

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Rainbows From Atoms (Dischord, 1993) started a progression towards a unique, personal style (Mother Made Me, You Might Ask Me What, Fresh Air Cure).

The two best songs on Pass And Stow (Dischord, 1994) are typical of what makes Lungfish unique: passion, urgency, commitment to the cause and musical values: Computer is anthemic in a way that punk-rock never was, more like a Gandhi speech than a Johnny Lydon rant, and Evidence is a carefully assembled ballad whose psychological depth is akin to folk. Mature songwriting is wed to mature composing. Daniel Higgs' sociopolitical philophizing is hosted in a groundbreaking, elastic style. And this is not to say that the tension has relaxed: The fierce drama of Highway Sweetheart, Cleaner Than Your Surroundings and Washing Away still relies on relentless drumming and riffing and screaming.

Signpost is the highlight of Sound In Time (Dischord, 1996), a song that floats in the dark, menacing ether of Lungfish's sound, where a rugged soundscape mirrors a decaying moral landscape. Higgs is beginning to sound like a tormented prophet with religious overtones (Jonah).

Indivisible (Dischord, 1997) marks a musical departure or at least a quantum leap forward in that Higgs and his cohorts fall under the spell of Indian raga, Tibetan mantras and Velvet Underground's psychedelic trance (Indivisible).

That hypnotic style was only the beginning. Artificial Horizon (Dischord, 1998) ranks with the austere compositions of minimalism, thanks to drummer Mitch Feldstein and bassist Nathan Bell (who replaced Sean Meadows), besides Asa Osborne's sitar-like drones. At the same time, Higgs' religious, political and personal themes intersect and become one. Pray For The Living, Slip Of Existence and Love Will Ruin Your Mind are among the most powerful and original structures yet invented by rock music to deliver meaning.

But the line between genius and idiocy is terribly thin. Repetition becomes tedious on Unanimous Hour (Dischord, 1999), that often sounds like the band has nothing to say not like the band has created a new style.

Suddenly, the magic is gone and what is left is only a cheap trick. Necrophones (Dischord, 2000) makes amend, adding a little dynamics and a little texture to monoliths like Shapes In Space.

Love Is Love (Dischord, 2004) is just a vehicle for Higgs' lyrics, which is a curse, like all music produced by songwriters who think they are great lyricists when in fact they are only good (not great) singers for a good (not great) band. The band, in turn, plays as heavy and loud as a post-hardcore band can play. The effect is occasionally hypnotic but, most often, simply tedious.

Feral Hymns (Dischord, 2005) continued to focus on those two elements: Higgs' lyrics and the band's heavy sound.

Daniel Higgs and guitarist Asa Osborne formed the Pupils, a duo.

After relocating to the Bay Area, Daniel Higgs debuted solo with Magic Alphabet (Northern Liberties, 2004), a cycle of "songs" for solo jews harp. It was his way to finally vent the spirituality that could not fully come out on Lungfish releases.

Higgs transformed into a singer-songwriter with the cassette Plays The Mirror Of The Apocalypse And Other Songs (Open Mouth, 2006), the prelude to his mature phase.

Higgs' second solo CD, Ancestral Songs (Holy Mountain, 2006), contained six psalms of transcendental psychedelia for guitar, banjo, jew's harp, toy piano and voice, imbued with esoteric religious imagery. The bulk of the album is in three pieces: the spectral Living in the Kingdom of Death, that sounds like Donovan performing a funeral service; the ten-minute Thy Chosen Bride, initially a duet for banjo (strummed like an Indian instrument) and birds, then sung like in a trance; and the eleven-minute droning raga Are You of the Body. The jew's harp returns to haunt his meditations in the instrumentals Moharsing and Schoenhut, with its hammering rhythm, and especially Time-Ship of the Demogorgon, sort of a psychedelic blues reminiscent of Jimi Hendrix rather than of folk music. Part of the album was born at the intersection of simple repetitive hypnotic acoustic guitar riffs and shaman-like invocations; which would become his favorite template.

Higgs the alien troubadour perfected his fusion of India and Appalachia on the six instrumental pieces of Atomic Yggdrasil Tarot (Thrill Jockey, 2007), his guitar ragas (Cocoon on the Cross) and banjo ragas (Luminous Carcass Ornament, Hems & Seams) merging Sandy Bull and Robbie Basho, and sometimes even Helios Creed's space-rock (Creation Moan). And, as usual, the jew's harp adds further depth and color to the proceedings (Spectral Hues).

Metempsychotic Memories (Holy Mountain, 2007) added Love Abides, a solemn metaphysical hymn sung in an almost demonic voice over simple strumming that goes on for 14 minutes; and the ten-minute All Cherished Things, sung in a similarly sneering tone but also with emphatic overtones a` la Nick Cave. As usual, no less impressive are the instrumentals: Universal Salutation (which is "melodic" by the standards of his instrumentals) and especially Leontocephaline Rhapsody (a distorted organ-like elegy that would sit well on a Velvet Underground album). In fact, the lengthy songs go down well only with listeners who appreciate his poetry; otherwise, they last way too long with too little variation between one verse and the next one hundred.

The Human Bell (2008) documents a collaboration between former Lungfish's bassist Nathan Bell and Dave Heumann aimed at crafting atmospheric songs. Nathan Bell also released a set of solo-banjo improvisations, Banjo (West Main Development, 2008), recorded in a cathedral.

Asa Osborne's solo project Zomes, devoted to trance guitar music, debuted with the brief vignettes of Zomes (Holy Mountain, 2008), followed by the equally trancey (but much less engaging) Earth Grid (Thrill Jockey, 2011). Improvisations (Thrill Jockey, 2012) contains three untitled and cryptic jams that upped the ante towards abstract soundsculpting.

Daniel Higgs complemented his jew's harp solos (Magic Alphabet) with an album of banjo solos, Hymnprovisations For Banjo (Ideal, 2008).

Clairaudience Fellowship (Thrill Jockey, 2010) was a collaboration between Daniel Higgs and electronic musician Twig Harper (of Nautical Almanac)

Higgs then tested his audience's patience and sense of humor with a sprawling cassette of untitled Devotional Songs (2009). The first "song" is actually a 15-minute neurotic instrumental raga, that, like all of his instrumentals, steals the show. It is followed by substandard recordings of songs for jew's harp, harmonium and humming (#A2), spartan guitar-only bluesy elegies (#A3 and #B6), noise experiments (#A4), over-excited street rants a` la David Peel (#A7 for sitar and tambourine and the gospel-ish #B1 and #B2), Donovan-esque lullabies (#A9), and, alas, endless guitar-only meditations (#B4, #B5).

And so Higgs felt like further stretching out on the double-disc Say God (Thrill Jockey, 2010), ostensibly a collection of "gospel songs", and some of them simply feel like him staring at the sky and mumbling to his god, alternating between mundane meditation and sheer trance (the 12-minute Hoofprints On The Ceiling Of Your Mind, the 17-minute Root & Bough). The arrangements are feeble at best, but the combination of instrument and humanity is probably carefully planned for maximum emotional resonance: the ten-minute A Message From The Beautiful for harmonium and voice, the nine-minute Tumble Down for voice and crickets, the 13-minute Christ Among Us for banjo and voice, and the seven-minute banjo instrumental Song For Azariah. In some ways Higgs is the anti-Nick Cave: the opposite of apocalyptic and over the top. The music suffers a bit from his repetition-based stream of consciousness recitation, as illustrated in the 11-minute archetype Say God, but obviously this is in his mind the main reason for the very existence of music.

Higgs flooded the market with cassettes and CD-ROMs such as Beyond & Between (La Castanya, 2011), the banjo-based Ultraterrestrial Harvest Hymns (Moon Glyph, 2011), the live 08.11.2009 (Kukuruku Recordings, 2012), the bedroom album The Measure of Mystery (Gnome Life, 2012), etc.

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