Thurston Moore first saw Beck way back in the early 90s when Beck was mowing lawns with an amplified hand-push ill-blade mower at a backyard BBQ on Toul Avenue in Westwood L.A., a coconut's throw from the 405 freeway. Beck only sang a couple of songs, both about TV destruction and toxic inhalants, before he lifted a German Shepherd over his head and threw it into the crowd. I was from NYC and had never seen a real live canine fly before but I caught the beast and he licked my forehead and whispered into my ear, "Beck's a good dude, wait until he grows into the #1 sweater anti-surf rider of Malibu and let him read your mind."
Cut to the late summer of 2010 and sitting with Beck on his back porch where I'm slowly eating a pack of basted tobacco Darks n' Blues with honey-raw crèmes and Beck looks up from the pools of silver-jello burbling around his open-toed snoopz and exclaims, "yes. Thurston. i. will. Produce. Yr. record." So I fly out with a paper lunchbag of tunes all written over a 2 year period of time moving between a movie screen displaying the tone-poem cinema of Robert Bresson and a cathode ray emitting the sex-diary investigations of Catherine Breillat.
On day one I played the first song sitting in front of a Beck-wired microphone, its design informed by the cut of Joseph Beuys' cerebellum. The jam is called "Benediction", where the camera records the adult girl reading a love letter written on the back blank pages of her hymnal where he knew only she could find it.
On day two I played the second song, "Illuminine", in a field alive with sheep, bells tinkling to the sky from their necks, surrounding me as I sang into a specially-prepared dirt-mic, where the resonance becomes richer the more prone the performer's body is to the earth. Lyrics of salvation through lonesome meditation of nature and its reflection of animal magnetism. Surrendering to spirit desire.
On day three I played the third song, "Circulation", while sitting in the middle seat in the front of a 1978 AMC Pacer with Sparks' Russell Mael driving, Ron Mael with his window closed (it was 103 degrees out) constantly fiddling with the side-view mirror. Beck was in the back holding a shotgun mic and recording the basic track, already pre-recorded, as it played through the Pacer's sick system, while I sang live the lyrics, trying to focus on the lust-rust blood scent of a city girl on a holy other coast.
On day four I played the fourth song "Blood Never Lies", while hitchhiking to Venice Beach on the PCH. I set out 30 minutes early to get a "head" start before Beck came whizzing by in a rented British six-cylinder Triumph TR6, one hand on the wheel, the other whipping a whip-mic over his head and every time it came close to my mouth I would sing the lyrics that came to me as my thumb beckoned psychedelic housewives to consider taking me into town.
On day five I flew back to NYC, took a cab to an underground bar on Rivington Street on the Lower East Side called Jericho's where I was due to DJ. I faked putting on a record, after playing "Hey Jude" (Beatles) and "China Grove" (Doobies), and plugged my acoustic into a double ganged set of vintage Pignose amps and reminisced about those early streets where the pizza is particularly punk and saints lead you to playgrounds of eros and thought-magicks. The bartender, an old fast-folk flyabout from Beck's NYC in-search-of-the-secret-of-Pussy-Galore days, recorded the jam, titled "Orchard Street", on his 1984 Sony Walkman WM-D6C Pro and Fed Ex'd the tape to Beck's L.A. hideout.
On day six, I woke up in the back of a Volkswagen I kept on the rooftop of my old apartment on Lafayette St., knowing that I had to catch a flight back to the west coast before Beck started putting up new posters in his studio, as that was something I really wanted to have a hand in decision-wise. I dressed in a ratty old blue sailor outfit I had stashed in the front end boot and walked through the first light snow wondering, wondering, wondering if it were just a dream that I was kidnapped and set free only to wander in search of my heart-thief. I sat down on a park bench and wrote the song "In Silver Rain with a Paper Key". I recorded it with my cigarette-mic, which by its distinct proximity to my mouth and the inflection caused by the lip-grip on the mic's "filter" I was able to capture the essence of strangers falling in love. I stuck the smoked mic behind my ear and hailed a cab to JFK.
On day seven I walked into Beck's studio and he had already covered the place with posters of radical women poets. It was perfect and I took my blindfold out of my guitar case and tied it around my eyes and sat down and wrote a song about the onyx eyes of "Mina Loy", the amazing modernist, surrealist, futurist writer who wrote the most beautiful love songs and made art from light fixtures. In honor, Beck showed me his new broken-lightbulb-mic twisted into a high-impedance socket on his studio ceiling which I could barely only reach by balancing on an unpainted rocking chair Beck had inherited from his grandfather Al. "Why didn't he paint it?" I asked Beck. He pointed to a small pen line on the chairs back which read: I'll Get To It.
On day eight I recorded the eighth song "Space" while swimming in Beck's patio pool in full NASA Astronaut flight gear. Beck had stocked the pool with Bubble Eye, Fantail, Comet, Pearlscale, Shubunkin, Pompom and Veiltail Goldfish. Each fish was equipped with quadruple-fin and dorsal-fin mics, very miniscule, and I could only sing the lines when one would enter into my helmet and swim into my throat. Beck stacked high on the diving board his array of vintage synths all held together by Spiderwire fishing line. He'd climb the stack as if he was a newborn Keith Emerson and play beautiful swooshes with his fingers and scurries with his toes, in as adept a style as I've ever witnessed.
On day nine I recorded the ninth song "January" as a birthday greeting to a new day, and to a girl on roller skates in a prison stripe bathing suit.
Beck and I discussed many players we thought would compliment the record in all its improvisatory experimentation and focus on song-slip. We decided that Samara Lubelski (violin) and Mary Lattimore (harp) had to play and we invited them to join us. We fed them cantaloupes, raw milks, doughnuts, Zuma sushi and Lily's fish tacos. And we threw shadows into the sun.
D D A F# A D (12-string):
In silver rain with a paper key
Blood never lies
Eflat Bflat D F Bflat C:
C G D G C D:
"When Keith played me Yankee Reality I knew it was not only the best Hush Arbors album, but also that Keith's work had entered an entirely new world bursting with hauntings.
This is a classic, timeless, ageless American album, full of hope and yearning, beauty and melancholy, and which pours out stories like flowers. Are these rainbow-at-end-of-the-world songs? Or heart's break/heart's ease-at-the-end-of-the-road songs? Anyway, I thought of horses and acid, death sleeping in a shack, the river bursting its banks and grinning like whisky, the birdlight and fading empires. Starry, dreamlike, plaintive, gorgeous and broken, Yankee Reality is a perfect and utterly individual work, endlessly inventive yet instantly recognizable as being in a noble and generous tradition.
Yankee Reality sends shivers through my body when I listen to it. I don't know where to start, because I don't know where it ends. A circular masterpiece effortlessly stationed between the sea, the sun and the moon."
David Tibet/Anok Pe/Current 93, August 25, 2009
"Yankee Reality continues Wood's winning streak while introducing an embarrassment of riches in the way of surprises and curveballs along the way. "Day Before," featuring J Mascis's unmistakable lead guitar, immediately elevates this triumphant opening number to 'classic Hush" status.
Next up is "Lisbon," a bouncy, folk rock number reminiscent of the Byrds, punctuated by a searing solo. "Fast Asleep" is a distended, plaintive dirge that evokes wooziness and wispiness over a stoned guitar drone. "So They Say" picks up where "Fast Asleep" leaves off, a languid tune built around slo-mo guitar drenched in reverb and Wood's gentle voice. "One Way Ticket" is up next and one of the most adventurous Hush Arbors songs since dude started singing actual words. Built on a wonderfully apprehensive-sounding piano line and druggy atmosphere.As for "Coming Home" well, that one's another curveball.
Easily one of the finest songs Wood has written to date, this beautifully arranged number features a gorgeous strings-approximating mellotron every time the song radically changes gears from two step country / Creedence boogie to its out-of-nowhere chorus, which oughta have the girls in Band of Horses t-shirts swooning in no time. If "So They Say" is Wood's take on the Velvet's third album, surely "Sun Shall" is his "Venus in Furs," compete with a propulsive, insistent Moe Tucker beat (provided by Mascis) and ominous ostrich guitar jangle. "Take It Easy" may be the album's best track. On this easy, breezy country number, Wood plays it relatively straight, owning up to his hillbilly roots and mixing 'em up with more than a little Norman Greenbaum "For While You Slept," again featuring Mascis, quotes Petty's "American Girl" before lifting off into what could only be considered a wedding song if the reception was held at Roswell City Hall.
Just when you think Wood's mellowed out too much, "Devil Made You High" ends things on a serious art-punk tip. From the sounds of it, Wood probably agrees with me that The Smiths were best when they tried to rock out "Shakespeare's Sister," "London," Handsome Devil" those were the jams! Yeah, so the albums ends with this unabashed garage pop tune which, by the conclusion, has gone totally off the rails, like the boys are trying to give Kawabata a run for his money.
Maybe you were expecting something else from an album that thanks a wood chopper ghost in the liner notes and is dedicated to Link Wray? "Ride the tubes back home," indeed."
-James Jackson Toth Nashville, TN August 2009
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