Every few months I tend to get restless and go internet surfing for posts or information on my many inspirations. Recently I was pleasantly surprised to find a new album and blog by one of my favorite musicians, Jim Coleman. Many of you may know him as the keyboard player in the seminal NY indie band Cop Shoot Cop which combined unorthodox instrumentation (two bass guitars, scrap metal drum kit, and sampler) with a driving raw energy focused into bursts. Their barrage of rhythmic noise often got them thrown into the "industrial" or "post punk" labels although they were always much more than that. Over the years the band honed this energy into surprising and coherent dramatic songs (still using the same instrumentation with occasional additions of horns or guitar) building dynamics and tension while still throwing the listener fresh shards of sound that were increasingly melodic and structured while never losing their edge. A big part of this was the unconventional use of sound as an instrument and that's where Jim and his sampler came in. Rarely loading in a "keyboard" sample he played sound effects, explosions, loops, and miscellaneous patterns as a noise virtuoso. Listen to the backwards building voices in "Seattle" or the clawing sirens and swooshes in "Turning Inside Out" as just some examples.
On Coleman's latest release "Trees" the listener is treated to a gorgeous ambient electro-acoustic meditative journey. There are some darker edges but for the most part the album reads like an antidote to the tension and clamoring hyperactivity of the past. Is this the same artist who gave us the collage track "Relief" from an album titled White Noise?
It most certainly is.
I spoke with Jim recently and he has a great web page and blog where he gives a bio and some personal experiences and thoughts. For this blogs sound obsessed purposes however highlights from our conversation were the moments where he emphasized his interest in sound going to back to when he was a child and used to play his dad's 45s on the wrong speed just to hear what would come out of the speakers. Classically trained in both piano and french horn he emphasized "what I wanted to be doing was sitting down at the piano and be making up my own stuff." He eventually attended art school where he studied experimental film. In between creating new work from reels of found film and optical processors he started to make sound loops from stock footage films and would set up mics and a four track at parties and record the festivities for mixed playback later.
After Cop Shoot Cop ended Jim started working with other artists such as Italy's Teho Teardo and began what would seem like a perfectly fitted career in soundtrack work. His first piece ended up being used in the title credits of US indie film guru Hal Hartley's "The Unbelievable Truth". He released two albums under the name Phylr with obvious synth and beat elements but as he himself describes his work "even when I do electronic music it's not what people consider to be electronic music". Amen to that.
His experiences and artistic experimentation lead to not only an obvious evolution but also a culmination which seemed to focus on, as he put it, "finding new ways looking at things we take for granted". It was in this mindset that Jim decided to mix things up again and challenge himself to work differently than he had in the past. Doing the basic track work on his laptop during morning and evening commutes Trees began to take shape. Once the structure was down he added other musicians and elements.
Trees is the first release on his new indie label Wax and Wane. It veers from gorgeous string laden modern classicism to ambient percussive meditations and excursions into free floating sound sculptures. Moods shift and mutate and by the time it's over almost an hour later you feel both relaxed and rested.
Perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of the release is the variety of tones and textures, sometimes all within the same song. The CD starts with what could easily be a classical ensemble piece "Sideways" but doesn't stay there wandering off with short leads by horns and strings beckoning the listener to follow until we arrive and the percussive raindrops of "Tracks". A guide vocal comes in on the next track "Dawn" with middle Eastern influences building until we arrive at a - dare I say it- culmination of all the pieces in "Closing". Trees ends with a coda track "Rain" which again revisits the sounds and textures used as though the listener were taking one short glance back before moving forward.
To me Trees and Jim's career serves as an inspiration to sound oriented musicians everywhere. When his indie band got big and imploded rather than going larger and moving to the West Coast machine he chose to focus on what made him happy and works both in the field he loves and outside it to maintain his independence and musical integrity. When distribution for seemed to stall he started his own label and has been doing publicity and online distribution and has lined up a physical CD release to be available soon via Cargo. He's made peace with the challenges of his life and has a comfortable perspective on where he's at and continues to do interesting and exciting work on his own terms. Trees is the organic and living proof.
But don't take my word for it. Here are a few links for further exploration into the world and music of Jim Coleman.
Soundcloud with various projects: http://soundcloud.com/phylr
Trees Download from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Trees/dp/B008FTC5PQ/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8
Trees Download from ITunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/trees/id540626631
Trees Download from EMusic: http://www.emusic.com/listen/#/album/jim-coleman/trees/13476270/
Jim Coleman Website: http://www.jimcolemanmusic.com/
Jim Coleman's Blog: http://jimcolemanmusic.wordpress.com/