Friday, October 16, 2009

Review: Honest to Goodness (Chad Strung)

Chad Stocker, bassist and one-third of Detroit-based soul/punk/indie-rockers The High Strung, presents his solo record Honest to Goodness on Fedora Corpse Recordings – a work of ambient experimental space rock through improvisational guitar instrumentals.


My Morning Meditation - thoughts on ambient music - along with Chad Stocker's Honest to Goodness.

I find it funny that reviews of ambient music will often use the word “evolving…” a scientific term (or state) usually applied to nature.

Then, as I’m listening to Chad Stocker’s experimental guitar meditation, Honest To Goodness, it hits me. Well, it doesn’t hit me so much as it slowly drapes itself upon my consciousness like the steady build-up of epiphany-coated leaves wafting their descent upon my brain – in whatever way – it hits me – that Stocker's wayward plucks and merry-go-round loops and bending, stretched tones and sporadic roars – are akin to the delicate chaos of nature – thus, the un-structured pieces seem to “evolve.”

It’s probably helping that as this roars from my record player in the other room, I’m nearby three rather large windows with half-a-dozen golden-leaf-packed trees swaying capriciously in the wind as the rays of the sun indifferently fade in and out through the autumn sky – Indeed, most of us, when we finally escape the white noise of television or the hum of our furnaces or the smoke of our cars, cigarettes and skyscrapers, when we come to that idyllic hilltop and gaze out at the comparative calm, sparsely designed, seemingly randomized behavior of a landscape, a forest or a pack of four-legged creatures, ...we become still and we stare, utterly beguiled and transfixed.

Thus is the effect of ambient music, or can be the effect, the effect of Honest. Now it's definitely tangential to unpack all of that here, while I’m trying to detail to you Stocker’s own musical dissertation of burning fuzz guitars, his spacey soaring tones refraining into caustic blurts before shooting off again into some twirling indeterminate tailspin. Indeed, I would say that the feather in Stocker's cap would be that he has conjured such a strong swath of ambient music (both meditative and spooky, and even, above all provocative) that it has allowed me, or inspired me, to reflect so heavily upon the effect music can have on the brain.

The same way I have no idea where the wind will blow – one can’t be sure where Stocker will go from one five-second-frame of melody—to-the-next five seconds. He explores mere hints or flavors of space rock but bends his way into tones that give it an eastern flavor, then wafts in howling loops that massage the soundscape giving it that visceral montage-feeling 2001-Space-Odyssey-laser-light-trip-out-sequence. I mean, if you let your mind go….

The other feather I would give to Stocker is that he is accomplishing all this with “no overdubs, no studio really at all, just a live instrumental solo guitar back-grounding wine drinkers, artists and friends.”


This album is the live recording of Stocker providing background music leading up to an art showing at a boutique in Rochester Hills. Similar to a music reviewer sitting down and going through an album, people at an art showing will go from piece to piece, drawing to drawing and, whether out loud or just quietly pondered in their own head, they’ll think, ‘What was the artist trying to do here?’

We have no way to even know what Stocker was trying to do here – because it is completely interpretive, each note, each shift, each crescendo, each loop came to him, right there, on the spot – not written or predetermined, but thought-of and acted upon.

Stocker lets the dust settle, lets the humming tones swirl and loop below as his guitar gusts its way over ever shifting landscapes. As Stocker freely admits, this could easily be a comedown record, or a strung-out at 4am overly-cerebral/quiet-freak-out album, or maybe…as it worked perfectly in my case, a morning meditation album. I like the way he put it to me in a handwritten note: “Use it how you see fit.”

The album was released on Fedora Corpse Recordings, run by Adam and Jen Melinn out of Philadelphia. Adam and Stocker have been friends for 30 years; the pair learned to play guitar together in 5th grade. Adam and Jen moved to Philly for school and work, initially, but soon started a number of musical projects – eventually utilizing their own “internet record label” to release it all for free. Eventually the pair decided to explore vinyl releases and Stocker wound up being one of their first artists to see a release.

I go back to my connecting ambient music to nature. Beyond the fact that it matches nature’s beautiful chaos, it’s unpredictability – where they also match is on a level of a disarming beauty. Another note on, uh, heh, more natural behavior…I can’t help but transcribe Stocker’s handwritten note…admitting that “It’s not rock n’ roll” but, “you can fuck to it!”

Honest to goodness...

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This is an amazing piece of music journalism!

Thanks so much for the very kind words. More about this album needs to get out there.

Chad's music requires this type of deep examination!