Creating a mix CD is an adventure, even when you're simply stringing together Guy Lombardo tunes for your great-aunt Yelga in Lino Lakes. The number of possible songs is always daunting, and the range of possible narratives is always humbling. But when the blank disc whispers to you in the voice of Barry White, pleading Come fill me, baby, the dangers of track list selection become irrelevant: We hapless mortals have no choice but to spend every waking hour with an index finger glued to the pause and record buttons. Which is why when we decided to create a mix that reflects the spirit of this year's Destijl/Freedom From Festival of Music--a two-day psych, jazz, rock, drone, noise, and folk extravaganza at the Fine Line Music Café--we threw away our charts, asked the experts to stop calling, and plunged into the nearest psychic rabbit hole, hoping that, like the explorers in Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth, our instincts would lead us to the festival's core. With scars from the lava and wounds from the noise, this is what we retrieved from the depths.
1. Bridget St. John, "Fly High," from 2000's Top Gear and Singles 1969-1973(Self-Released) On this majestic piece of labor-intensive psychedelifolk, recorded in 1972, legendary troubadour Bridget St. John floats through the mists of Avalon, full orchestra billowing around her like a multicolored cape. Is she quoting Lewis Carroll or Robert Louis Stevenson when she sings "The world is so full of a number of things/I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings"? It hardly matters: Spend a minute or two in her garden of earthly delights, and you'll be blissfully indifferent to words. St. John's pellucid alto sometimes glides splendidly solo with only her guitar for support, but here, violins add a majestic touch, swirling around the harp and the angelic choir that exhort us to "fly high" on the song's chorus--as if we needed any prodding. Despite St. John's command, though, we really don't require chemical assistance for listening: The jazzy woodwind interlude alone is enough to induce mescaline-laced manna for the ears.
2. Angelblood, "America and Me," from 2000's Angelblood (Captain Trip Records) The spirit of real-life vampire Countess Elizabeth Bathory lives on in this deliciously lurching negative wave anthem. Angelblood's Rita Ackermann, Lizzie Bougatsos, and Jess Holzworth may be the wicked city slicker cousins to sirens like Miss Pussycat, but they haven't let their slickness filter through to the track's production, which could have been recorded in a rumpus room in the witchy wood. The guitar sounds like strings are popping off its neck left and right; the drums are trapped between a Captain Beefheart audition and a Shaggs jam session, and the way that these ladies moan, mewl, and caterwaul the line "America and me/America and the sea/This is where I'd like to be" suggests that they have a strong fondness for the USA. Why? Because the people who live there are nice, fat, and too slow to get away.
3. Arthur Doyle, "Noah Black Ark," from 2003's The Basement Tapes(Durtro) Violinist Dan Warburton and drummer Edward Perraud open this track like snake charmers at a cocktail lounge for cobras. But as soon as Doyle propels his fluid, throaty tenor sax into the proceedings, it's clear that the trio have the power to summon every celestial creature who frolics in hog heaven. Having been properly called, any winged porker would gladly hover like a cherub, listening to Doyle and company provide a glimpse of what John Coltrane might be doing today if his love affair with the universe hadn't been cut short. Like Coltrane's glorious later output, "Noah Black Ark" isn't so much free jazz as it is saxophonic glossolalia. Listen and be terrified or cleansed--or both.
4. No Neck Blues Band, "Intonomancy," from 2002's Intonomancy(Soundatone) This micro-epic improvisation hints that New York's No Neck Blues Band could play on the apex of Mount Everest and still sound like they were jamming in a cave. The track opens as slowly as a flower, with hand drumming straight from the Casbahs of Brooklyn underpinning a circuit-bent gizmo that seems to be establishing contact with R2D2's descendents. Deliberately meandering guitars lend a belladonna warp-and-weave to the ritual fabric, as the gizmo's glissandi reach boiling point. Then the maracas enter, just in time for the assemblage to disintegrate beneath its own weightlessness.
5. Tony Conrad (with Faust), "The Pyre of Angus was in Kathmandu," from 2002's Outside the Dream Syndicate: 30th Anniversary Edition(Table of the Elements) You can almost smell the smoke rising from Conrad's 1972 elegy for his former Theater of Eternal Music bandmate Angus MacLise--as if the sparks flying off his violin strings weren't enough! Conrad works a drone along the paths laid out by Indian vocal master Pandit Pran Nath and minimalist trailblazer La Monte Young, sawing away carefully at a few select notes until he generates a veritable tonal swarm. Then he simply lets his bowchild drift gently into the ether. One can't help suspect that if the piece were any longer, he might accidentally halve his violin.