Song #64: Moviola – “Calling On the Line”

October 28, 2020
Song #64: Moviola – “Calling On the Line”

For the last few years, I’ve prided myself on the amount of time I spend each week searching for new music. I host a radio show every Sunday night, and about 75% of what I play is music that’s been released in the last six months, so every week is filled with searching online, reviewing new releases, following different social media groups, learning about what music my friends are discovering. I may not mention it to you, but if you’re posting somewhere about new records, I am paying attention and listening to your recommendations.

For the first half of the pandemic, my music discovery time was essentially reduced to zero. At first, I was consumed by news; spending all my time on news sites, learning what I could about the progression of the disease, how it spread, how it was treated, what scientists were discovering. After sufficiently marinating in doom for a month or so, I decided I did not want to contaminate any new records – I didn’t want to discover anything I really liked, only to subsequently have it remind me of such an awful time. So I stopped listening.

At the end of April, the radio station where I volunteer had figured out how to get prerecorded shows on the air, even though the University was not permitting anyone on campus to do shows live. This necessitated that I begin searching out new music for the show, and I naturally went back over the prior month to ensure I didn’t miss any important new releases while I was hiding under my desk in the fetal position.

The result of this kickstart was that I vaulted into one of the most intense periods of music discovery I’ve ever had in my life. In searching my brain for an analogy to put in this space, there’s really not one; the amount of new music that’s been released over the last few months, intertwined with the growing ease of using the internet to explore various musical idioms, combined with the sheer amount of music that hit the world all at once in the spring, has resulted in my spending an ungodly amount of time streaming, searching, and buying new records from all over the world.

It has been a welcome distraction and also an eye-opening, mind-expanding exercise, as I have begun to realize that my love of a crunchy, distorted guitar and a catchy melody has really limited my consumption of music. This wildly open mind I’ve always thought I’d had, in terms of music, has actually been fairly closed to most music that couldn’t somehow be classified as “punk” or “jazz.”

My love of jazz is only eclipsed by my lack of knowledge of it, as closed as my mind has been to different musical styles, so has my inability or unwillingness to spend much time with jazz recorded outside the late 1950s to mid 1960s. My first cue to this was a friend outside music who has turned himself into a jazz maniac, becoming knowledgeable about seemingly every musician who played on every record – he’ll buy a record and learn the name of a sideman on the album, then seek out every record on which that guy played. “CDs are cheap as dirt, and don’t take up much space,” he told me, “You can buy them for fifty cents and build a huge library.”

My second cue was the album Heaven and Earth by Kamasi Washington, which was released last year but undiscovered by me until people’s year-end releases began to show up, when it quickly vaulted onto mine.

What ultimately blew my mind, though, was a concept I’d never heard of before, whereby the word “jazz” is considered a racist pejorative; a term that all by itself simultaneously conjures stereotypes and limits exposure. For my radio show, for example, I may never have considered a lot of music I listen to – and play – routinely today, simply because, well, “it’s jazz.” It may be noisy as fuck, super-aggressive, and explore all sorts of great territory, just like my guitar music, but slap that word “jazz” on it and it doesn’t work for the show, before I even listen to it. Turns out that a lot of it works great for the show, and my show has become considerably more interesting to listen to as a result.

This realization has opened up a world of opportunity for me, and I’ve been pretty insatiable, searching all over the world for new sounds and opening my eyes and ears to things I’d never even considered exploring before. My first visit back to a record store this summer (something I haven’t done since, as I’m still not psychologically comfortable in the tight space, flipping through stacks of records in hopes of finding a treasure), I found myself venturing inside in hopes of finding a couple of early punk records, and walking out with a couple of Indian classical albums.

The best part of this is what, at one point in my life I would have considered the worst: I don’t know anything about any of this music. It’s everywhere, there’s so much of it, there’s seventy years of recorded music behind me and more coming out every day. I don’t know what makes it good, or bad, or pedestrian, or revolutionary, there is no way I’ll ever understand it all, but I suddenly don’t want to miss any of it.

And there’s also my good and reliable friend, indie rock.

In the middle of all this discovery, the band Moviola released a new album and reissued much of its back catalogue as well. Moviola are a band from Columbus that I’ve known for a few decades; I walked into Under Acme one night in the 90s while they were onstage and fell in love with them. Turned out we had some mutual friends, and one of their members, Ted, and I struck up a penpal relationship where we’d send each other music. I wanted desperately to put out their music, but they had a relationship with Anyway Records, both then and now, and had no need for tiny Dromedary Records.

Years later, I became friendly with Bela, the owner of Anyway, and was able to tell him how much I admired his label, mostly because of the sheer number of his records that Ted sent me in the mail back in the 90s.

Moviola were a perfectly wonderful indie rock band that wrote fantastic songs and didn’t fret so much over fidelity; that these records came out during the low-fi “movement” just made them feel more friendly. Over the years, the band evolved into a more country-flavored band (I once read them described as one of the country’s best indie rock bands that evolved into one of the country’s best roots music bands), their music occupying a similar space to, say, Giant Sand or Songs: Ohia.

The fact that they’d released a ton of music with super-limited distribution over the years meant that they had lots of tough-to-find songs, so when I reached out to Ted in 2010 to ask if he’d be interested in contributing a Moviola track to our Haiti benefit, he sent me a link to a bunch of songs and let me choose one. I chose “Calling On the Line,” and thus, after fifteen years, finally got to release a Moviola song.

You should check out their back catalogue, including their latest excellent release, Scrape and Cuss, at https://moviolamusic.bandcamp.com

And here’s “Calling On the Line.”

~ by Al on October 28, 2020.

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