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On December 3 and 4, 1996, tape manipulator and sound collagist Phil Milstein got together with Sonic Youth guitarist, singer, and songwriter Thurston Moore to take a musical trip. They didn’t physically travel far to record their two duets, one at the Iron Morse Music Hall in Northampton, MA and the other at The Middle East in Cambridge, MA. But what they created might help send a listener to the inner or outer limits.
Their recordings stand as the ultimate in “Anti-Pop” music: There are no 3-4 minute chart-friendly singles, no twenty-something starlets singing passages from their diary, no breaks featuring this month’s hot rap star. What you do have is two middle-aged dudes who recorded two very long tracks (Vol. 1 is 42 minutes long and Vol. 2 is 44 minutes) that set aside verses and hooks in favor of an approach similar to drone and noise music, something they’ve both been doing for decades.
Moore layers his guitar improvisations and effects over Milstein’s found-object sound structures as musical themes and ideas drift by like clouds. Their interactions are not unlike what jazz musicians do when they improvise, listening and responding to each other through the sounds they make.
Both volumes of this 2-record set are the kind of music where you can put your headphones on, press “play,” and lose track of time for a while. It’s good stuff if you need to add some active yet low-key abstraction to your life.
Music has always been a reliable outlet for protest in turbulent times. At least, it used to be. It’s been a while since commercially released music embraced the spirit of protest. From the 1960s to the late 1980s, a protest or “issue” song that addressed everything from war to the environment to equal rights to government corruption could be found somewhere on the pop charts courtesy of a broad collection of major artists from Creedence Clearwater Revival to Marvin Gaye to the Sex Pistols to Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
Starting in the 1990s, when major labels consolidated into today’s corporate monoliths, music that overtly criticized social issues protest music started to decline. By the 2000s, message music disappeared entirely as pop artists learned not to risk their livelihood by taking a stand on something, not when Fox News and an invisible army of Internet trolls stood ready to shame and shout down anyone who dared criticize power and by definition didn’t “support the troops” (otherwise known as getting the "Dixie Chicks treatment").