FM DUST ARCHIVE: SKYMALL Vol. 2- Growth Spert/Nausea Valley

I’ve known Patrick Elkins for a decade or so, throughout which I’ve tried to write about him several times. I always seem to hit a wall somewhere. It may be because we lived together for a bit at Totally Awesome House, making any real objectivity impossible, but it may also be that he just does too much to capsulize: puppeteer/puppet maker/musician/author/maze designer/poet/performance artist/conceptual artist/social butterfly…

Well, I guess I can say this: Patrick’s best recordings since I’ve known him have been among my favorites of their kind, engaging and accessible without ever sacrificing an iota of weird. His New Folk Sounds of Patrick Elkins record is a stoned epic, a lo-fi tour de force that I’ve begged him to reissue to no avail. The follow-up, Fruits of the Spirit, produced by Fred Thomas (City Center/Saturday Looks Good To Me/Swimsuit), thickens the smoky haze with Thomas’s patented mix of canyon-deep reverb and muted-rainbow gauze. Pine Cones, Patrick’s duo project with Craig Johnson, shows that their shared talents, usually applied to gentler projects, can be just as ably applied to gnarled, squalling power electronics. Secret Pajama Poems for the New Age of Nonsense, which he did let me reissue (DUST036), turns poetry into an impenetrable, claustrophobic cacophony.

Though some of his other boosters might disagree with me, I feel that Patrick’s best moments happen when he lets everything off the reins. The further his music strays from folk forms, the more it sets itself apart, speaking a vernacular that has antecedents, perhaps, but few peers.

As Nausea Valley, a moniker used sorely little since this release, Patrick enters a world of warped 4-track sound-fuckery that has nary been tread upon in recent years. The best Witchy Poo, very early Ween, maybe some Glands of External Secretion 7” or something on Betley Welcomes Careful Drivers could be used as touchstones, but these recordings remain uniquely, delightfully Elkinsian.

Growth Spert (AKA Jon Middleton) is another one-of-a-kind underground freak who’s yet to get his due. He’s settled down in Minneapolis in the last few years, but prior to this I’d known him as a rambler, having met him when he was living in Arkansas, playing several shows together during shared time in Portland, and keeping in sporadic touch since.

At our first show together, at the Black Elk co-op house in Ann Arbor in 2005, we were both still mired in the mid-‘00s “anti-folk” boom. This was a moment which made a virtue of touring by Greyhound with only that old sundry, the acoustic guitar, in tow. I’ve never been much enamored with acoustic guitar, and I suspect Jon’s feelings are similar: it’s an acceptable means to an end, and easy to lug around on long trips, but that’s about it. Jon, like myself, experimented with a lot of different means of musical expression in the years since our initial meeting, but my personal favorite was when he showed up to Totally Awesome Fest, crouched by a drum stand (seemingly) haphazardly strewn with pots and pans, and played a music at once ancient and completely individual. Jon’s voice, already a unique yawp when framed with more conventional instrumentation, came further unhinged than ever. I’ve seen a lot of shit, but I’ve never seen anything quite like this. I approached him immediately after his set and told him I wanted to release a tape of his pot and pan songs.

Jon is still doing Growth Spert (albeit less prolifically than before), and Patrick just reinstated the Nausea Valley moniker for a new trio with Johnson and Chelsea Jordan (she of Patrick’s dearly departed rock band, The Rainbow Vomit Family Band). Both are weirdo music lifers, and well worth catching up with if you haven’t already. Consider this a primer.

Dustin Krcatovich is a cartoonist, writer, designer, founder of FM DUST, and a collector of certain curios and ephemera (with a focus on 20th century "junk culture"). His writing and illustration work appears frequently in The Quietus, Tiny Mix Tapes, and Esquire's Culture Blog. He is also a former editor and contributor to Secret Zen Garden,Saagara's illustrated mindfulness/wellness blog for young people. He currently resides in Portland, OR.

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: The complete Totally Awesome Fest 10 line-up beginning with Sunday’s city-wide Easter egg hunt!

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