Ruven Nunez’s Guitar Work is a Spiritual Practice

Ruven Nunez

Ruven Nunez says he lives in a bowl; the Swiss guitarist interrupts a thought on a recent Skype call, lifting his computer over his right shoulder to show exactly what he means. Out a window, across the entire horizon, is a row of mountains in either direction. Nunez explains that it circumscribes all of Bad Ragaz, a town of less than 6,000 people set in the foothills of the eastern Swiss Alps that he’s lived in most of his life. It can feel isolating, he admits—but at least today, he feels safe here, comforted by the range that separates him and his family from the rest of the world.

When he was younger, Nunez felt the pull to live elsewhere. At 18, he moved to Shanghai, but he was quickly overwhelmed by the bustle of the city and the geographical flatness of the environment that surrounded him after a lifetime in the mountains. He moved back home after three months. Over the next half decade, he’d try stints in Japan, Korea, and Singapore—but the bowl always called him back. In his mid 20s, he moved back to Bad Ragaz for good, to settle down, lead a simple life, and to be near his mother, who’s lived with various forms of cancer for nearly 10 years and who he now lives with and cares for.

Ruven Nunez

Around the same time that he moved back to Switzerland, he slowly dedicated himself to playing guitar, which he’d done off and on since since he was a teenager. He’d made attempts at playing with other people in bands throughout his travels, but back home he started recording alone. His first efforts were attempts at recreating the spaced-out guitar tape experiments that Brian Eno and Robert Fripp recorded in in the early ‘70s; nothing much came of them.

But then, he had an intense panic attack at a supermarket near his house, spinning him into an intense period of personal enlightenment. “It was a punch in my face, saying that there’s more to life than what I’d been doing so far,” he explains. “You can’t imagine how much more. After that I started recording again.”

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How 2Mex’s Near-Death Experience Influenced His New Album

2mex

Last year, Los Angeles rapper 2Mex woke up one morning with a swollen foot. By the time he got out of bed, it had swelled to the size of a football, and 2Mex got himself to a hospital. When he got there, his doctors took one look at his foot and immediately began discussed preventative measures in order to simply keep him alive. As they deliberated, 2Mex slowly began slipping into a coma; the doctors feared the untreated infection would lead to irreversible brain damage. The swelling—the result, as it turned out, of undiagnosed diabetes—threatened the rapper’s life; the doctors had no choice but to amputate his right leg from the knee down. Looking back at how close he came to death, 2Mex now considers himself lucky to have only lost a leg.

The outpouring of support he received after his operation—from fans and musicians alike—should come as no surprise, considering the number of people 2Mex’s music has impacted. That love kept him going, as depression took over, and the realities of life with a lost limb slowly settled in. 2Mex has always been a legend around Los Angeles, but his work has been mostly behind the scenes. The numerous friends, collaborators, and admirers who visited him in the hospital helped 2Mex understand his outsized impact on Los Angeles’ hip-hop community.

2Mex came up at the Good Life Cafe’s popular open mic nights—it had hosted artists like The Pharcyde, Biz Markie, and Fat Joe, and gave way to the open mic workshop and a freestyle collective called Project Blowed. He gained early notoriety with his first group, Of Mexican Descent, but spent the next few years floating through the purgatory of indie rap, releasing five LPs between 2000 and 2010. Those albums satisfied his loyal fans, but didn’t net much attention from an outside audience. 2Mex was in stasis. For all the awfulness that surrounded his trip to the hospital, it also showed the rapper that his community had deep respect and love for both him and his music.

On Lospital, 2Mex’s first LP since his 2010 release, My Fanbase Will Destroy You, he balances love, anger, joy, and sadness in equal doses. Gone is the scathing cynicism that became a key part of his identity as the records continued to come with nothing more than mild adoration from his local fans. On Lospital, 2Mex uses his emergency hospital visit as a point of reflection, rapping about his peaks and valleys from the perspective of a man who’s faced death and is lucky to be alive. We catch up with the L.A. legend to discuss Project Blowed, hospital room parties, and the impact of technology.

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Album of the Day: Jen Cloher, “Jen Cloher”

Few songwriters tackle autobiography as unflinchingly as Melbourne’s Jen Cloher. Even Cloher’s famous wife and collaborator, Courtney Barnett, doesn’t quite approach the level of scouring self-examination and fearless venting that Cloher makes routine against the full-band rock of her self-titled fourth album.

“Indie rock is full of privileged white kids / I know because I’m one of them,” she sings on the T. Rex strut of “Shoegazers,” which also skewers music critics (“Those who can, they do / Those who can’t, review”) as well as anyone who confuses commercial success with artistic fulfillment. That song sprang from Cloher’s experiences on tour with Barnett, who also plays guitar in Cloher’s band. Others, like “Sensory Memory” and lead single “Forgot Myself,” are about the psychological pitfalls of staying home while your wife is on the road for months on end.

Typical of Cloher, “Forgot Myself” is generous with references, casually citing peers like The Drones and Patti Smith before paraphrasing two iconic lines from The Stones: “You’re riding round the world / You’re doing this and you’re signing that.” “Loose Magic” is a freewheeling fable about the power of live music that was inspired by Dirty Three; “Great Australian Bite” is about Aussie bands that nearly destroy themselves moving overseas to make it.

Those referential flare-ups only fuel the gnashing release of Cloher’s songwriting, which can call out Australia’s piss-poor progress on marriage equality (“Analysis Paralysis”) just as easily as it can celebrate her sexuality (“Strong Woman”) and articulate the depth of her love (closing ballad “Dark Art”). She even strikes out into Bacharach-meets-Callahan jauntiness on the distinctly hopeful “Waiting in the Wings.”

Released on Cloher and Barnett’s own reliable label, Milk! Records, this idiosyncratic LP dispenses frank social commentary all the way to therapy.

Doug Wallen

How Palm Captured The Magic of Their Live Shows On “Shadow Expert”

Palm

If you find yourself at a Palm concert anytime soon, prepare to be surprised. First, because the Philadelphia-based quartet’s music takes so many weird twists and turns; and second, because they have a habit of sidelining the songs you might’ve heard before in favor of ones they’ve just written. “We’re always seemingly playing something that’s not released,” singer-guitarist Eve Alpert tells me over the phone as she walks home from a post office errand in North Philly. “Touring is our opportunity to rehearse new music.”

Alpert, singer-guitarist Kasra Kurt, bassist Gerasimos Livitsanos, and drummer Hugo Stanley had just returned home from one such tour in December 2015, when they made their excellent new EP, Shadow Expert. The shows had been booked to promote their full-length debut, Trading Basics, but as usual, Palm was miles ahead. “We were so tired of [Trading Basics] by the time it came out,” Alpert says, citing the album’s free-form, improvisatory style and “tacked-on” lyrics and melodies. The new material they’d been road-testing was more concise, even accessible, without losing their unpredictable edge. “We were excited because it was more harmonically pleasing, but also more rhythmically unsettling,” she says. “It felt like a massive step forward.”

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John Sinclair and Youth at the Intersection of Art and Commerce

John Sinclair

“Living Euro to Euro, sleeping on the couches and extra beds of friends, a man without a country and a post office box in New Orleans for a permanent address.” That’s how spoken word poet John Sinclair describes himself in one of the passages on Beatnik Youth, his new collaboration with producer/multi-media artist Youth, who plays bass in Killing Joke and has worked with artists like The Orb, The Verve, Beth Orton, and Crowded House.

Out as a double-CD on September 8, Beatnik Youth is preceded by Beatnik Youth Ambient, a vinyl mini-version of the album containing two of the more spacious selections and two non-LP tracks; the selections range from raucous rock ‘n’ roll to psychedelic jazz and abstract soundscapes. Throughout, Sinclair’s booming voice functions as an anchor, taking on an American social landscape bursting with civil unrest and self-reinvention as Youth’s modernist production swirls around him.

Immortalized by John Lennon’s 1972 song that bears his name, Sinclair is an iconic figure of ‘60s counterculture, famous for, among other things, having co-founded the anti-racist White Panther Party and for managing Detroit’s legendary leftist proto-punk outfit MC5 early in its history. Following a highly publicized two-year stint in prison for marijuana possession (Lennon’s song was a protest against his incarceration), Sinclair has stuck to his guns as an advocate for marijuana reform.

Over the last 13 years, however, he has focused primarily on his other two passions, jazz and radio, delivering a weekly online show on the Radio Free Amsterdam network in spite of his itinerant status. As he says on Beatnik Youth, the Flint, Michigan-area native maintains no fixed address, splitting his time between Amsterdam, New Orleans, and Detroit, staying in the Netherlands for three months at a time as visa restrictions dictate.

JOHN-SINCLAIR-600-2

By turns nostalgic and irreverent—a passing anecdote about Allen Ginsberg introducing Thelonious Monk to LSD stands out as either crass or hilarious (or both!) depending on your point of view—Beatnik Youth is both a love letter to a bygone era and a forceful call for America to come to face its own conscience. “There is something about the American mind—set on destruction, relentless, unpenitent…,” Sinclair says on the album.

In separate conversations, we caught up with both Sinclair and Youth (real name: Martin Glover) for what turned out to be surprisingly lighthearted exchanges, with Sinclair’s Elmer Fudd-esque laugh smothering the background clatter of an Amsterdam café.

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