Tag Archives: Oswego

Album of the Day, Channels: “Backpfeifengesicht/Airstrip One”

Unlike other metropolises, it’s not terribly easy to find lifelong natives of the Washington, D.C. area. Part of that is because of the gentrification process that’s squeezing so many out of rent they were once able to afford. But, also—growing up in and around the nation’s capital exerts a strange and particular pressure. The industry in D.C. is pretty much purely politics and its associated supports (universities included), and as such can feel suffocating. Those who arrive for jobs with rotating administrations, lobbying organizations, and think tanks rarely interact with anyone outside their circles, skimming along the city’s surface.

Channels is comprised of three individuals who know this peculiar world intimately—the notorious J. Robbins (Jawbox, Burning Airlines, many production and engineering credits) and bassist Janet Morgan (of Shonben, also Robbins’ wife), who currently live in Baltimore, and drummer Darren Zentek (Kerosene 454, Oswego), who is still in D.C. proper. And so, their anti-Trump Inauguration protest 7-inch, “Backpfeifengesicht/Airstrip One,” feels more natural and less opportunistic than many other political statements. Even when addressing entirely personal matters, and even in the poetic, playful lyrical abstractions with which Robbins often works, there’s politics in the water.

“Backpfeifengesicht”—a word which can be translated from the German as “a face in need of a slap”—is as direct an indictment of Trump as possible. It goes from the sort of roiling, percussive noise rock this crew is known for (dual vocals from Robbins and Morgan urgent, overlapping) to chiming pop luxury at the flip of a dime, seeking the humanity of a man with seemingly no empathy. “Airstrip One,” a tense little jam that works expertly with post-punk negative space (particularly when it comes to Morgan’s vocal lines), locates the terror of losing ground that exists at the heart of xenophobia, fascism, and nationalism (“Who was holding all the gold in that Golden Age?”). It asks of those it critiques: “Were you fighting for the right side? Did you throw away your lifeline? Did you wake up on the wrong side of a burning bed?” As Robbins repeats those words, and as the song sharpens into punk glass, there is honest passion and power in his voice—grit, if you will. Resolve.

“Backpfeifengesicht/Airstrip One” is also the first new Channels material in a decade; adult responsibilities, including complicated healthcare for Robbins and Morgan’s son Callum, who was born with Spinal Muscular Atrophy, made bringing the group together regularly too challenging for a time. There is an ease to these two complicated, coiled-up songs, a sort of effervescence that pushes through even in the most pointed moments; the band is obviously having a blast playing with one another. This is reportedly only the first new material from Channels’ second life, and hallelujah for that. If all political gauntlet-throwing felt this resonant, we might just pull through.

—Jes Skolnik

Art Gallery: Ryan Nelson’s D.C. Punk Aesthetic

Ryan Nelson art collage

“I’m sick to death of looking at my art. I’m proud of it, but I feel like I’m drowning in it.”—Ryan Nelson

If you have any level of familiarity with the D.C. punk and indie rock scene, you’ve seen Ryan Nelson’s distinctive artwork on flyers, album covers, and t-shirts—even if you don’t know his name. Nelson worked at Dischord Records (which he describes “as good and ethical a place as you’d imagine it to be”) for a good chunk of the ’90s. He was also in Jury Rig, The Most Secret Method, Oswego, The Routineers and Beauty Pill, and he designed many of the t-shirts for the Fort Reno free concert series. Living in Alexandria, VA, these days, he teaches high school English, and is a father to young twin boys, but still makes time for music with Soccer Team and Minutes.

Self Portrait With Hair
Ryan Nelson, Self Portrait With Hair

Nelson’s artwork is heavily (and admittedly) influenced by both Raymond Pettibon and Jaime Hernandez, but he was first inspired as a child by seeing a painting his older brother, Marc (who was also in The Most Secret Method), did. Determined to pursue visual art from that day, Nelson started out tracing encyclopedia artwork and daily newspaper comics like Bloom County, and found himself mesmerized by the Lichtenstein pieces at the National Gallery of Art as a sixth-grader. “Without really understanding what the appeal was,” he says. “I was recognizing that there was a lot going on in just a small panel, and it has everything to do with the composition. There’s a balance, there’s a symmetry.”

Ryan Nelson art

Ryan Nelson art

In choosing to digitize his collection of the artwork he’s done for his and his friends’ creative projects, Nelson admits that he’s closing the book on a certain chapter of his life. “I don’t want to look at that stuff any more,” he muses. “My relationship with [my past art] is complicated. I’m really proud of all of the things that I’ve done, like I can look back at a wake of projects that I’ve finished…but at the same time, I’m sick to death of looking at my handwriting. I’m sick to death of looking at my art. I’m proud of it, but I feel like I’m drowning in it.”

If you’ve been living with a wealth of your own work for so long, that perspective makes sense. But for those of us who either aren’t familiar with Nelson’s piquant, emotionally resonant art or who feel our nostalgia-strings tugged by seeing his familiar linework, this tour through some of his most beautiful pieces proves a buoyant experience. Scroll on to see some of Bandcamp’s favorites; the full digital gallery can be found here.

Ryan Nelson art

 

Ryan Nelson art

Ryan Nelson art

Ryan Nelson art

Ryan Nelson art

Jes Skolnik