Tag Archives: Pharmakon

Sacred Bones Turns Ten

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Sacred bones founder Caleb Braaten, photo by Christian Count.

When Brooklyn-based Caleb Braaten started Sacred Bones in 2007, he did it with modest goals and few expectations. But in the back of his mind, he dreamt of one day working with an artist he had long admired: filmmaker and composer David Lynch. Although initially just an idle daydream, Braaten nevertheless started planning for the possibility.

“I had this idea that I was going to approach him to do something together,” he says. “I set aside a copy of every record that we had put out, every version of every record. I started amassing this box that was in the basement of Academy [Records] that said ‘David Lynch’ on it. And then maybe four years into it, the box was big enough. I was like, ‘All right, I think it’s time.'”

Braaten got as far as tracking down an address—”I was going to write a letter and basically tell him that I’m a fan, and I would like to work together someday,” he says—but happened to mention his scheme to a Los Angeles friend, who had a music attorney acquaintance he thought might be a better route.

That connection turned out to be the right one: Lynch received the box of records, thought it was “interesting,” and the lines of communication were open for Braaten to propose a reissue of the soundtrack to 1977’s Eraserhead. Lynch was on board, and a reissue surfaced in 2012. In subsequent years, Sacred Bones reissued two more experimental Lynch efforts, The Air is On Fire and Polish Night Music.

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On “Contact,” Pharmakon’s Bracing Noise is a Vehicle for Self-Discovery

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The Greek word ‘pharmakon,’ riddled with bizarre contradiction, refers to both a poison and a medicine. In ancient times, the related term ‘pharmakos’ was used to refer to a criminal, slave or deformed person who would be cast off from society as a scapegoat during times of famine or violence (and were often bombarded with stones as they ran from the city). Yet these same people were often considered ‘medicine men;’ in other words, the people that the city found most repulsive were also their saviors.

A similarly perplexing duality runs through Contact , Margaret Chardiet’s latest album as Pharmakon. Contact exists in two places at once: its arrangements, comprised largely of a harsh clatter of distorted percussion, piercing, nail-on-chalkboard synthesizers, and Chardiet’s scalding howl, evoke a cruel and meaningless world. Yet the album’s creation, as Chardiet explained on yet another day of weird weather in New York City, is rooted far more in wary hopefulness than nihilism or despair. Through these six compositions, she doesn’t so much conjure the apocalypse than to inspire the listener to find power within.

Listen to Contact in full exclusively at Bandcamp Daily:

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Cheena are Messy, Glorious, and Real

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Cheena. Photo by Edwina Hay for Bandcamp

It’s the most sacrosanct of critical principles: a band is never a just a band. If you want a profile written about you, if you want to get that rent money, you need a thesis, a moral, a philosophical mic drop. But Cheena could care less about parables or big pictures. They’re not your test subject or case study. They’re just a five-piece band from New York City who enjoy getting drunk and playing loud rock music, no symbolic strings attached. To them, there’s no story but the music. Everything else is just getting in the way—including, at present, yours truly.

I don’t blame Cheena for giving me a hard time during an attempt to interview them at the Brooklyn bar Post No Bills. After all, try as I might to convince myself of the contrary, I’m really just another cog in the PR machine, that loathed apparatus powered by viral hot takes and attention-grabbing narratives. These have grown even more noticeable in the face of print journalism’s trudge towards obsolescence; most online publications subsist on clicks, retweets (and of course, ad money) to survive. And so, searching for some kind of entry into the world of Cheena, I stick to the usual questions of day jobs and night moves, favorite bands and memorable shows.

For instance, when I ask “So what are the themes of this album?” lead singer Walker Behl pipes up: “Just do drugs and fall asleep.” Exasperated, the rest of the band sighs. “Hey! Everyone else at the table, shut the fuck up!” he barks, before returning to the subject at hand: “Dude. Fun stuff.” A minute or so passes, before the musician grabs his beer, and heads to the bar. He doesn’t come back.

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