I work at a desk. It’s a big long desk, and most of the time I have it all to myself. So, I listen to music all day long. Sometimes I go on shuffle adventures, sometimes I let whole albums or compilations play through, but more often than not I get stuck on a song that becomes an anthem of sorts for the day. I get so hooked, so intensely enthused about a single musical event that I seldom make it all the way through on the first attempt. After several repetitions of the first verse and chorus I finally let it play to completion, and then again, and again. When I find a gem like this, it goes in a special playlist. The whole process repeats until the playlist swells to over an hour, at which point I send the whole damn thing out to friends as Force Music On You (FMOU) volume X. It’s tough to send folks music without overtones of pretension, so I eschew any greater sense of order and present the whole thing alphabetically by artist, with little to no context or explanation. Of the hundred or so people who subscribe, about 17 download the mix, I would guess maybe 10 actually listen to it, and 2 or 3 send me a note explaining why they loved or hated a particular song. On the week I included All Fox’s “Fit To Advise”, I received 9 e-mails asking if I could send over the complete album, and 7 follow-up emails asking if I had any more All Fox albums. It’s fairly rare for me to include an Ampeater band in an FMOU, let alone one that’s still pending consideration for a review. And yet, All Fox defied precedence and spread like wildfire from the Ampeater submissions box to my personal favorites playlist, to the “most played” section of my closest friends’ iTunes. We do a lot of explaining here on Ampeater, in an attempt to justify exactly why a certain artist merits such a bright spotlight of intellectual scrutiny, but All Fox needs no coaxing to break through the shell of relative obscurity. The music catapults itself across whatever divide supposedly exists between artists and listeners, and once it’s playing you have little choice left but to move and be moved by it.
All Fox is primarily Alex Fox Tschan, a 25 year old from Deltaville, VA who cites his father as his greatest hero, and was very nearly Dr. Alex Tschan, but for a bold decision to redirect his sights towards Brooklyn and a subsequent renaissance in his creative faculties. He left Virginia Tech in 2008 with a degree in Biochemistry, but with a penchant for deep thought and a sense that there remained something unfulfilled in his musical potential. Tschan has been taking tentative stabs at music making for the last ten years, but only saw his talent develop during college, as he found confidence in his once timid voice and realized that he would only (and could only) full explore the range possibilities available to him if he focused solely on his craft. Medical school isn’t exactly known for the range of diversions available during one’s free time, so he put his foot down and kicked a hitch in the hitherto straight-arrow path his life had taken to date. Working crap jobs for crap pay, Tschan made use of the time afforded to him by a flexible schedule to make music. In an interview with Sweet Tea Pumpkin Pie, he reflected, “For me, despite being broke, it has given me more energy and happiness to put towards my friendships, ideas, poems, songs, etc. than I could have ever dreamed. It has been the most rewarding and prolific time of my life, and it feels like it’s just starting.”
Leaving Alex Tschan at home in Virginia, it was All Fox that made the migration to Brooklyn, and he made it with an astonishing purity of intent. Long since a mecca for rising stars, New York has a tendency to attract the kind of assholes who buy guitars to “hit it big”, “make bank”, and “get laid”. All Fox came to our fair town with the hope of growing his art, escaping parental and societal expectations, and discovering what it is that makes music a successful medium for the transmission of ideas and emotions. Whether it’s work on his latest LP, screenplay, poem, or community project, All Fox has the insight of a genuine artist, and the dedication to produce work at a prolific rate. When I last wrote him about his Ampeater submission, he had not one, not two, but several albums worth of material for my perusal that had been completed in the months since his original submission. The songs on this 7-inch are culled from his first full-length solo album Peaceful Heart. Performed with a coterie of musicians on a huge variety of instruments, the album lands somewhere between Sufjan Stevens circa 2005 and Animal Collective arranged for chamber orchestra. Influences range from Sam Cooke to Walt Whitman, and seep out into the music as it skirts the edges of one’s expectations. All Fox’s songs assume a kind of crystalline structure, darting here and there with the confidence that its message can be conveyed in a more sophisticated manner than most pop songs presume. He goes so far as to assume an intelligent listener, or at the very least one that leaves a channel open for suggestion. Songs can take a number of approaches to satisfying listeners. Sometimes they’re linear, moving from Point A to Point B in a swell that peaks and then recedes; sometimes they’re circular, progressing in closed sequential loops of verse, pre chorus, and chorus; but sometimes they’re a wonderful pastiche of influences, attitudes, and impulses that suggest more than define the final destination of a particular songspace. It’s this latter mode that represents the predominant approach used by All Fox, and it’s indicative of a genuinely great mind at work, crafting something potent on a higher order than the blues and folk based idioms that are mixed so thoroughly with American soil you can practically taste them in a McDonalds hamburger. All Fox makes music that’s ever so slightly foreign to the average Joe, but that nevertheless resonates deeply with something fundamental in the human spirit.
In his Ampeater submission, All Fox included a link to download the full album, complete with lyric sheets for each song. Tschan’s words are poetic, and it’s but a small stretch to assume that many of them might have begun as actual poems. I had the chance to speak with Alex on the phone, and he came across as part scholar, part artist, and part philosopher, dispensing wisdom on music (both his own and other people’s) with a kind of insight and reflection that’s rare in young musicians. He explained, “a poem, and a song, and a story, a piece of art, a movie, they’re all the same thing–they could all be called ‘Fit to Advise’“. It’s the notion of transferral across media, that a song possesses an essence that can be conveyed in another form. It’s a more extreme version of the reduction that happens between record and stage; a great symphonic epic performed on solo acoustic guitar is still that same song, its essence is just captured using a different set of tools. I get the sense that All Fox would make music with the world if he could wrap his hands around mountains and smash them together. He explained, “Melodies happen in my head, and it’s my job to make sure I get them down. Sometimes I hear whole songs, fully orchestrated, but I don’t always have the tools to make them a reality.” The success of A-side “Fit To Advise” is in joining together odd rhythmic fragments into a song structure that’s wholly unorthodox and yet captures listeners in an organic flow from section to section. It’s almost classical in its motif-oriented composition, introducing sound objects or textures that grow, evolve, and re-appear at various points throughout the song. Every word, every sound is intentional. When you listen, focus not only on the music or lyrics, but on the intersection of the two. Pay attention to how the soundscape colors the text, and whether it remains constant or fluctuates across multiple repetitions. There’s meaning stuffed into every crevice of this song, and I question whether I’m “Fit to Advise” (har har) on the author’s primary intent, or whether there even exists such a thing in the complicated brain of Alex Tschan, but I nevertheless present the lyrics here for your consideration as you listen:
Hey little brother! Let’s go for a ride! But clean that look off your eyes first. Man, I told you before! … if i’m fit to drive, then I am sure as hell fit to advise you.
Hey little brother, whatcha got on your mind??? I guarantee you I’ve been below that line. So I wouldn’t worry! Between drugs & women… you’ll be doin’ alright if at least one ain’t hard to find.
I know you burn with desire, but easy tiger, she’s so lovely & complex. Please, take my advice before you start…
I know you’re dying to try it, but easy tiger… have you researched its full effects? Please, take my advice before you start…
And if you’re ever feeling expired! Well, easy tiger, it goes one right through the head! Please, take my advice before you start…
B-Side “Engelhard Grocery 1997: Mama’s Outta Stamps” is a beautiful ascent to an extended instrumental outro. After a single verse we’re lifted up by layered guitars, strings, and scattered percussion. It’s a cathartic release after the relative chaos of “Fit to Advise”. I was recently asked by a music loving friend if electronic instruments were now the predominant method of creating music. The answer is certainly “no”, but that’s almost beside the point. That some people even consider this a binary question is my main concern, and a continued source of bewilderment to me. Most of All Fox’s songs exist in a realm that pull heavily from both sides of this spectrum–acoustic banjos mingle with heavily processed electric guitars, digital production, orchestral strings (sometimes electrified), and even oboe. Most people develop proficiency with a tool and then only later discover the creative possibilities made possible by the skills they’ve acquired. All Fox turns this paradigm on its head and brings artifacts into being almost as an act of immaculate creation, inspired by nothing more than some whisper in the back of his thoughts that he’s then able to harness and make real. The result is not only praiseworthy but almost enviable. He’s currently working as part of a collective, inspired by the psychology of Jung and the poetry of Rumi. I’ve been sworn to secrecy on the details of the operation, but there are exciting things coming our way from All Fox, so stay tuned while he learns to move mountains. In the interim, you can download the complete album at BandCamp for $8, or save some dough and steal it from this artist-endorsed MediaFire link.
Fit to Advise
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem139/01 Fit to Advise.mp3
Engelhard Grocery 1997 Mamas Outta Stamps
https://ampeater.s3.amazonaws.com/aem139/02 Engelhard Grocery 1997 Mamas Outta Stamps.mp3