Modern Folk Liner Notes

Primitive Future II (by Jason Woodbury)

When J. Moss looks toward the future, he can’t help but glimpse something that looks more like the past. A William Blake quote from "Proverbs of Hell” rests in the liner notes of Primitive Future II, his latest album under The Modern Folk banner: “What is now proved was once only imagin’d.” Here, Moss lets loose his cosmic imagination, conjuring from dazed daydreams Music from the Big Blink, pastoral guitar soli and drifting electric surf ragas for a coming epoch in which old growth forests reclaim human developments, a big shudder shuts online all the way off, and unnamed creatures return to roam in plain view. There has always been a streak of absurdist humor to Moss’ work as The Modern Folk, which has since 2008 served as a repository for his field recordings, Tascam sketches, far out noise, and improvised jams. But as fresh new apocalyptic conditions continue to mount, it’s hard not to wonder if he’s on to something: Is it future or is it past? At what point does it become impossible to say?

Despite its sequel status—the album picks up where 2021’s Primitive Future/Lyran Group tape on Eiderdown Records left off—PFII provides a perfect jump on point for The Modern Folk’s discography. Like its predecessor, the album is halved: the A-side finds Moss evoking Takoma school acoustic reveries; the B-side features his Modern Folk Trio Band (Remi Lew, Austin Richards, and Zach Barbery) zonked out like the Ventures lost in space, peels of reverb drenched electric guitar drifting over tic-tac bass and hypno-rhythms. Drawing inspiration from John Fahey—whose folkloric tendencies and restless creativity encompassed everything from folk-blues to scarred earth noise—and favorite artists like Alex Chilton, Jerry Garcia, and Nina Simone, Moss prioritizes feel and raw expression over technical grace. Which isn’t to say that he isn’t a gifted guitarist, as evidenced by the lull of his gentle finger-picked odes to domesticity and fungi and the expansive interplay of the album’s second side.

Originally released on the The Modern Folk’s densely populated Bandcamp page, PFII has been re-sequenced and edited for vinyl release on Charlottesville, Virginia’s WarHen Records. The album is housed in a screen-printed jacket featuring art by Modern Folk alumni C. Foster-Baril, who adorns the cover and liner notes with esoteric images: suns smiling, burning candles, coiled snakes, a boxy old computer. One inscription reads: What would you play on guitar if the power went out and you knew it was never going to come back on? Another wonders what you would play “if everything lit up and you knew it was never going to go dim?”

When we conceive of other times, be they long gone or still to come, we are imagining. But not merely imagining. Moss understands this, and his riffy, dark comedy visions of what lies ahead (and behind) center on the multiple meanings implied by most all of the words we use to describe the world around us. What we call “modern” is an assemblage built from antique sources. What is called “primitive” could be just as easily understood as “elemental.” Largely operating outside of the music industry paradigm, Moss and The Modern Folk suggest another lane to be carved, one overgrown with huckleberry and crowded with mushrooms. In these songs there are spiritual lawns to be mowed, jokes to be retold until they land, hauntings and possessions by mysterious forces nonetheless at work in our desacralized age. To echo Blake once again: “The best wine is the oldest, the best water the newest.” The Modern Folk have returned with an overfilled Thirst Buster of each: drink up, good buddy. - Jason Woodbury, August 2021

Modern Folk One (by Jen Powers)

Modern Folk One is quite the apt title for this beautiful, sonic tidepool offering from Josh Moss. While it’s hardly the first album he’s released under The Modern Folk moniker, these four pieces are struck through with the same spirit of freshness that makes a daily occurrence like the sunrise so endlessly enchanting.

What makes perpetual miraculousness possible is simplicity, steady, gentle assurance, and the will to allow oneself to be astonished by the loveliness of the mundane. You awaken and turn to the window, you see the horizon the same way you’ve often seen it before, you stretch the muscles that have carried you your whole life, and you decide to take a walk down the street you’ve known for years, maybe decades, because there’s always something waiting to be witnessed along the path.

A patch of your neighbor’s grass has been squashed by a sleeping animal sometime in the night; the sun is catching the dogwood blooms at the corner in sweetly flaming bubbles of light; your best friend’s old house down the block has caught a new coat of vivid, shining paint, so effortlessly, nearly terrifyingly beguiling that you’re halfway home before you realize how many moments you’ve just relived by imagining yourself back inside those walls again.

And now, reentering your body as it is today, breathing the morning air as it is today, you can jot a few more lines in the Notebook of Common Miracles you keep handy in your mind. So many days feel just the same, and yet all of them are brand new.

“Modern Folk One” is a loving letter from father to daughter. Her heart beats strongly beneath the sheafs of melody and natural sounds that he wields, the wordless manipulations of instrumentation that fall onto each other in a meandering cycle, repetitively, satisfyingly, like the pages of a well-loved book as it’s returned to its place on the favored shelf. It is well-loved because it is familiar, reassuring, and yet it reads brilliantly differently every time. “Modern Folk One” is a loving and honest letter from father to daughter about the perpetual miraculousness of life. - Jen Powers, April 2022

Always Be Recording (by Joel Berk)

Always Be Recording could be considered the central mantra of J Moss’s entire The Modern Folk concept – at this point as much  a way of life as a borderless musical collective. The Modern Folk, as an ethos, is all encompassing and strives to present folk  music as a vibrant, living thing. What is “folk music” if not music made by folks? Anything is folk music. Everything is folk music.  The Modern Folk.

When you’re always documenting life, as Moss is, it’s surprisingly easy to forget about the mics and really lean in…which is  exactly what The Modern Folk Trio Band, a quintet, does here. This is music for its own sake, in its purest raw form – direct from  the collective subconscious to your skulls. Always Be Recording is what happens when a group of friends and listeners get together to instinctually make sound because that’s what they do.

Over the course of two longform excursions separated by a brief, contemplative solo piece, Moss & co dive right into the deep end. No beginnings, no middles, no ends, just two glimpses into zones that feel eternal. Two peeks into the infinite, which luckily for us were documented. Always Be Recording. - Joel Berk, June 2022

Modern Folk in 2023 - Where Are We - by Moses Alexander

*** This post is by guest author Moses Alexander***

The car is on fire and there’s no driver at the wheel…

     That's a hard truth metaphor for hard times. In our post 9/11 and (at the time of writing, hopefully) post-Trump world, very few lyrics or sound bites have felt more prescient than that one from Godspeed You! Black Emperor's “The Dead Flag Blues" from 1997. 25+ years later and things are eroding at a rapidly accelerating rate. The Modern Folk similarly sounds the alarm about the world we live in.

     When we think of "folk" we often think of compositions that are “anonymous” or “of the people” or that, at the very least, speak to the souls of the everyday person. Music that seeks to understand the travails of the common man and to comfort him. We also identify it with a style of sorts...people strumming acoustic guitars with clever and/or political lyrics. That's certainly part of its history too, but the thread that connects The Modern Folk back to Woody Guthrie and even those that came before him is less about down home strumming and more about operating the machinery that kills fascism.

     It doesn't matter if you have a guitar or a synthesizer or a mash-up of spoken word over field recordings of seagulls and waves rolling in. It's not what you possess. It's your intent. We're talking about creating a world without COOL GUY BULLSHIT. We're talking about ushering in a FUTURE WITHOUT CAPITAL. We're talking about recognizing that BORDERS ARE VIOLENCE. The world is waking up to the fact that CAPITALISM IS THE MOST DESTRUCTIVE RELIGION. Until we wake up to all of this and decide to take action against it, we're stuck in a sort of DEATH CULT BLUES.

     And if that all sounds bleak, well, just have a look around, things are bad right now man. Real bad. Minimum wage hasn't gone up since 2009, but the richest people's wealth increased by tens or hundreds of billions during the pandemic. Our politicians and judges are often purchased by the highest bidders, who tend to be malevolent sycophant ideologues with no souls and somehow even less brains. Elon and Zuck, two of the richest men in the world, technocrats who've rooked us all into turning ourselves into content farmers for their enrichment, are currently discussing physically fighting one another with the bout to be aired on their respective platforms enriching themselves further in the end. COOL GUY BULLSHIT turns into rich guy bullshit.

     We're all circling the bowl of this idiocracy in one way or another, but where does this leave us, the modern folk? You can despair. That's certainly an option. You can cave to nihilism. You can participate in the cruelty, but that just makes you, a temporarily embarrassed millionaire, the worst kind of traitor. Reject despair. Reject nihilism. Reject cruelty.

     l once had a labor organizer ask me what political party I aligned with and I've never felt at ease with putting myself entirely in a neat little box like that. I looked at him and said, "I align with love.” You can say that’s corny or whatever, but love and sincerity is the only way forward and Josh Moss has love and sincerity in spades. I think that’s all that we, the modern folk, can do these days to make the world into the one we want it to become. The one it has the potential to become. There will still be hard times and malevolent forces to fight against, but you can be guided by love. Love your family. Love your neighbor. Love your community. WHAT YOU HAVE DOESN’T MATTER. Who you ARE does matter.

- Moses Alexander, Alabama, 2023

12 Favorite Guitarists

Twelve favorite guitarists - those I’ve listened to most and who have influenced me the most in my approach towards expressing myself through guitar

Jerry Garcia

Sonny Sharrock

Neil Young

John Fahey

Link Wray

Tom Verlaine

Maybelle Carter

Robert Quine

Alex Chilton

D Boon

Elizabeth Cotten

Robbie Robertson

The Modern Folk Bingo Card

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American Primitive Guitar Bingo Card