FREE FORM The range of MV & EE recordings blurs the lines between live and studio, meandering freakouts and more conventional songs.
As fans recently remembered what would have been the 70th birthday of Jerry Garcia, less sympathetic bystanders might have experienced the lingering taste left by the Grateful Dead. Dancing bears and 20-minute pentatonic workouts by folks in dire need of a shower are now fair game for mockery. But what people don't often talk about (in the long list of things that the Dead don't get credit for) is the degree of facility with which they were able to take elements of contemporary avant-garde music and incorporate it into the folk vernacular of late-'60s albums like Anthem of the Sun
This connection would not be missed by married-couple Matt Valentine and Erika Elder, better known by their stage name MV & EE (picture these initials carved into an elm tree). The multi-instrumentalists met in the late '90s in Port Chester, New York, where Valentine was working with P.G. Six as a member of a lo-fi/experimental folk act called the Tower Recordings. By 2002, the two had relocated to the hinterlands of southern Vermont, where they found a deeper affinity with their home-style outlook on life and art.
"It's a pretty small community, but we have been really lucky because we have a lot of friends in that area," says Elder from the Dearborn, Michigan, porch of ambient duo Windy and Carl following a Detroit-area performance. Elder and Valentine have even formed musical connections with Western Mass legends like J Mascis and Thurston Moore (who has released several MV & EE albums on his own Ecstatic Peace! label). "It's really, really vibrant, and there is always stuff happening," says Elder of the southern Vermont/Western Mass area's laid-back, transient vibe. "There are always people playing, checking stuff out, and passing through."
Despite only releasing recordings for the past decade, Valentine and Elder have more than 30 items in their discography. Although only 10 or so represent "official" albums, most of MV & EE's releases have been live recordings (composites of their own recordings and audience recording — a nod to the Dead tradition) and self-releases on their Child of Microtones imprint. "The reason we release so much is because we work on it," says Valentine. "We're like blue-collar hollerers." As with many experimental artists who release items freely under their own mantle, the range of MV & EE recordings blurs the lines between live and studio, meandering freakouts and more conventional songs.
Their latest, Space Homestead (Woodsist), distills the sweet spots of Valentine and Elder's jams (he plays guitar, bass, and drums, while she plays electric mandolin and slide guitar) into a more song-based, cohesive format. The record also finds them moving more comfortably into an electric domain and away from the primitive pots-and-pans approach of their foundation. The results sound like a sunburnt spin on the lo-fi basement psych of Kurt Vile and mid-'70s Neil Young. Quite a leap from the outré sounds of La Monte Young and Sun Ra that are most likely to be filling the duo's ears on any given day.