For a good stretch during the late ’80s/early ’90s, the John Terlesky-fronted, garage-rocking Original Sins were poised to be one of indie rock’s next big things. Despite a string of excellent LPs, that never happened for the pride of Bethlehem, Pa., who disbanded in 1999. Prior to the breakup, Terlesky started releasing more experimental records as Brother JT, and they, too, have been stellar. JT keeps his winning streak alive with the new Tornado Juice (Thrill Jockey), produced by Ray Ketchem (Luna, Okkervil River), who also manned the boards for 1996 Original Sins classic Bethlehem. The good Brother will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week, tornado juice not included.
JT: One of the fringe benefits of going into NYC to play (one of the few, come to think of it) used to be coming into the range of 91.1 on the FM dial and listening to the legendary WFMU. It somehow helped make tunnel traffic more bearable to hear an obscure Monkees track juxtaposed with a Senegalese folk song followed by some free jazz. (One time at the height of rush-hour stress mayhem, I remember Ray Stevens’ “Everything Is Beautiful” coming on at just the right moment and everyone in the car busting out laughing—it’s like they knew.) You knew you were going to hear stuff you’d never dreamed existed whenever you tuned in and always be a little wistful when driving out of range and the signal turned to static.
Of course in these days of streaming, you don’t have to be anywhere near Jersey City in order to enjoy the diverse offerings of America’s longest-running freeform radio station. There are any number of ways to access the station via its website or various apps or platforms or whatever the young’uns call it.
All I know is that I can tap my phone a few times and check out of the bland, risk-free Facebook feed that passes for reality for a while and re-experience the surprise of hearing something that jars my perspective on what music is or could be. That’s largely due to the fact that WFMU’s DJ staff is comprised of musical obsessives and collectors, folks whose lives revolve around finding the most obscure, challenging recordings possible and presenting them in a tasteful, intelligent manner. It’s like stumbling upon the weirdest jukebox in the world and some kindly, informative stranger is providing the quarters.
And sure, you can find just about anything on YouTube, but there’s a great difference between searching for songs consciously versus hearing something exceptional out of the blue, followed by another and another. It somehow adds to the experience that a real aficionado is offering this up to a fellow traveler down the foggy road of musical curiosity. In an era of timid media and dead ends, WMFU remains a welcome signpost for the truly adventurous.