Liner Notes by Steve Vai

Liner Notes
by Steve Vai
(excerpted from Vai’s extended essay)

can prepare you for this music,

including this intro. Nothing could have prepared me. Matt Resnicoff and producer Mike Keneally have done what so many set out to do but so few actually achieve: They created a unique piece of work.

There are very rare times in a music lover’s career when something they hear strikes a chord — music that is honest and matchless and unpredictable, whose unique melodic situations create a truly new experience. I had one of those moments listening to The History of Now. It gave me the same thrill as the first time I heard “The Adventures of Greggery Peccary” by Frank Zappa, Philosophy of the World by the Shaggs, Metal Fatigue by Allan Holdsworth, The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky, Atmosphéres by György Ligeti, Trout Mask Replica by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band and Bone Machine by Tom Waits. All these pieces took me by surprise and have provided comfort zones for me through my life.

But The History of Now defies convention more than any of the others. It’s as if Don Van Vliet were having a conversation with Andy Warhol at a party that John Cage was throwing for John McLaughlin.

For me, nothing scratches that musical itch more satisfyingly than the unexpected artistic creations of inspired musicians. On The History of Now, there were unanticipated delights in every breath. Every beat, chord and melody hammered away brutally at the neural pathways forged in my brain by my own traditionalist principles, leaving me in a flabbergasted tizzy of emancipation. It was a glorious crucifixion.

This entire record is the very natural and intimate expression of these two individuals. You hear their sense of humor in the melodies — which turn out to be artfully crafted orchestrations of stream-of-consciousness improvisations that could be executed only by musicians with the most elite ears and technique — but what you hear more than anything is that they don’t care what the rest of the world is doing or thinking. For the discerning listener, that makes The History of Now such a liberating experience. It is as independent as music can get.

Sonically, this record is gorgeous. There’s a hefty array of varying guitar tones and atmospheres. Compression and reverb are used gingerly to create an intimate listening experience, and the dryness gives the production a raw consistency and huge dynamic range. Each element occupies its own piece of property in the sonic spectrum, allowing every recorded sound an in-your-face laconic presence; the instruments sound like they’re right in your head.

With vicious un-convention, “Subvertigo” bathes you in lush, uncanny vocal scats that are marvelously schizophrenic. Frankly, it’s the kind of unexpected soundscape that I just can’t get enough of. The flowing freedom of “Which One” sounds like jazz on acid searching for its tonal center. “(Self)Hate Crimes” is a short fall into a deep abyss, while the freshness of the guitar soloing on “These Are How I Feel” gives the listener a sensation of boundary-less improvisational headroom. On occasion Matt can throw down some serious guitar-shredding shapes within the quasi-jazz phrasing he flirts with (for more on that, check out the outro of “Mr. Positive III”).

“Mr. Positive I” is a dizzying spin on an unkeyed merry-go-round, but gains a mercurial equilibrium as it segues into “Mannequin.” And just when you thought it was safe to get out of your spaceship, the vocal breakdown hits you over the head like Prince on psilocybin mushrooms. Such beautifully twisted vocal stacking is a treat.

“May I Gain” might be considered the “ballad” of the record — a love song that expresses the heartbreak of a terribly lost family of melodies seeking and pining for their modal home-sweet-home. “Internal Gratitude,” the album’s “inside” track, contains wave after wave of possessed vocal lushness. You can almost hear real words in this one! It creates a vivid, dreamlike headspace. Some might brush this off as, “I bet they were really stoned when they did this one”; maybe so. Who cares? Look what we got as a result of however they made this.

The harmonizational audacity of “The Quintuplets Are No Longer an Issue (Its Opposite Was Also True)” is as left-of-center as the title: courageous, unashamed and quite insane. Who can think up this stuff?! Resnicoff and Keneally, that’s the only who.

But my favorite track is possibly “Gauze Spellman,” perhaps the standout centerpiece of the record. It’s the quintessence of these gentlemen’s brazen offerings. At close to seven minutes, it contains a smattering of all their imaginative ingredients, coming from out of nowhere, artistically adorned in devil-may-care melodic disobedience.


For all of the above and more, I find this record to be brilliant – a milestone. Some inspired artists are considered to be ahead of their time, or just ahead of everyone else. This record sits comfortably just where and as what it is right now. Where the Velvet Underground were arguably the first alternative rock band, The History of Now poises itself to be the very first “ultralib” musical statement — “ultra” because it’s mega, and “lib” because it’s liberating in its creation and in its listening experience.

This record deserves a seat on the spaceship Voyager alongside the music of Beethoven, Chuck Berry and others to be sent beyond our solar system and on to the stars as part of a selection of samples of life on Earth.

Steve Vai