Friday, December 19, 2003

This will be my last post of the year. Mystical Beast will resume on January 3rd [make that the 5th - MB].

My best-read entry to date is the Magnetic Fields/Stephin Merritt one (scroll down to last Friday's entry if you came here looking for that). So I thought I'd end with a couple of Magnetic Fields related items. Distantly related, though. Linda Smith is a home recording artist who has a longtime affiliation of sorts with the Magnetic Fields. She's opened for them a few times, though not recently that I'm aware of. Here's her version of All The Umbrellas In London and here's one of her 4-track marvels Confidence, which is a fantastic song that someone really needs to cover as it's a little too good to be forgotten. I'm going to do a larger feature on her somewhere down the road as she still isn't as well known as she should be.

Finally, I wanted to go out on a louder note, so here's Coffee Cup Revisited by 18th Dye. 18th Dye were a very structured three-piece who released two albums and an ep of minimalist guitar rock with lots of dynamic shifts. Steve Albini, very appropriately, produced their last album. Oddly, they released Coffee Cup Revisited, probably their best song, on a vinyl 7" where it languished in relative obscurity until they finally put it on CD for a posthumous singles collection (which is still pretty's called Left if you're interested). I urge you to play this song loud.

Happy Holidays and see you next year.

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Hi, we're Beachbuggy and we've got a great idea. Everyone loves the Pixies and the Fall, so we're going to combine them (though lately we're leaning more towards the Pixies part of the equation). Here's Killer Bee, from our third album Killer-B, out in 2003. Too much Mark E. Smith in the vocals? Ok, here's Oh Wow! If that doesn't get the Pixies fans, I don't know what will. Hey, Pixies fans! Where are you? In Japan? Ok, we'll run a Radio Ad there, and then we'll be big stars!

Wednesday, December 17, 2003

(Had problems with Blogger this morning, so apologies for the delay.)

Dean Wareham, as you probably know, was in Galaxie 500 and then Luna (I’m sorry, but I cannot resist mentioning that Luna played at my wedding). A few years ago, Britta Phillips joined Luna as their bass player. Trivia about Britta that you may want to know: she was the voice for the cartoon character Jem, of Jem and the Holograms; she was in the movie Satisfaction with Justine Bateman; she used to play in a not-bad Breeders inspired band called Ultrababyfat. In 2003, she and Dean recorded an album called L’Avventura with production by Tony Visconti, which I liked despite the fact that it’s somewhat lightweight.

Subsequently, Sonic Boom (who used to be in Spacemen 3) re-mixed five tracks from L’Avventura, and the results were released as Sonic Souvenirs. His changes are pretty minor in some ways…if you haven’t heard L’Avventura in a while, you might not even realize that you’re hearing a different version. But a bit of echo here, an emphasized drone there, and suddenly the songs get a while lot more interesting. A good example is Knives From Bavaria, which is much creepier in the remixed version, which puts more emphasis on the croaky vocals. The original has a slight western feel (probably Lee Hazlewood inspired), which Sonic pretty much removes entirely.

Your Baby shows up twice. The first time out, there's a rainstorm in the background, keyboards to replace many of the original's guitars, and it loses its drums entirely. It’s a great song, but the original sounds like something a band might play to “slow things down a bit” at a dance, while the remix is gently trippy.

If I had to describe the changes generally, I’d say that Dean is trying to move towards Serge Gainsbourg/Lee Hazelwood and Sonic gently picks him up and moves him back towards his soft-psych roots. On Sonic's website, he mentions the possibility of working on a full album with Dean and Britta next year -- I'm in favor of this.

Monday, December 15, 2003

I spent today tearing down a plaster wall in my tenant's apartment, and I'm really tired and my back hurts, and I don't expect that I'll have the energy to get up early tomorrow and post. So I'm posting now. Here's Claudine Longet singing Wanderlove, which was written by Mason Williams. Her version is so much better than his that it's not even worth dwelling on the subject. I love this song because it sounds sad, and because it has a tricky meter, and I love songs that have tricky meters without screaming "I am in a tricky meter!"

My copy of Damon Albarn's "Democrazy" (I thought I'd canceled my order) (after finding out that it really stinks) arrived today, and you know what. It's utterly beautiful, with two perfect little 10" picture discs in this oddly designed gatefold sleeve. It looks fabulous on my shelf, which is where it's going to stay until I see it fetching millions on eBay (which will probably be never). In a strange way, I'm happy to own an object of such great beauty.

See you one Wednesday.

Glenn, of TWAS fame, has Big Country. I have Magic Dirt...

I wouldn't begin to argue that Magic Dirt are particularly innovative these days, or that they have great lyrics. And I'm definitely nervous about lead vocalist Adalita ever since she took singing lessons. They're not dumb enough to be plain dumb fun, and they're far from smart. Nonetheless, they keep filling my rawk requirements better than anyone else I know. Off the top of my head, I can't think of an American band that's started off in Sonic Youth/Stooges territory prior to top 40 success, which is part of what intrigues me about MD these days. Imagine if, say, Mudhoney had retained their early sound while learning to write radio-readys that were actually successful.

I just got the Aussie CD single for Plastic Loveless Letter from Magic Dirt's recent Tough Love album, and as usual with this band the b-sides (well, two of the three) are fantastic. The one that immediately knocked my socks off is Love Me which is Rolling Stones fake funk with fuzz vocals that ultimately evolves into a heavy metal sing-along. I doubt the joke is intentional, but the line that I'm hearing as "We're not the greatest pretenders in the world" is pretty funny given that the band's been taking heat as "a hard rock Pretenders" ever since their switch to a more accessible style an album ago. But maybe they're actually singing "Koala Vegemite Sydney or the Bush" in which case my theory is wrong.

I don't generally (i.e. almost never) flip over rap/hip-hop, but I can't seem to stop playing Lactose and Lecithin by MF Doom from this year's Viktor Vaughn Vaudeville Villain CD. Here's what I like about it:

1. It's like a compressed screenplay for some sci-fi/ghetto flick to be produced by Tarantino (Oh, god, that sounds awful -- forget I said that).

2. It's probably the best song-to-listen-to-on-the-subway that I've heard this year -- I think the backing track reminds me of Space Mountain.

3. The songs on the record are linked together by cartoon samples (Doom did this on Operation Doomsday as well) and I think it's a gimmick that has a surprisingly long shelf-life.

4. Not to get all English teacher, but it's pretty neat the way Doom flips from 3rd to 1st person and past to present tense in the blink of an eye.

5. Finally, it's actually kind of amazing how much narrative gets crammed into the track in just over two minutes.

Tomorrow I'll probably get all twee, just for balance.

Friday, December 12, 2003

A long time ago, I went to a bar with a friend of mine and Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields (or Stephin Magnetic Fields, as chickfactor would have put it) was there. He knew my friend, and we all ended up drinking together. Stephin drank a lot. At one point, he ordered a round of cheez doodles for the bar, shouting "Cheez Doodles all around!" to the bartender. I usually try not to talk about music with musicians, but somehow that's where the topic wound up. Stephin decided to write out his list of the most essential recordings of all time, the ones that every aspiring musician should know. The only paper available was the backs of postcards which advertised an upcoming DJ party called "Rebel Rebel." The other day I was cleaning my basement and I found the postcards. And here they are.

(I hope these are legible on your screen.)

Here's the Magnetic Fields' version of Heroes.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

This is a relatively new blog, so I thought I'd post a few things about me (there are some mp3s on this page, so don't despair). Here are the eleven albums that I probably play the most, just to give a broad idea of what I like. Clearly I went to college during the indie-rock glory years. This is in no order, and is only intended to help you decide if our tastes coincide at all.

1. Liz Phair by Liz Phair

I kid.

1. Cannibalism 1 by Can
2. Friends In Danger by Magic Dirt
3. 24 Days at Catastrofe Cafe by The Nightblooms
4. Tales of Great Neck Glory by Sammy
5. Interbabe Concern by The Loud Family
6. Struggling Electric and Chemical by The Dustdevils
7. Playing With Fire by Spacemen 3
8. The Real Great Escape by Larry Coryell
9. Ram by Paul McCartney
10. Sort Of by Slapp Happy
11. Feel Good Now by Swans

That should be enough to go on for now.

The band Television are in the news lately what with this being reissued and that being reissued and new releases of old live things. So I thought that today I'd feature bands with lead singers who sound kind of like Tom Verlaine. First is Earth Opera, who predate Television. They were on Elektra (by the way, good lord was Elektra ever a cool label at one point!) and released their first, self-titled album in 1968. This is my favorite song from it, Time and Again, which features a couple of neat guitar solos that I wish were mixed louder. I have a feeling it might be better in mono [hmmm...not sure if it was ever released in mono]. The CD version was put out by Wounded Bird Records in 2001.

Second up is a song that I went all obsessive over last year by Black Lipstick (yet another Black ----- band to remember) and it's called White Jazz. I think it steals pretty blatantly from Eno, VU, Pavement and Television, but I love it all the more for its brazenness. I keep trying to fall equally in love with their subsequent album Converted Thieves, but just can't work up the same level of enthusiasm.

Ever wonder what Stephin Merritt's favorite albums are? If I can get some graphics to work correctly, you'll find out tomorrow.

Trivia note at the end of the post: the Nightblooms album is "24 Days at Catastrofe..." not "Catastrophe" like has it. I mention this because allmusic also claims that the first Nightblooms album is live, which it isn't really (it was recorded live in the studio with backing vocals added later...just like billions of other albums). And I mention this because it's annoying because it makes it very hard to do google searches for actual live Nightblooms recordings (there's at least one that I know of). It's really amazing how pervasive mistakes can be now that everyone gets their info from the same one or two sources. Hopefully my blog will be perfect in every way, but I apologize now for anything I may screw up in the future.

Wednesday, December 10, 2003

Music is full of paths not explored, and it's occasionally fun to think about what if's. Among my favorites are what if David Gedge hadn't found that Pavement single [I received a comment indicating that he didn' was one of the other Wedding Present folk -- MB 1/1/04], what if the Daughters of Albion had released more than one album, what if VS-880's had existed when Linda Smith started recording, what if Beat Happening hadn't ruined music for our entire generation and so on.

One really big one is what if Sonic Youth had made a less drastic change between their self-titled ep and Kill Yr Idols/Confusion is Sex. When I bought the Sonic Youth ep, I think in '87, it was a huge disappointment to me, as it probably was to many young fans who discovered the band post-Confusion. But as years and years and years go by (and it annoyingly remains out of print) I'm finding that the ep is becoming, if not my favorite release by Sonic Youth, at least the one I reach for most often. Sure it's not groundbreaking in the same way that their next few albums would be, but it's got a nice rigid formalism that sits well with current musical trends: it sounds very "now," surprisingly. And, because it lacks the pop-culture references that pervade much of the rest of their work, it hasn't dated conceptually. The recording quality is great, and I'll honestly take Richard Edson (or almost anyone else) over Steve Shelley as a drummer. Yes, Kim does look awfully dowdy on the cover, but that's not enough reason to keep it on the shelf. And it still commands a decent price on eBay, so someone still wants it. They ought to just reissue it as a limited edition or something.

I guess at some point Sonic Youth had to decide if they were going to be downtown composers or a rawk band, and they chose the latter. Had they not, would Nirvana have ever broken big? Would Kim Fowley be even less well known? Would Sassy magazine have been less sassy? The mind boggles. Here's the last track from the ep, The Good and The Bad, which really gets hypnotic at a certain point. And here's I Dreamed I Dream, which is the only song that I liked when I first bought the ep.

Hey, the guy from Flying Saucer Attack has a newish album (a collaboration) out!! I didn't know that. It's so hard to keep track of everything. MP3 (not full length) samples can be found via the link.

A request: can anyone provide me with a link to a Sasha Frere-Jones review of Liz Phair's newest? [He finally did post an explanation of sorts on his weblog for ranking this #1 of the year, but it basically amounted to 1. lists are political and 2. he listened to it a lot, partly due to his wife liking it. Sigh. -- MB 1/31/03]

Tuesday, December 09, 2003

Yesterday I mentioned the Wombles, and it dawns on my that some of my domestic readers might not know who/what that is. The long answer can be googled, but the short answer is: large fuzzy creatures who picked up trash and sang fantastic songs on a children's television show in England. Some semi-famous people lurked behind the Wombles, but you can find out everything I know via the usual channels (allmusic, google) in a couple of clicks.

Since we're approaching Christmas, here's the inevitable Wombling Merry Christmas (far superior to I Wish It Could Be A Wombling Merry Christmas Every Day). Here's a Womble song to help remind you of sunnier days, called Non Stop Wombling Summer Party. And here's my favorite Womble song, Invitation To The Ping Pong Ball, one of a small number of Womble songs that don't have the word "Womble" in the title. There's a great CD compilation on Dramatico records that collects 35 songs and two videos on two CDs, but I'm not sure if it's still in print.

(Hey, that Wellington Womble plays a mean guitar. He could really have a career ahead of him!)

Monday, December 08, 2003

For the past eleven years or so, Holy Cow has managed to remain somewhat under the radar despite being possibly the best record store in New York City. Part of this is due to their location in Park Slope, which stopped being a hip neighborhood quite some time ago. Part of it has to do with the store's idiosyncrasies. Kenny, who used to work at the counter (he once won a Village Voice award as Best Sidekick), loved discussing his poodles but didn't want to hear a word about that cool new CD you were buying. There seemed to be hiding places all over the store: boxes that were off-limits, stacks of records that weren't for sale. Holy Cow didn't push any particular musical genre. Its collection of new releases could seem completely random, with Opeth sitting next to Madonna, which surely confused casual shoppers.

There are two reasons why Holy Cow is great. One, its owner is older and used to work in the music business way back when, and has an astoundingly deep knowledge of a truly wide variety of music (and a tendency to be thankfully ignorant about the kind of ephemeral crap that Other Music gets all ga-ga over). I've really learned a lot from talking with the guy. Two, there are a ton of semi-poor musicians living in (or gradually being gentrified out of) Park Slope and Holy Cow has been the only viable place for them to sell their records. You might not notice this after one or two visits, but I used to work nearby and would check in every day at lunch. And, over time, pretty much every cool CD/Record you could imagine would eventually show up there. Metal Box? Yes. Slapp Happy's "Sort Of" (long before the CD reissue)? Yup. Wombles albums? He had 'em. And usually at non-collector prices, since he wanted to be a "neighborhood" store. Several times I made him raise his price when he was seriously undercharging. He knew what things were worth, but couldn't be bothered to gouge people. And that is truly rare these days.

The reason I mention all this is that Holy Cow will be closing in early January, which is very sad. I believe that they'll still be doing mail order via Gemm, but the store was a real oasis in Park Slope and will be missed. Right now, a major sale is going on as they try to reduce stock before the move. So here's some of what I found in the fifty-cent bin. First, Paris Green is on John Cunningham's lovely CD Bringing In The Blue. His newer stuff is very Paul McCartneyish, but he seems to have had a dreamy Pink Floyd influence way back when. Sorry for the large download size, but this is such a wonderful, floaty song! To counteract its mellowness, here's The New Potatoes by Denim, one of the more interesting irritating songs I've ever heard. Kind of amazing to think that Lawrence, the prime mover behind Denim, used to be in Felt. The album it's from Novelty Rock, manages to be annoying in so many different ways...I'm just loving it! Here's Tampax Advert from the same CD.

Friday, December 05, 2003

I was going to do my "greatest hits" today, based on google searches that brought people to Mystical Beast. Unfortunately, I didn't have time to re-rip that US Maple song to mp3, and I couldn't find my tape of Gary Peacock and Paris Hilton (either there was a jazz concert at a hotel in France, or Paris is really getting around), so I'm postponing it till next week. In the meantime, here are two tracks from the long-delayed, due next year but don't hold your breath Joy Zipper album American Whip. (I wonder if it's finally coming out because Tabitha has run out of promo copies to sell on eBay.) First song is the best My Bloody Valentine song we're likely to hear in 2004, Baby You Should Know. Did I mention that Kevin Shields produced much of American Whip? Second song is the one that everyone's going to be talking about, though I heard that they had to change the backing tape of Alzheimers patients forgetting things. How sad/creepy that song is!!

So, remember when iPods were sort of new and people with white earphones would give nods of recognition to each other? I was on the subway yesterday, and it was totally packed. It stopped at Bergen Street and I felt this tapping on my shoulder, and thought someone wanted to get by. I looked up and this guy who was getting off the subway pointed to his earphones, one red and one blue, and gave me a smile and a thumbs up. For I too had the red and blue earphones that mark one as a happy etymotic customer. I will never turn this blog into an infomercial, but I tell you now that despite their ridiculous price, the etymotic earphones are the best money you will ever spend on a piece of audio equipment. Go to the site. Laugh at me for being foolish enough to spend that much on a stupid pair of earphones. But know that somewhere out there, there are other red/blue converts, and we have achieved a special joy that you will never know.

Thursday, December 04, 2003

I haven't yet found a complete explanation (other than being Canadian) for why Lilith Fair youngsters Tegan & Sara decided to hook up with a New Pornographers-related production team, but this decision has put me in the position of loving a decidedly uncool album. I think some "before and after" is in order. This is Tegan & Sara on their very first album Under Feet Like Ours performing Freedom (feel free not to listen to the whole song) and this is how they come roaring out of the box on If It Was You which was rereleased in the US in 2003 with one bonus track and some video stuff. I say, just paste Neko Case in there and you've got a New Pornographers song (albeit a slightly straightforward one).

This is also from the new album, and if that electric guitar and keyboards aren't a Brian Eno/Robert Fripp homage then I don't know what is. This CD sounds incredible on headphones...why don't the New Pornographers have such great sounding records???

Ok, granted Tegan (pronounced Tee-g'n) and Sara have a few remnants of their Ani DiFranco phase to lose, but they're still young. I'm honestly excited about what they could come up with if they continue in this new direction. And (more honesty) If It Was You is unexpectedly turning out to be one of my favorite CDs of 2003. Between the production and the sequencing (it's a very well sequenced record with a lot of variety) I'm having no problem dealing with the Ani tics that I don't like. (The video bonuses are actually pretty interesting as they include two home-movie type documentaries of some pretty shoestring budget tours...I was reminded of the punk documentary Another State of Mind a few times.)

Wednesday, December 03, 2003

One thing I haven't quite understood this year is why the San Francisco band Deerhoof seem to be getting much better reviews and much more word of mouth than the UK band KaitO. Both have squeaky voiced female lead singers, stop-start tempo changes, quick swings in dynamics, and melodies lurking under much noise. With geographical appropriateness, Deerhoof go for a looser, almost Thinking Fellers Union Local feel while KaitO stick closer to the more tightly-wound English post-punk of the 80's (no saxophone though). Being a more tightly-wound type of person, I side with KaitO in a big way. (By the way, I kept thinking that KaitO sounded like Liliput, and in fact I was going to post their song side by side with Liliput's Split today, but they actually don't sound as alike as I'd imagined, though I still think there's some conceptual similarity.) Anyway, KaitO's 2003 release Band Red is headed straight for my top 10 of the year and, um, Deerhoof's 2003 release Apple O' is sitting on the shelf with other items of middling interest. Here's a side by side comparison, first Deerhoof with Dummy Discards A Heart which is one of the most focused songs on the album, then KaitO with Should I. To my ears, Deerhoof can be a little precious while KaitO (not unlike the Clinic) have one or two strong ideas behind every moment of every song. And I have to admit that Deerhoof's lead singer's little whimsical Japanese girl schtick (not as apparent on the above song) gets on my nerves very quickly. At least Nikki Colk from KaitO just babbles when she's not shrieking.

There's a video for the KaitO song here (it's pretty minimal, but it works 'cause the song is so arresting) and this is their website where a few of the links actually work. I think that the funny capitalization was to distinguish them from the electronica Kaito. They also go by Kaito UK at times...I think that's how they're known in the US these days. KaitO's first album You've Seen Us...You Must Have Seen Us is kind of hard to find, in my experience, but it's also really great. Here's Go from that one.

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

I was very happy last year when several members of my beloved Nightblooms reunited as Safe Home. Their CD You Can't Undo What's Already Undid sounds a lot like the Nightblooms in their quiet mode (e.g. Sweet Rescue or He's Dead). Today seems like an appropriate time to present Birthday by Safe Home.

Monday, December 01, 2003

Shack very quietly released an album this year called Here's Tom With The Weather. The story of the band is long and sad, and you can probably get most of the details on their website if you're interested. Initially I was underwhelmed by the CD, which is full of midtempo songs anchored by acoustic guitars. Over time, it's grown on me a lot, and seems to be the record I reach for when I want something soothing on a grey or rainy day. At first, the only track that stood out for me was Chinatown, which is (believe it or not) fairly uptempo, but I'm realizing that this is a deceptively strong record. Put it in shuffle mode with something livelier to break it up (like Shack's previous record H.M.S. Fable, for example) and you'll find that there's not a weak song on it.

This year also saw the release of the H.M.S. Fable Sessions, which apparently includes different mixes of the Fable tracks, as well as the exceptionally strong b-sides to that album's singles. I've held off buying it, as I've heard that it's very similar to the original and I had bought all the singles when they came out, but I'll probably get around to it at some point. Anyone who didn't buy the singles should definitely check it out, as you can construct a really strong full-length album from Fable's b-sides. Here's 24 Hours which appeared on the Comedy single.

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