Wednesday, March 31, 2004

 
Hi, I'm back.

So, yesterday I was posting about classic rock and about a band on the Elektra label, and that seems like the perfect intro to John Kongos.

In keeping with my laziness of late, I refer you here to read all about him. I first discovered him thanks (yet again) to my rule about buying any record that came out between 68-72 by an artist I've never heard of, and especially if the cover art is interesting. Kongos qualifies:



Although then I looked at the back cover and had some doubts (something about a silly general apprehension about musicians with beards):



...but in the end I bought it.

English people may be more familiar with him because the Happy Mondays covered two of his songs during their heyday. I've kind of gone back and forth about whether to post one of their versions ('cause I really don't like them) but I guess it won't destroy the world if I do. Here's their take on He's Gonna Step on You Again, but maybe you should wait until you've heard the original before listening.

The Kongos album is kind of strange because two of the songs (He's Gonna Step on You Again and Tokoloshe Man) have completely different production than the rest of the album. Here's Tokoloshe Man (this is the single version) and here's the oft-anthologized He's Gonna Step on You Again. Both are pretty brilliant mixes of glam-rock and tribal drums, with amazing production through and through.

What's strange is that the rest of the album basically sounds like a cross between Billy Joel and Elton John. This isn't necessarily a bad thing (I probably like Billy Joel more than you'd expect) but it means you sort of have to change ears after the first song (Tokoloshe Man) and then before the last song (He's Gonna...). A few other tracks do go uptempo, and inevitably they're my favorite songs on the record. Here's Come On Down Jesus, as an example. I keep thinking that, at least in the beginning, this sounds like it could have appeared on the Velvet Underground's Loaded album. Note the extra production touches that start at about 1 minute 55 seconds into the song, that really push it over the top.

I'm not including any of John Kongos' previous songs today. There is a CD collecting them, but none of them really knock me out. Maybe tomorrow I'll post one of the better ones, just so you can hear an example and decide if you want to shell out for the collection.

I was going to include a photo of Kongos' inner sleeve, which lists all of the then-current Elektra artists, but the type is too small to really reproduce. I just want to say (again): what a cool (and varied) roster they had! Josh Rifkin's The Baroque Beatles (my classical music-loving dad loves this), Earth Opera, Incredible String Band, Love, MC5, Nico, The Stooges, etc. All being bankrolled by the Doors, I guess.

(Incidentally, the Happy Mondays were supposed to play at my college at one point, but apparently their rider involved sending them a bus full of freshman girls smeared with ecstacy, or something like that, so the show was canceled. We got the Village People instead. In retrospect, we probably got lucky.)

 
I have to go get a kitten fixed (how's that for an excuse) so today's posting won't be up till around noon, but it's a pretty good one.

Meanwhile, I just wanted to say that I finally downloaded the ogg encoder/player for Windows that Classical Gasp links to, and it's so much fun! You drop the little ogg file onto a little fish who spins around and around while decoding it, until he (I think the fish is a he) produces a wave file (the fish can also just play the song if you wish). I don't actually care much about the file sizes of songs that I download (I have Optimum Online, which means I can download the contents of the entire Universe in about twenty seconds) but ogg's do sound better at a smaller file size, which is a nice thing for people with dial up. And that little fish is really cool!

See you later today.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

 
So, the reissue of Fleetwood Mac's Tusk does sound pretty good, but I wouldn't say that any of the bonus tracks on the extra disk are life-changing (though some are interesting). The album of theirs that I'd most like to see reissued with bonus stuff is their 1972 release Bare Trees. This is the first Fleetwood Mac that really sounds like what the band would eventually become, which is kind of interesting because it's dominated by Danny Kirwan who didn't appear on any subsequent albums. His story is pretty sad, and you can read about it here.

Bare Trees features the original version of Bob Welch's Sentimental Lady (which is better than the rerecorded version that became a hit) and Christine McVie's Spare Me a Little of Your Love (which sounds very... Fleetwood Mac-y, in a good way). But it's really Danny's songs that make the album for me. Here's Danny's Chant, which has an extremely cool intro, and then turns into something that sounds an awful lot like early Bongwater. And here's Dust, which is (in my opinion of course) the best thing ever to come out of Fleetwood Mac. It's got an amazing chord progression, and a real sense of melancholy that fits very well with the cover photo of leafless (or, um, bare) trees on a grey day. And speaking of grey days, here's the odd little vocal bit that ends the album -- strange, right? Listen closely for the husband (?) who pipes up near the end. I grew up listening to the slick Fleetwood Mac that I heard on the radio and found out about their Peter Green days somewhat later, but this was the first album of theirs that I really connected with. Just in case you didn't click the link about Danny Kirwan, I'll briefly summarize: he lost it mentally while touring for this album and got kicked out of the band, ending up homeless at one point, and ultimately in an institution. End result: Fleetwood Mac don't have another album that sounds like Bare Trees. In a way, it's their Wowee Zowee: a transitional album that's often the favorite of longtime fans.

I must be in a classic rock mood lately, because the other album that I've been listening to a lot is Jennyanykind's Revelater. Jennyanykind were initially a very indie-shoegazer type group with three nondescript releases who, seemingly overnight, turned into Bob Dylan with the Band. They had one album (Revelater) on a major label (Elektra) which seemed to be a cut-out from day one. I've always liked it a lot, which is odd because I don't particularly like Bob Dylan or the Band. (I note that Largehearted Boy had all sorts of Dylan links the other day...maybe there's something in the air.) [Right after posting, I note that Anthony is Right features Dylan today...definitely something in the air.] I have trouble picking favorites, as the whole CD is very strong, but I guess I lean towards the rave-ups. Here's Every Executioner Has a Song and here's You Better Get Right With God. After Revelater, they lost their major label contract, and I assumed that they'd disappeared until I found their self-released album Big Johns. It's much more stripped down than Revelater, and I lost interest and just assumed that they'd eventually fade away. Then, when I checked their website the other day I noticed that they've kept on putting out albums. They have mp3's of a few of their albums up on the website (be patient, they seem to download slowly), and the songs from I Need You sound very much like the Revelater stuff. I guess you really need to keep an eye on these guys. BTW, here's an absolutely inept Pitchfork review of Revelater that struck me as kind of funny (there are all of these old, very half-assed reviews still kicking around the Pitchfork site from their early days).

Monday, March 29, 2004

 
Lazy

Didn't get up in time yesterday to see Dig! (the Brian Jonestown Massacre/Dandy Warhols movie) at the Gramercy Theater, so I'll have to wait like everyone else. Here's my favorite Dandy Warhols song (I love that they put the drums in one speaker) and here's my favorite BJM song which is the rare BJM track that actually does what I think they should be doing (as opposed to their millions of tracks that start with an idea of mixing Velvet Underground/Rolling Stones/Spacemen 3, but then fail to come up with any other reason for being.)

I did pay a visit to Rockit Scientist on Carmine Street. Their moving date is next week. Annoying, as I don't get over to the East Village much (their new home will be on that block on St. Marks Place), although I do love the Takoyaki stand on 9th Street. I bought the Fleetwood Mac reissue of Tusk that came out recently, mostly because I was curious about the bonus tracks. I'll report back if I discover anything interesting that every other music site on the internet hasn't discovered.

Did stop in at Rocks In Your Head and finally heard the new Electrelane album. I think I may like it slightly more than the other people who've reviewed it, but it'll take a while to know for sure. They're playing in NYC/Brooklyn in a week and I may have to check them out. Fluxblog has previously posted tracks from The Power Out, so I won't unless I find some compelling reason to duplicate his efforts.

Last week, when I was doing my theme, I excluded singles. If I hadn't, I probably would have posted the Jesus and Mary Chain's version of Syd Barrett's Vegetable Man (turn up the volume, if you please). The J&MC have how many compilations? And this is still only (legitimately) available as the b-side to their Upside Down single. It's probably my favorite version of the song.

I keep hoping that the band Elf Power will come out with a great album someday, because it's always fun when bands with terrible names do that. They have a new album this year called Walking With the Begger Boys and you can listen to some tracks from it here. I just don't hear any evidence that they're ever going to transcend what they are (basically slightly above-average songwriting with generic singing and sound and lyrics) which means that, in my mind, they reside in the Butterglory wing of the music museum of occasionally diverting but ultimately unsatisfying indie rock bands. The one release of theirs that I kind of like is the covers collection Come On (later expanded under a different name). It's not that they improve the songs they're covering, but it's an interesting selection of songs competently done. Also, a mix of the original tracks might sound weird, due to the vastly different production styles, so having them all together with basically similar performances does actually acheive something. To go with the J&MC b-side, here's a cover of the a-side, Upside Down.

A new music file blog (can't call it an mp3 blog, as this is a blog floggin' OGG) seems to have appeared here. It's always hard to tell after a few posts, but I get a good feeling, assuming they can get people to download ogg files (I had a total lack of success here with AAC, but I too am intrigued by those teeny little ogg files).

Friday, March 26, 2004

 
Ok, part of today's posting is just horrible sound quality. I mean horrible beyond your wildest dreams...purely of historical interest. But it's not a bootleg. It's Teenbeat #41 (I should probably mention that if Mark Robinson used a kleenex, he probably assigned it a Teenbeat catalog number) which is a cassette-only release documenting a live show that Unrest did with the Dustdevils in Washington DC in 1990. If you've been reading Mystical Beast for a while, you're aware that I have a special love for the Dustdevils. And, if you're a fan of the Dustdevils, you've probably discovered that getting any info on their discography is a royal pain in the ass. Allmusic is useless: don't even bother.

Things got better when Badaboom Gramophone published their "bands not in the Trouser Press Guide guide" issue a while ago, and subsequently Trouser Press adopted Jordan Mamone's excellent article on the Dustdevils, which makes things a lot easier. There are two releases not mentioned, though it's really no big loss in the grand scheme of things. One is the track from Hippy Porn that I mentioned the other day, and the other is the live tape.

Anyway, I'm relatively thrilled to have finally scored a copy of this. I had pretty much despaired of ever tracking it down...I once wrote to Mark Robinson to ask if he had a copy, and he replied (very quickly and very nicely, I might add) that as far as he knew, only a handful of copies were made and that he didn't have any. What's nice about the tape is that it confirms that the Dustdevils could do their songs live to sound a lot like the studio versions, which is something I'd always wondered about. When you have a band that uses so much feedback and noise as building blocks, it's only logical to expect that they won't be able to perform songs the same way twice. Hearing this makes me even sadder that I never got to see them live. (I always bring this up when I mention the Dustdevils: Pavement fans might be interested to know that this was Mark Ibold's gig before he became a big star.)

If you've never heard anything by them before, this is absolutely not the place to start. Just to keep today from being a total washout, I'm going to include the studio version of Neck Surfing (from the absolutely essential Struggling Electric & Chemical) as well as this version from the tape. (Did I mention the horrible sound quality? Really, I'm not kidding. Dial-up people: don't waste your time!) Just so you know, what I'm posting is an mp3 made from a CDR made from a tape (that had gotten wet at some point) dubbed from the original tape (and the original master was probably a cassette as well). Based on what I've been told, I don't think the Teenbeat cassette sounded much better...maybe someday I'll find out.

Finally, the other band I love to love: Magic Dirt. Apparently they insulted Allmusic's mother or something, because their discography there is woefully incomplete. There are missing albums, and their "sell out" CD What Are Rock Stars Doing Today is only noted, without any review or other info. It's the only Magic Dirt release that I really don't like much, so it's kind of ironic that I had to spend more money buying the UK version after I'd already gone to the trouble of ordering a copy of the CD from Australia. Why would anyone do that?

Well, the UK version comes with a pretty amazing bonus disc that includes two great Peel Sessions and four other completely wonderful tracks from some 1999 sessions, and five videos of live performances. I pretty much never listen to the main CD, but I love, love, love the bonus disc. From that, here's Isotope and a really bass-heavy Peel version of an old Magic Dirt song Ice.

Thursday, March 25, 2004

 
More rule-bending today (the fourth day of my theme that I can barely remember anymore, but I kind of explained it on Monday).

First up, the Donner Party, mainly because I've mentioned them before without actually posting any of their songs. Yes, they're listed in Allmusic, but I'd assume that a large number of fans of the band Quasi would be interested in Sam Coomes' old band, and the only way they'd find out via Allmusic is by going to the Quasi page, clicking on Sam's name, then scrolling all the way to the bottom and noticing that he "appeared on" the Donner Party albums.

A CD reissue of everything the band ever did (which was actually a little too much...just the first two albums would have been perfect) came out in 2000 on Innerstate Records. More recently, the New Pornographers have been known to cover a Donner Party song in concert: the touching When I Was a Baby.

The band had a strange loopy charm that works somewhat better when not taking the songs out of context. Nonetheless, here's the one-two punch of Why Bother? and Sickness from their second album (I like the second record better than the first - most people seem to prefer the first, but it doesn't really matter since the CD includes both). From album number one, here's Godlike Porpoise Head of Blue-Eyed Mary. I'm not posting any of the folkier songs or instrumentals, but there are a bunch. The overall effect is something like a scrappier, more irreverent Camper Van Beethoven. I find that the Donner Party (charming name, btw) sound better after a drink or two.

I've had limited success in getting people to like 18th Dye...sometimes I wonder if they're not actually as good as I think they are. They released two albums and an EP of minimalist but rocking 2-3 chord songs that skewed towards a Wire-like formalism, while also managing to include controlled feedback and other noisy elements from time to time. They were on Matador in the US, but Matador never issued their posthumous singles collection Left, and it doesn't appear on Allmusic.

There are a couple of major flaws with Left. The most glaring problem is something that I hope no other band will ever do ever again: right in the middle of the CD, they included four other bands performing absolutely terrible cover versions of 18th Dye songs. It completely screws up the flow of the CD. Nonetheless, Left is completely essential (if you like the band) because of two tracks that it includes. One is arguably their best song Coffee Cup Revisited (I posted it last year) which was previously available only on a vinyl 7" single. The other is this very atypical Eurodisco-on-steroids version of It Feels Like I'm In Love.

Tomorrow I'm finishing up with not-on-Allmusic releases by Magic Dirt and the Dustdevils.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

 
I've actually mentioned this one a few times in earlier posts. Somehow, the one-sided live Nightblooms album is one of the best hidden secrets this side of the weapons of mass destruction. Look to Allmusic and Trouser Press and...pretty much anywhere except for the Nightblooms' own home page...and you'd never know it exists. Given that the Nightblooms only released two albums, it seems obvious that their fans (of which I am one) would want every little scrap. And actually, the live stuff is pretty cool, showing off the band's rougher early sound. The first time I put this on, I listened to the first few seconds of the first song and thought, "God, they sound just like Swans." (Don't worry, the whole song doesn't sound like that.)

Bad things about this album are 1. it's only got one side 2. every single song ends with a locked groove, which is incredibly irritating. Note to every other band in the world: don't do this, even if it seemed cool when that guy from Sonic Youth did it. Anyway, here are four of the six songs, and it looks like this place still might have some copies as I write. (By the way, in the end she decides that he definitely looks like Brian Jones).

Leaving the weekly theme aside for a moment...I just got ahold of the forthcoming Graham Coxon album Happiness in Magazines. Before I say any more, my blur credentials are:

first album bought was Parklife -- love it
favorite album is 13 -- actually one of my favorite albums ever
enough of a fan that I bought the box set of singles
somewhat underwhelmed by Think Tank
haven't paid much attention to Graham, but not impressed by what I'd heard previously
American, and thus untouched by any class-related feelings about the band


[I think it's important with some bands to list your credentials. For example, Pavement people who came on board with Crooked Rain are a completely different species from those who started with Perfect Sound Forever.]

Ok, the album is neither brilliant nor awful, and it's really painfully clear that Graham and Damon complemented each other perfectly and that neither one is as good without the other: every song on this album would be improved with Damon singing. That said, I'm actually liking a bunch of tracks from this a lot. Lower your expectations...it's not as good as blur, but there are about five pretty strong songs on the album, and nothing disastrous. Here's the very Pavement-esque No Good Time and here's the song that we'll hear over the spaceship loudspeakers when the inhabitants of Mark E. Smith's home planet come to retrieve him and destroy our world. It's called People of the Earth, and it made me laugh a few times. (Though it would probably be improved if it was about a minute shorter.)

There are actually two songs that are better than what I've posted, and one of them (not the single either) is good enough to have appeared on pretty much any blur album proper if Damon were singing instead of Graham (who goes painfully off-key a few times).

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

 
It's Tuesday and already I'm bending the rules of my theme for the week (something about hard-to-know-about legitimate releases...I gave the fuzzy details on Monday). Tomorrow I have a really good one for the Nightblooms, so I'm giving myself some slack today.

Here's a pop quiz: the Bee Gees, the Moody Blues, Petula Clark, the Troggs, Tom Jones, Golden Earring, the Easybeats, the Left Banke, the Box Tops, Roy Orbison, Nancy Sinatra, the Everly Brothers, Vanilla Fudge, Neil Diamond, the Supremes and Marvin Gaye have something in common. What is it?

Answer: they all recorded commercials for Coca-Cola. Allmusic has a nice write-up of the CD that compiles a bunch of these, but it's not the sort of thing you'd be likely to find unless you're looking for it or you spend a lot of time reading small print. Some of my favorites are by the Bee Gees, the Bee Gees again, the Troggs, the Left Banke, and the Easybeats.

One small correction to the Allmusic review: the Beatles may have been too high status to record a commercial but the Rolling Stones weren't.

Now that you've had your Coke and Rice Krispies, time to throw on some jeans and run around town on a sugar high. (Wearing Levi's was brought to you by the Millenium.)

Monday, March 22, 2004

 
I had an idea over the weekend for a theme for this week...I'll see how well it works out. The basic concept is that there are some records/tapes/CDs that aren't bootlegs but are still pretty elusive even for a reasonably well-informed fan of a band (by elusive I mean that you might not even know to look for them). The ones I'm thinking of either don't show up in Allmusic at all, or if they do, they'd be easy to miss unless you're paying pretty close attention. I'm not including singles or compilation appearances, and I'm not including artists slumming it under assumed names (i.e. no Kim Carnes as a Sugar Bear or anything like that). I don't think that I'll be featuring anything that's going to rattle your conception of reality, but some of these might be nice surprises.

Air Miami was the band that Mark Robinson formed after Unrest. They're not exactly obscure, but they're not as well-known as Unrest, which is a shame because the Air Miami album Me Me Me is very of a piece (in terms of sound and quality) with the Unrest albums that immediately preceded it. In typical Mark Robinson fashion, they left a trail of worthwhile non-album tracks to keep the collectors busy. Their terrific Airplane Rider single is listed in Allmusic, but unless you spend a fair amount of time perusing Air Miami's cryptically arranged liner notes, you might not notice the existence of the two cassettes of fairly well-produced demos (called 14 Songs and 16 Songs respectively) pictured on the last page of Me Me Me's booklet. Some of these songs turned up on the album, some turned up on singles, some turned up on later releases by other Mark Robinson bands, and some appear only on the tapes. Apparently the cassettes were given away to Mark's friends, but if they're "real" enough to include on the discography page of a CD booklet, they're real enough to include here. Here are two tracks from 16 Songs: Adidas My Ass and the demo version of Airplane Rider.

Quibbles with Pitchfork Department

One of the CDs reviewed today over at Pitchfork is the Matinée Records tribute to The Smiths. This is a small thing, but it irks me: at one point, the reviewer makes reference to the Lucksmiths as being "the only band on this collection whose own material is at all noteworthy." OK, "noteworthy" is obviously an arguable point, but it seems to me that the Would Be Goods have enough of a history and a large enough/influential enough cult following that the reviewer is either ignorant or mistaken to write them off. Read about them here, here, here, here, and here, and here's a fun track about a cute French actress that appeared on a CD EP of theirs from a few years ago.

Friday, March 19, 2004

 
Announcement: If you live in the New York City area, you might want to check out the Anthology Film Archives which is running a John Moritsugu festival. Ok, I've personally made an uninformed decision that I'm not interested in his movies. I've never seen one mind you, but they just don't look like my cup of tea. But, his film soundtracks have been pretty interesting. Feel free to let me know if I've made a huge mistake by assuming that he's another Gregg Araki. Trivia note, and I do mean trivia: one Dustdevils instrumental (not a good one, but you know how it is...) is available only on the soundtrack to his Hippy Porn movie. And that soundtrack, which was supposed to come out on Matador long ago (see their I'm Sorry page, item #2) is available (as far as I know) only from this place. Meanwhile, the soundtrack to his Mod Fuck Explosion film includes an entire side of Unrest that's (mostly) unavailable anywhere else. Just thought you might want to know. [I can't tell if the Hippy Porn soundtrack is still available, though I see that the movie itself is...when you click on the movie it brings up a window that implies that you can order the cassette. I got one a while ago. Write to John and ask what's up. Looks like Mod Fuck Explosion (vinyl only) is still available. Not Unrest's best, but the record itself is a pretty neat "objet" - colored vinyl and nifty sleeve that looks much nicer in real life than in the photo. One song is on the BPM compilation.]

 
Somehow, I realize, I've never actually posted any songs from Magic Dirt's best album Friends In Danger. Not sure how that happened, though part of the reason is that it's a record that very few people like on first listen. But, since today's a Friday (traditionally a slow day) I'm going to take care of that right now.

Here's Sparrow and here's I Was Cruel, which would be my two favorite songs from a seriously strong CD. Friends In Danger, as I think I've mentioned before, was released on Warner US when they thought that 1. Magic Dirt was going to be the next Sonic Youth and 2. being the next Sonic Youth would be a good thing. Neither assumption turned out to be true, the album bombed, and Magic Dirt limped back to Australia where they've done very nicely for themselves (ironically enough on Warner Bros. Australia). The one good thing about Magic Dirt's failure to conquer the US is that you can probably find a copy of Friends In Danger for around $2.00 if you put any effort at all into looking. I maintain that it's one of the best loud-guitar albums ever recorded, but be aware that almost nobody likes it at first. The hooks start to come out after a while.

It's interesting to hear Magic Dirt's earlier attempt at I Was Cruel (from a 10" released in Australia/America with different b-sides for each country). I like the CD version much better...a few small changes (plus better production) really make a notable difference.

By the way, a new single from their great Tough Love album -- which received not one single vote in this year's uninspiring Village Voice Pazz and Jop poll if memory serves -- comes out next month w/three non-album b-sides. I'm excited, especially because one of the b-sides from their last single Plastic Loveless Letter (the b-side in question is Love Me) was one of the best things they've ever done.

Not that I need to tell you, but you'll want to play today's songs "at maximum volume" as they say.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

 
Hmmm, I mentioned Dump yesterday when I was talking about Christmas (the band) (it's kind of annoying having to write "the band" every time I mentioned the name of that band). I wasn't planning on featuring any tracks by Dump, but then I realized that I hadn't listened to anything by them/him in a really long time. Just to recap, Dump is the solo project of Yo La Tengo's bass player James McNew.

So anyway, I was surprised to discover that I actually like his version of the Silver Apples song You and I quite a bit. In a weird way, it's surprisingly faithful to the original.

Especially because of his album of Prince songs That Skinny Motherfucker with the High Voice?, James may be best known for his cover versions. Here's (as far as I know) his longest original song, International Airport, from an EP of the same name. James has said that it took him almost a month to record this on his four track, and that he did it as his summer project. Having fallen victim to the vagaries of cassette multi-track recorders more than once myself, I just want to say that that must have been such a nerve-wracking month. Well, maybe not -- he seems like a pretty calm guy. I actually lived right down the street from him during the time that he was recording this... used to see him walking around the neighborhood all the time, but I never struck up a conversation. I thought about it from time to time, but realized that I didn't actually have anything in particular to say to him and that it's kind of silly to talk to semi-famous musicians just because they're semi-famous musicians.

Finally, inevitably, this brings me to the Happy Flowers, with whom James McNew played on occasion. Most of you have probably heard this, but it's so darn wonderful that I'm going to post it anyway for the benefit of that one person in Siberia who's never experienced the glory that is the Happy Flowers. What's especially amazing... no, make that utterly amazing... about I Said I Wanna Watch Cartoons is that it actually gets better and better as it goes along. I was knocking around the Happy Flowers web-site the other day and it's actually got a lot of pretty cool stuff. I highly recommend clicking a link or two. FYI, the album that this song is from is called Oof, and it did get released on CD. But, if you buy the CD you'll miss out on the lovely full-size artwork that comes with the record.

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

 
Finishing up with the band Christmas today.

After their debut In Excelsior Dayglo, they released two more albums. Both came out on CD, though the first one Ultraprophets of the Psykick Revolution is a little hard to find. Their final album Vortex came out posthumously on Matador, and then off they went to provide the soundtrack to the coctail revolution of the mid 90's as Combustible Edison.

I have mixed feelings about both of these albums. They're still really melodically inventive but both lack the nervous energy of the debut. Ultraprophets also gets into some lyrical trouble: songs like Richard Nixon ("Richard Nixon sees you, Richard Nixon sees through you,") seem to be trying too hard to be witty/strange and there's a total dud called Human Chain that's basically about AIDS, and comes off like the soundtrack to a PSA for young adults. Finally, the songs get a little too complicated, with extra instrumental bits sapping the momentum. The most straightforward track is Stupid Kids, and I like it ok. Here's Great Wall of China, which shows that the band can do pretty. There's an almost prog-rock instrumental break...it's nice, but I like Christmas for doing complicated songs that sound simple, not complicated songs that sound complicated.

Their final album Vortex is interesting. It looks like another jokey album, and if you half-way pay attention to the lyrics, it sounds like one. But the words are surprisingly dark and surprisingly good. They actually read a little bit like Mekons lyrics circa Rock and Roll. Again, though, the music is missing a spark. I admire the songwriting a lot, but it doesn't work as well in practice as in theory. Here's the most basic song God Bless the Fireman, which sounds simpler than it is. And here's Iron Anniversary, which probably sums up Christmas' (bad) mood when writing this album: "Oh, what a sun. That's just like the one that used to shine on me. Now it bleaches out my fading inspiration."

Poor Christmas. (One little trivia bit that I didn't notice until I read the Trouser Press is that Christmas' Michael Cudahy co-wrote Redd Kross' near-hit Annie's Gone.) One last thought: there's a pretty good non-album song by Christmas called Babyman that appears on a compilation called Big Time Syndrome. Not so hard to find on vinyl...not so easy to find on CD.

I have a link on this page to Paula Carino, who falls somewhere in the grey area between "people you know who are musicians" and "musicians who you happen to know" if you know what I mean. In some ways, her songwriting reminds me of what Christmas were doing and her singing reminds me a bit of Liz Cox's. I'm very fond of the chorus of Waiting For You from her 2001 album Aquacade. I think she's nearly finished recording a new album...if you like this song, write to her and she can probably give you the scoop. In the interest of balance here's one pro and one not-quite-as-pro-but-not-con-either opinion.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

 
Christmas (the band, not the holiday) have vanished pretty thoroughly from the public consciousness. These days, they're best known as 1. the band that James McNew was in before he joined Yo La Tengo on bass and 2. The band that turned into Combustible Edison. Since an awful lot of people have no idea who James McNew is and never heard of Combustible Edison, that leaves Christmas with a fairly poor shot at ever making the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Fame. I think it's distinctly possible that they're not even as well-known as Dump, which is a pretty scary thought.

Adding to their woes is the fact that their great first album In Excelsior Dayglo gets a pretty half-assed review in Allmusic. To be fair, Trouser Press also drops the ball a bit (all this IMHO, of course). Here's the Allmusic review:

Fans of Christmas' earlier singles and their high-energy live show were surprised when the Boston-based trio released their debut album, 1986's In Excelsior Dayglo. Gone was the punky noise (most of it, anyway) and the more aggressive aspects of the group's presentation in favor of a skewed version of folk-rock with acoustic guitars, deliberately goofy lyrics (the Paul Reubens tribute "Peewee" and the Cramps-like raveup "Dig We Must" being two of the sillier tunes), and a sound and vision closer to childrens-music-era Jonathan Richman than, say, Roky Erickson.

I just want to interrupt here by saying that while all of the above could probably be defended in court by a high-paid attorney, it does paint a pretty skewed picture. For one, the album (to be blunt) doesn't sound anything like Jonathan Richman at any point in his career. Likewise, I can see the root of the Cramps comparison for Dig We Must (minimal drumming, "Surfin' Bird" type lyrics) but the song ultimately sounds nothing like the Cramps. The album does have some acoustic guitars, but it also has a lot of electric guitars (many of which are pretty noisy and un-folk-like) and, really, the main spot where a folk-comparison is in order is with singing drummer Liz Cox's vocals. Finally, you might get the impression from the above that Christmas' early singles were high energy things of wonder: they weren't. Here's one example that's not atypical, called My Little Book of Lies from Gerard Cosloy's Bands That Could Be God compilation that came out in 1984. If I can offer one piece of advice it's this: don't waste a lot of time/money on early Christmas material, as most of it is "promising" at best. Back to the review:

These are not necessarily flaws, but to longtime fans, In Excelsior Dayglo seemed a bit tame. In retrospect, the album could certainly benefit from a stronger mix and beefier production, but the lyrical and melodic charms of songs like "Big Plans" and the witty "Everything You Know Is Wrong" are still plainly obvious. Unfortunately, thanks to the band's misguided signing to Bigtime Records, which went under not too long after this album was released, the LP (it never came out on CD) is frustratingly hard to find.

Again, I just don't hear this tameness in comparison to their early recorded material, and it seems silly to compare an album to early live shows. The production could be better (this was an indie band in 1986) but there's nothing particularly wrong with it either. Reading the review, I think you'd expect something along the lines of the folkier side of the Donner Party (a great band also) and that's not quite what you'd get. With hindsight, signing to Bigtime didn't work out so well, but I did manage to buy this record at a New Jersey shopping mall, so it's not like it didn't get distribution. The fact that it didn't come out on CD wasn't unusual for the time, and it did get attention upon release: I found out about it because Spin gave it a plug in their front pages as one of the best debut albums around.

Here are a couple of my favorite songs from In Excelsior Dayglo (by the way, the cover of the album is cute: a Jenny Invert that someone has used as postage). First, here's Pig Amongst Men which shows off one of their strengths: combining simple sounding chord progressions with ingenious vocal melodies. Go ahead, sing along and try to hit all the weird intervals.

Here's a song called True Soldier of Love which has such a cool chord progression in the verse that they're able to repeat just that for most of the song and it still sounds great. Christmas got a rep for clever/funny lyrics, but they could write some pretty good lines and this song includes one: "Take this nail and then use it to hang my heart upon the wall and leave it bleeding, then when company calls you can tell them all about a girl who fell for you."

Finally, here's the second song on the album, Loved Ones. I'm not sure just how much higher energy the Allmusic reviewer wants this to be. I'm also not remembering any Jonathan Richman songs that begin with Hitler's suicide and then proceed to examine the best way to off yourself for maximum sympathy from your loved ones.

You know, I've decided that I want to do more on Christmas. I just recently transferred my vinyl to CDR, and I was kind of surprised at how well In Excelsior Dayglo has held up. I'm also surprised by the difficulty I have finding comparisons for the band. At first listen they don't sound that unusual, but when I try to find anyone who they actually sound like I start drawing blanks. Actually, the Donner Party does get into the ballpark, but Christmas wrote more complex songs/chord changes, played their instruments better, and had more "grown up" lyrics. None of which makes Christmas better or worse than the Donner Party...just different, but I do see a conceptual similarity.

More tomorrow...

Monday, March 15, 2004

 
Oh, by the way: Franz Ferdinand have a live appearance on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic today. I'm kind of fond of the ending of their song Darts of Pleasure, and they make a much better Strokes than the Strokes do, so I'm rooting for them. Up to a point.

Last Friday I featured some tracks from Simon Fisher Turner's project Deux Filles (if you didn't listen yet, be advised that Deux Filles recordings are 1. not that easy to get ahold of and 2. really cool/creepy quasi-ambient stuff). The bulk of Simon Turner's output, though, has been film scores, many for underground filmmaker Derek Jarman. My favorite soundtrack of his actually resembles, at times, his work with Deux Filles. It's from an arty vampire movie called Nadja that came out in 1994, which was, for some reason, the year of the underground arty vampire flick. Nadja also got some attention because it included some footage shot in
Pixelvision (at a time when enthusiasm for that format -- sort of the 4 track tape recorder of video -- was running high) and because it included some actors from Hal Hartley's stable. In some ways, in fact, Nadja was like a Hartley-produced horror movie, including a lot of the same deadpan sense of comedy, and you might want to do a double feature of it with Hartley's Amateur someday, if you're so inclined.

What's especially nice about the soundtrack to Nadja is that most of the bits are strong enough to stand on their own without the film. Here's Love, Death, Avoid It, featuring vocal samples from the lovely and talented Elina Lowensohn.

Just so you don't get the idea that everything he does is creepy, here's a track from another one of Simon's alter egos, Loveletter. The song is called Sun and it originally appeared on a compilation called Songs for the Jet Set 2000 and it was originally written by Margo Guryan, who I'll get to at some point. The initial volume of the Songs For the Jet Set series bore a great deal of responsibility for the Free Design resurgence in the US of a few years ago. "Free Design?" you ask. You know, they've been written about and written about, but nobody ever seems to post or discuss their best song. Which is (I think) this really unusual jazzy version of the Doors' Light My Fire. I implore you to stick around for the instrumental break which is dreamy and trippy beyond all belief.

Tomorrow, Christmas comes early.

Friday, March 12, 2004

 
I've added (thanks to Tofu Hut for the heads up) a link "Play All Songs" on the left. Click it and it'll take you to a page that lets you stream all the mp3s (in reverse chronological order, for some reason) via your choice of player. Allows you to treat this page as a radio station, which seems like a good idea. I'm afraid I won't be able to help if this doesn't work for you, but I've tried it and it works for me. I kind of like streaming mp3 blog pages while reading the newspaper in the morning. Then, if anything sounds good, I know I can go back and read about it.

 
Since no one ever sends me comments except when they have technical issues, I don't really have a sense of how all that Kim Fowley went over, but I think two days of him is probably enough. If you like what you heard, other albums from this general period that I'd recommend are Snake Document Masquerade, Living in the Streets, and Visions of the Future. None of these albums are great all the way through, but they all have their moments of interest.

I've been doing a lot of rock-and-roll lately, so I thought I'd switch into another genre for today. Or, to be more accurate, music that doesn't fit neatly into any genre at all. The band is Deux Filles and it's at times like this that I really wish that there wasn't an Internet, because it makes it impossible to keep things a secret. Things like the fact that, despite the photograph on the cover of the album and despite what it says in the liner notes, Deux Filles are not a group made up of one Gemini Forque and one Claudine Coule; that Gemini was not raised by her Uncle Louis, a double bass player, who had played with Edith Piaf; that Claudine did not learn about music while singing traditional fishing songs as a shrimp fisherman; and that Claudine and Gemini did not mysteriously emigrate to Australia after their tour in 1983, leaving behind only a torn letter to describe their sorry fate. Oh how I wish I could tell you all of this, and let the facts of the matter find you in their own sweet time as they did me. But no doubt you'd just run to Google and five seconds later you'd know the whole truth. What a horrible world we live in!

No, Deux Filles is just another project of that terrible liar Simon Fisher Turner, also known as Loveletter, SFT, the Duke of Luxembourg, "the guy who did the music for Derek Jarman's movies," and God knows what else. The other member of Deux Filles was Colin Lloyd Tucker who you may know because of his work with Kate Bush, with an early incarnation of The The, or possibly as a solo artist. In retrospect, it's hard to believe that we didn't find something a little suspicious about this photo; something ever so slightly masculine about the band, but those were more innocent times.

The group released two albums, and I should probably warn you that you've got your work cut out to find either one. The better of the two, Silence and Wisdom, did see a CD release (though the original record comes with such nice packaging that you might want to keep an eye out for a copy). From this CD, here's The Letter (no relation to the Box Top's song), L'intrigue, Her Master's Voice and Mortuary.

From Double Happiness, here's the extremely creepy Who Art in Heaven. I definitely don't recommend playing it late at night in an empty house while being stalked by a homicidal insane woman.

If you've listened to the mp3's already, you probably know what I mean when I say this is difficult music to describe. I guess you could say that it combines aspects of Brian Eno's ambient sound, film music, world music, classical, and the kitchen sink. And all in song-length compositions. I tried to play it as background music for a brunch once, but it didn't seem to go over too well in that context. My wife finds it really irritating, and some of the sounds tend to freak out my cats. Now I usually just listen to it on my iPod when I'm riding the subway late at night. I find that Deux Filles are also good to listen to on slow drowsy Sunday afternoons when you've eaten brunch, finished reading the newspaper, and are starting to consider whether to take a nap or not. I wish there were more people doing the sort of thing (if there are, please by all means let me know).

I'm going to continue with Simon Fisher Turner on Monday. Just to wrap up today, there are a couple of other releases that I know of that include tracks by Deux Filles. One song appears on a CD called The Many Moods of Simon Fisher Turner, and... oh lord, this record is so obscure I don't even know why I'm mentioning it, but if you ever see an album (vinyl only, but of course) called The Bone of Desire/When Will I Shoot You Again... Well, now you know. Besides, between eBay and Gemm, nothing is really rare any more. There could be other Deux Filles' recordings , but I'm guessing that the only people who know for sure are Simon, Colin, and the person who runs this web site.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

 
Yuck, I'm running late today and I don't have time to write as much as I'd like. Today I'm featuring tracks from Kim Fowley's 1979 masterpiece (of sorts) Sunset Boulevard. One of the smartest things I've heard said about this record: two people were arguing about it and one insisted that the record was just plain bad. The other replied, "bad compared to what?" Maybe you have an answer to that question, but I still don't. I'd be remiss if I didn't point out the incredible similarity between Kim Fowley's and Sonic Youth's lyrical styles.

I'm giving you two songs from each side. Here's In My Garage, which features Kim doing an incredibly low rent impersonation of Bob Dylan that somehow fails to derail the song (a generous interpretation of the lyrics could conceivably have Kim predicting the ascendancy of hip-hop). The backing vocalist would probably be Dyan Diamond, who also gets a co-writing credit and who sounds a lot older than the teenager that she was. The last song on the side is the title track Sunset Boulevard. Lots of great lines in this one, but I think my favorite is when Eve comes back with "I want to know about boys in England" and Kim gets thrown for a loop for a second.

From side two, here's another Diamond co-write Love Is A Game. The spoken section of the song (it starts off "1978, America USA" and just gets better) is one of my favorite moments on the record. And finally here's Black Camels of Lavender Hill, which appears to be Bruce Springsteen's version of Sid and Nancy as performed by Kim. I especially love the part near the end where he's clearly making it up as he goes along, and that confession at the very end "[burp] don't believe a word of it it's a hustle man" has so many levels to it that I wouldn't even know where to begin talking about it.

Here are the quotes that Kim includes in the liner notes:

I never wanted to be famous, but I always wanted to be great-Ray Charles

How much you learn depends on how much you can stand-Raquel Welch

Cruel but interesting-Sandy Robertson, O.B.E.

He travels the fastest who travels alone-Rudyard Kipling

The public is wonderfully tolerant. It forgives anything except genius-Oscar Wilde

I know of two versions of this album: one on PVC and one on Illegal Records. The PVC version has better sound and includes an inner sleeve with (generally accurate) lyrics so I'd go for that one if you have the choice. As of now, there's no CD version, but the record has been made available for legal download in a couple of places.

If anyone knows what happened to Dyan Diamond after her solo album, I'm somewhat curious (not hugely interested, just somewhat). I see that there's a Venus and the Razorblades reunion, but her name is conspicuously absent from the web site. Dead? Married? Sex change? The Internet isn't telling me.

Tomorrow: no more Kim Fowley.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

 
I've given a lot of thought to trying to figure out how best to explain Kim Fowley, but in the end I realize that it's just beyond the scope of this blog. And when I think about it, he was just a name to me when I first bought his album Sunset Boulevard (as a cut-out from the Vassar College bookstore...the tentacles of Kim Fowley extend everywhere) and that didn't stop me from realizing he was something special. I guess the important thing to keep in mind is that "special" doesn't always equal "good," but at the same time, it's overly simplistic to assume (as the Allmusic reviewer of Sunset Boulevard does) that Kim's appeal lies solely in his weirdness. In a way, I like to imagine that if Lou Reed had never formed the Velvet Underground, but had instead remained at Pickwick as a staff songwriter (and therefore never decided that he was an Artist), he might have produced albums something like Kim's solo records (assuming that his bosses let him do whatever he wanted). Oh, you'd also have to invert Lou's proportion of talent/bullshit, though in recent years Lou seems to be taking care of that himself.

I have a relative who actually worked with Kim Fowley in the seventies, and the owner of the dearly departed Holy Cow record store was a friend of Kim's as well. Unfortunately, though, I don't have any good stories about Kim Fowley. The response I usually got to my questions was an eye-roll and something to the effect that Kim was an "interesting/weird guy." I get the impression that he seems sort of surreal to the people who've met him, and that when they try to explain him in the light of day, they feel like they're trying to explain a dream that they had. His web site is here, and it does a good job of 1. showing the scope of his involvement in the music industry over the past four-plus decades and 2. demonstrating what an inveterate name dropper and self-promoter he is.

Enough introduction. Most of the Kim Fowley solo albums that are currently available on CD are interesting for their crass and exploitative nature, with the occasional good song seeming more like an accident than anything else. But clearly you can't stay in the music business for four decades without some talent, however strange and twisted that talent may be. International Heroes came out in 1973 and it's by far Kim's most normal (and competent) solo album. Some of this is probably owing to his collaborators (I'm especially curious about Kerry Scott, who co-wrote some of the best songs). Some of this is probably due to the fact that Kim mostly eschews his beloved habit of singing in a funny/creepy/"rock-and-roll" voice, and just sings like himself (which basically sounds like someone trying to imitate Iggy Pop trying to imitate Bob Dylan, or vice versa). Here's Kim's original version of International Heroes, a reasonably inspired homage to All The Young Dudes.

The second song on the record, E.S.P. Reader, actually manages to be pretty -- something that it's almost impossible to believe Kim to be capable of. And here's the last song on the album, Dancing All Night, which is a really great glam-rocking song with fantastic female backing vocals. There's really only one song on the whole record that displays Kim's usual tendencies: So Good, Wish You Would features Kim on free-form grunts, enlivening an otherwise relatively normal pre-disco ode to a "woman" who's "got the groove" 'cause she's a "sister that has to move." (I wouldn't want my praise for this album to be construed as a claim that it's bullshit free).

I've read that this record was a big influence on Bowie in his glam period, but I'm not sure that that makes sense chronologically. Certainly Bowie didn't take any sartorial advice from Kim Fowley: the photo on the back of the album is a really funny shot of Kim wearing a T-shirt that says "space age," platform shoes, blue hip-huggers and a fur coat, and looking like someone who was given five minutes in the Salvation Army to throw together a "glam-rock" costume. When you think about what Kim might have done with the concept of a space-age-moondream type record, it's even more amazing that International Heroes is as good as it is. International Heroes isn't available on CD, but you should be able to find a copy of the record for $15-$20 at the most. Honestly I'm not sure I'd want to see this on CD... some records are meant to be records. Also, the cover face-shot of Kim wearing make-up deserves to be as large as possible.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

 
OK, one more day of 1960s related stuff. For a number of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I'm hardly an expert, I usually try to stay away from the more obscure prog/psych/folk releases. But, along with the album featured yesterday by Green, I bought a CD from a series called Fading Yellow which compiles lots of hard-to-find songs from the late sixties and early seventies. The guy who owns the record store warned me that the quality of the series varies a lot from one volume to the next, but I'm pretty happy with the one I bought (volume seven). So far my favorite song is also the silliest: this is Tinkerbell's Mind by The Glitterhouse. The lyrics start out in the goofy territory and just get worse and worse until at some point we’re singing about Christopher Robin and Winnie The Pooh. Really catchy, though! I keep thinking that the singer sounds a bit like Elvis Costello.

I also bought a reissue (on CD) of a self titled album by a New York band from the 1970s called Nosy Parker which I'm not liking all that much, so I'm not posting anything from it. Apparently it was a kind of a hot collectible in the past: I wonder if the easy availability of the CD version will put out that fire a little bit. I also picked up a kind of a pleasant album called I See It Now by a 60s band called Fargo. It's very Beatle-y sounding, though less inspired. Here's the song that appears on the Fading Yellow CD (I didn't have time to convert the vinyl to MP3's yet), Talks We Used To Have. It's probably worth noting that both the Fargo and the Green albums originally appeared on major labels (RCA and Atco respectively). One thing that I really hope will come from this MP3/downloading revolution that we're living through would be to see major labels making all (not just the popular parts) of their back catalogs available again.

I keep meaning to do something on Kim Fowley's 1970s albums. A lot of his recordings from the 1960s have come out on CD in the last few years, and his most recent releases (most of which really stink) are on CD, but some of his best records from the mid-to-late 1970s remain vinyl-only. This is a shame because a lot of his 1960s stuff is more jokey than good. I'm not saying that his crass weirdness doesn't have an appeal, and I'm also not saying that his 1970s albums don't have any crass weirdness. In fact, they have a lot. But they also feature some surprisingly good material. As an unorthodox introduction, here's a mediocre cover of a great song that appears on Kim's International Heroes record. This version is by the British Lions (basically the dregs of Mott the Hoople) from a pretty forgettable self-titled album. [It is available on CD, but I'm not about to spend any money to get that, so this version is from scratchy vinyl!]

I think tomorrow and Thursday will be Kim Fowley days, and depending on the feedback (if any) I get, I might even go through Friday. I really like the records that I'm going to be featuring a lot, so I hope you’ll overlook any preconceptions about Kim (especially if you’ve only heard Outrageous, Good Clean Fun, Animal God of The Streets, Outlaw Superman, etc. or if you know him via The Runaways or by Sonic Youth's cover of Bubblegum or by his recent solo albums or…god, there are 18 million ways you could be familiar with him). More tomorrow…

Monday, March 08, 2004

 
The gym that I go to is located pretty much right next door to the Knitting Factory, and when I first joined I thought that I would make a regular habit of catching shows after my workout. For various and sundry reasons this has never quite happened. Instead, my post-work out routine seems to be 1. stare at the chefs at 66 and wonder if they can see out or if it’s a one-way mirror 2. wonder if the food there is actually better than in Chinatown 3. get the veggie special at the Pakistan Teahouse 4. with a side of pakora vegetables (wow, Dragon Point and Speak just correctly identified “pakora.” I’m impressed.) and 5. head home to Brooklyn.

On Saturday, though, I did manage to take advantage of another local musical institution. I’ve been meaning to check out La Monte Young’s Dream House for months now, and I finally had the time on Saturday. There are lots of articles about this on the Internet, so I won’t go into too many details. I will say that it’s initially underwhelming, but (after ten minutes or so) it’s ultimately pretty amazing. The best aspects of it are 1. the experience of moving your head a tiny fraction of a fraction of an inch and having the sounds change completely, and 2. thinking that the sound is at a deafening volume and then snapping your fingers and realizing that it isn’t. I highly recommend that you go if you get the chance. When you first walk in, you'll be thinking "I just paid $4 for this?" so be sure to give it some time.

Afterwards I walked up to my favorite record store Rockit Scientist and learned the sad news that they’ll be moving to the East Village very soon. Damn, you just can’t escape St. Mark’s Place’s evil grasp. None of the new CDs on display really caught my eye, but I wanted to hear something new-to-me so I decided to take a chance on a couple CDs from the used section. And success! An album by a band called Green bore a sticker that read “fantastic Revolver styled pop album” and I decided to go for it. Does it sound much like Revolver? Not really, with one or two exceptions. But some of it, especially the more rocking parts, is really nice. Here’s my favorite track at this point, Green and here’s my second favorite song At The Time (which is kind of Revolver-ish).

It wasn’t easy to find out info about this album but I tracked down one particularly cool site here, and strangely enough it turns out that I already knew the reviewer from someplace else. In fact, he’s the person who originally advised me to buy that Daughters Of Albion album (which turned out to be fantastic advice).

The other song I’m posting today doesn’t really have anything to do with anything I’ve just said. A while ago when I did a feature on Ultra Vivid Scene and Crash I mentioned that Crash’s lead singer Mark Dumais had another band after Crash called Tangerine. I subsequently picked up a copy of their one CD (on Creation) and while it sounds nothing like Ultra Vivid Scene (not even a teeny bit…luckily I’d been warned) I find myself kind of liking it. It has the sound of 80s synth pop (it came out in 1990) and the three different band members each take a turn as vocalist. Things can sound very different depending on who’s singing…my favorite track thus far is the final song Do It. Luckily, the CD seems to go pretty cheaply used. I kind of recommended it if you can find a copy for a few bucks and want to hear something in a Bananarama/FunBoyThree/CultureClub/etc. style (there are probably better comparisons, but this is a genre that I'm only passingly familiar with).

Friday, March 05, 2004

 
From Allmusic:

Instead, _____ has created the great lost Prince album — the platter that the Purple One recorded somewhere between Around the World in a Day and Sign 'o' the Times. It's not just that the music and song titles cheekily recall Prince...it's that ______ disregards any rules on a quest to create his own interior world, right down to a dialogue with God.

Funny how you change a few proper names to ______'s and the answer could just as well be PM Dawn. I was somewhat surprised that their 1995 album Jesus Wept didn't seem to come up during the endless discussions about Outkast last year. Granted there are some major differences: PM Dawn are more serious (their album has a sense of humor but it's much more subtle than Andre's) and better songwriters. Their album doesn't have any skits, and it's concerned with religion rather than sex. Nonetheless, back in 1995 a black hip-hop band put out an album that combined a love of Prince, a love of alt. rock (they include a cover of the Talking Heads' Once In A Lifetime in their album closing medly), and a willingness to include unusual musical influences (Nilsson!). Not that it did them much good sales-wise.

Anyway, I think the opening of this album is amazing. Here's Intro and here's Downtown Venus, and I'm going to beg you to set these up to play in order without a pause, as they do on the CD. It makes a difference. (One strange little coincidence that's neither here nor there is the fact that Intro includes a sample from Peanuts, and someone felt the need to have the Peanuts gang perform Hey Ya [which is gone now, but you might want to read the letter from Charlie Brown's attorney]. Clearly Schultz speaks to the hip-hop community.) Finally, here's Apathy...Superstar!? which would have been my pick for the second single.

I must admit that I still can't make it straight through Andre's album...I don't want to dredge up an argument that's now ancient, but to me he just sounds like a hack, playing with a bunch of more-interesting influences. I think Hey Ya and its accompanying video were wonderful, but I honestly can't hear one single thing on the rest of the album that's of any consequence (as opposed to the other disc, which actually is pretty inspired). I'll be interested to see how people look back on The Love Below in five years or so.

I went to the NY premier of Guy Maddin's The Saddest Music In The World last night. It was packed, which surprised everyone (you've never heard so many people pull out their cell phones to call friends and tell them that "the line is going around the block!") I heard someone say that Lou Weed was there, but I can't recognize faces out of context, so I can't confirm or deny. Isabella Rossellini was gorgeous, the movie was as strange as Maddin's stuff usually is, and Chris Dedrick (Free Design, as I mentioned once before) did an amazing job on the score. Downside: I didn't like its visuals as much as those in some of Maddin's previous movies, and the Q&A (Guy was there) was exactly two questions. This was especially annoying because Maddin is a truly fascinating bizzaro with a unique oddball charisma, and listening to him talk can be almost more interesting than watching his movies. The Saddest Music In The World opens in April, and at the very least I can guarantee you that you're not going to walk out saying "That was just like _______" unless "_________" is another Guy Maddin film.

By the way, if you've never read The War Against Silence, today might be a good day to check it out as this week's post revisits the two pillars of TWAS' world view. glenn and I actually have a lot in common re: musical taste, if you just substitute The Dustdevils for Big Country and Lisa Suckdog for Tori Amos. In all seriousness, TWAS is one of my favorite sites for reviews of records that I'm never going to buy (of course the one time I broke my rule it was for a Japanese import that cost me big $ and reaffirmed my commitment to said rule -- perhaps I'll devote a day to Zeppet Store ...someday).

Thursday, March 04, 2004

 
Today continues yesterday’s post about Alternate Learning. Here’s the track Occupation: Unknown, which is one of my less-favorite songs on the album. It does feature one of those weirdo introductions that Scott would later perfect. And here’s Dresden, which may be my favorite song on the album. Right about at the point where Scott sings “I was shaking to the left now they shake to the right” I fall helplessly under the song’s power. And what the hey! Here’s the original Beach State Rocking, which features one of Scott’s better one-liners: “Well I’d call myself an artist if I could make these meanings clear but there’s a million things to think about when you’re cutting off your ear.”

Thus ends my Scott Miller/Game Theory/Loud Family feature. If you don’t know anything about these bands, I’d suggest you go out and purchase a CD called Plants and Birds and Rocks and Things by the Loud Family. I’d be really surprised if you didn’t end up liking it a whole lot.

I wanted to post a song by a different band to make sure that today isn't a total wash-out for Scott haters, but I also have to run out and don't have time to write a lot. So, Boys Are Poison by The Riddles seems like a good choice since I've been almost completely unable to find out anything about this band. My best guess is that they involved a Dianne Athey, who played bass in the Nervus Rex, but that's the best I can do (and I'm not entirely sure about that either). Anyone? The song, besides spreading a message that couldn't be truer, is a nice bit of garagey girl group fun that sounds like it comes from the 80's.

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

 
Ok, first things first: if you’re not familiar with Scott Miller’s various bands, today’s post probably won’t be very interesting to you.

For everyone else…you may or may not know that before The Loud Family and before Game Theory, Scott Miller was in a band called Alternate Learning (or ALRN). They released one album and one single, and the album is, surprisingly, pretty good. It’s called Painted Windows and, unfortunately, it’s never been released on CD. Why is this? Luckily, Scott Miller has given lots of interviews where he’s explained the various obstacles that conspire to keep the greater part of his oeuvre out of print. I’ll save you the trouble of reading all of those interviews by distilling the various problems that he faces to this simple six-point list:

1. The vault where his master tapes are stored is “physically inaccessible,” blocked by an angry Orc, and Scott hasn’t yet managed to obtain a cloak of invisibility with which he might evade its evil clutches.

2. A guy named Scott Vanderbilt owns the rights to the recordings and unfortunately a long time ago the two Scotts got into a really ugly argument about sorting algorithms, and things have been kind of tense ever since.

3. Aimee Mann is using her close ties to the major record labels to negotiate a big-budget reissue campaign for her friend Scott. It’s going to be even better than the Game Theory box set that Alias put out some years ago.

4. Out of solidarity for a fellow tormented genius, Scott Miller refuses to allow any of his work to be reissued until he actually holds a copy of Smile in his hands (like that’s ever going to happen!).

5. At no time on Painted Windows does Scott Miller address a woman as “girl,” which has led some people to doubt its authenticity.

6. Finally, it turns out that most of the female vocal parts on Scott’s old recordings are actually off-key, and his new wife just hasn’t had time to go into the studio to re-record them.

So, you can see that there are some pretty serious reasons why Painted Windows is unlikely to get wider exposure anytime soon. Today I’m going to do my part to help.

Here’s Another Wasted Afternoon, here’s The New You, here’s Dark Days, here’s Ulysses, and finally, here’s Let’s Not Wait. Tomorrow I'll post two more tracks.

For space-saving reasons, I’m leaving out three songs. You can get ahold of one of them, Sex War, via the Homework series of CDs, brought to you by the same people who put out Killed By Death. And, you can hear a rerecorded version of Beach State Rocking on a (unfortunately out of print) Game Theory CD called Tinker to Evers to Chance. Is the rerecorded version better? Not really. But rerecording his old songs makes Scott Miller really happy, so if he asks you please be sure to tell him that you’re incredibly grateful for the new version because the old one sounded “tinny.” The third missing song, Painted Windows, is kind of “ambitious” so I’m going to save it for a rainy day.

As with most Scott Miller products (which I usually end up loving), I didn’t like this album at first. But it’s grown on me a lot recently: I think it’s easily better than the final Loud Family CD proper, Attractive Nuisance, and probably better than the penultimate Loud Family CD, Days For Days. I hope you like it. If you don't, you might want to skip tomorrow's post.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

 
Speaking of the Kinks, here's Ray Davies being overly optimistic about his starmaking abilities.

I know Claire Hamill only because of my rule about interesting looking records from the late 60's/early 70's, as mentioned a few posts back.

She was originally known as the English Joni Mitchell, and her first record is pretty much a Joni copy only not as good. The best song is her cover of (Joni's) Urge For Going which she does in a sparse, eerie style. There's also a strange song about an old woman who gets eaten by her plants...

Second record, October, is a totally different story. I kind of wonder if Linda Perhacs fans might like it, though it isn't particularly psych-y. Anyway, it's a lovely little folk-with-a-touch-of-rock album with assistance from some talented people (including Alan White). Here's the very pretty opener (btw, the US album seems to have a different cover/track order than the UK version) Island. Hmm, that actually sounds a little bit like Yes for the first few seconds.

Honestly, this is probably my favorite album of its type, so it's hard to pick songs to post here. I guess that Crying Under The Bedclothes is up there though (I'm not bothered by the somewhat, um, ambitious lyrics...a friend of mine made a face when she sings "Leaping thrice around the cosmos" but he also likes the song, so there you go). Elsewhere, Claire goes uptempo one time with Baby What's Wrong which includes some fairly sexy moaning...I should probably mention that at this point she was young and kind of a looker, which probably helps to explain the next stage of her career...

After October, Claire hooked up with Ray Davies and put out her next two albums on his Konk label. Neither is as good as October, though the first one Stage Door Johnnies is pretty decent. I'm kind of fond of this cover of We've Got To Get Out Of This Place, especially the "yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah" part. Somehow, I have the feeling that Ray Davies was behind Oh Daddy. It's just a hunch...I could be wrong. Ok, actually if you listen to the Kinks' Demolition and Holiday, you'll pretty much see what's going on. Too bad Claire didn't meet Ray a few (Kinks) albums earlier.

The next record, Abracadabra moves even closer to adult-oriented mush. It includes a fairly unexciting cover version of Celluloid Heroes and not much else to recommend it.

In the end Claire Hamill kind of made herself a star with a new-age album called Voices, but it's a totally different thing than what she'd done before.

Most of her records were reissued in somewhat bare-bones CD versions by Blueprint a few years ago. I highly recommend October, I recommend Stage Door Johnnies if you want more like October but not quite as good, and I don't recommend the first or fourth albums unless you're really obsessed.

Her website is here.

Monday, March 01, 2004

 
After listening to the single What Happened To The Sands, I was all prepared to jump down the throat of any reviewer comparing the new EP by Detroit band Pas/Cal to Belle and Sebastian, since Pas/Cal are pretty clearly taking most of their tricks from the Lilys' playbook.

Luckily, before I made an ass of myself, I listened to the rest of the EP, and yes, there are times where this band sounds exactly, exactly, exactly like Belle & Sebastian. Like on the beginning of Poor Maude. Like, you could probably trick Belle & Sebastian into thinking it was themselves.

Still, I think the Lilys are a better comparison, since this is a case of a band taking a familiar sound and then doing strange things with it. As with the Lilys, most of the songs on this EP are trickily constructed and go off on little tangents that often go off on sub-tangents, and so on. Pas/Cal don't get quite as complicated with the song structures as Kurt Heasely can, and there is that B&S thing as a hook...I'm kind of hoping they'll do well with this.

On the off chance you don't know the Lilys well, here's Welfare Murder Plot, from a 7" called Which Studies The Past. This was the first indication that the band that once sounded like a poor man's My Bloody Valentine had turned into a prog Kinks.

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