Friday, April 30, 2004

 
Friday is No Wave and related day, for at least the next few weeks.

Of the four bands on the No New York compilation that, accurately or not, has come to define the term "No Wave," DNA were the most conceptual and "artsy" and it's not surprising that 2/3 of its original membership went on to "downtown" music careers with a fair amount of success. Singer and guitar player Arto Lindsay's activities are well known and reasonably high-profile, and drummer Ikue Mori [billed as Ikue Ile on the back of No New York because she was in the country illegally at the time] may actually have the most name recognition at this point due to her collaboration with Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth. The third original member was Robin Crutchfield.

In DNA, he almost functioned as the rhythm section, holding things steady while Arto yelped and skronked and Ikue played patterns on her drum kit. He left the band prior to their one album/ep A Taste of DNA (he was replaced by bassist Tim Wright), and formed a group called Dark Day which focused almost entirely on his machine-like keyboard playing. Fans of No Wave will probably miss the more unruly elements of DNA when listening to Crutchfield's post-DNA band Dark Day. The closest he came to his old band's sound (and it's not very close) was on his debut single, Hands In The Dark, recorded in 1979 with Nina Canal (best known for her bands the Gynecologists and Ut) and Nancy Arlen (who had been in Mars on No New York).

It's not really the kind of music that I usually listen to, but I do like the old keyboard sounds on the first Dark Day full length, Exterminating Angel. On his website, Robin mentions that his favorite songs from the period actually appear on the b-side to a single that accompanied the album. Called the exterminations, these were instrumental tracks from the album remixed and played backwards. Here are two of these: Extermination #1 and #6. They really indicate to me that he probably should have tried to do more in the way of music for films, as that's where I hear his strengths lying.

After Exterminating Angel, he recorded an all-electronic album called Window, which is one of those albums that's very sought after by a very, very small number of people, most of whom seem to be from Europe (esp. Germany). It's interesting to hear Casios and other "dinky" keyboards used in a non-ironic way on tracks like Nudes In The Forest. I also like the fact that this is all played live (rhythm tracks aside), in a heroic effort to mimic sequencing technology that he didn't have access to. If you're one of the small group of people who collect this sort of thing, be aware that two songs from the album don't appear on the Dark Day CD collection that came out some years ago, which is called Collected 1979-1982 on the Daft label out of Belgium.

Robin has kept recording, on and off, as Dark Day. Later incarnations of the group have little to no resemblance to his original sound: info is here on his home page. Regardless of whether you like his music, I really recommend reading his history of Dark Day and his recollections of the early days of No Wave, both of which are pretty interesting. One of his one-time collaborators in particular, Phil Kline, is worth knowing about if you live in New York and enjoy doing strange things during the Christmas season.

Thursday, April 29, 2004

 
One of my cats had to go to the emergency room yesterday (male cat...blocked urethra... he's OK but it was scary) so I didn't have much the chance to think about music for today. So, I'm going to rely on the old MP3 blogger's standby and post something rare without too much comment.

When famous New Zealand label Flying Nun celebrated its 10-year anniversary, one of their party goodies was a cassette tape called Roger Sings the Hits, which featured a handful of Flying Nun bands covering other Flying Nun bands. To the best of my knowledge, only one of these songs ever saw proper CD release (it's a big world and there are a lot of compilations out there, so I'm not going to swear to this) and the cassette became something of a collectors item. Without further ado, here are a few tracks:

1. Flex performed by Straitjacket Fits (originally JPS Experience)
2. I Don't Want You Anyway by The Bats (originally Look Blue Go Purple)
3. The Brain That Wouldn't Die by Roger Kilgour (originally Tall Dwarfs)

Track #2 is the one that I think appears elsewhere, but I love the Bats and LBGP, so there you go.

Tomorrow, as usual, is no wave day.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

 
I'm postponing writing about the 80's band I've been mentioning for the last few days, as I finally managed to get in touch with someone who used to be a member and I'm waiting to get more details. I decided this about fifteen minutes ago, so I'm kind of scrambling for material for today.

First, a link. I've been hesitant to discuss the band Hefner here. I vastly prefer their atypical Dead Media album to anything else they've done, but I get the impression that that's not a popular point of view among longtime Hefner fans. Luckily, I can refer you here, where someone else expresses my feelings (April 27th post) and posts some mp3s.

This is kind of early notice, so mark your calendar: Karen Mantler is going to be doing a live show on WFMU on May 26th (details on this page). I wrote about Karen a long time ago, but I think it's been long enough that I can safely repeat it.

Quickly, she's Carla Bley's daughter (Carla Bley = extremely famous, quirky, jazz person), and looks just about exactly like her mom, right down to the hairstyle. She's release four solo albums, all revolving (more or less) around the life and death of her beloved cat Arnold. In order, the titles are My Cat Arnold, Karen Mantler and Her Cat Arnold Get The Flu, Farewell [poor Arnold!], and Karen Mantler's Pet Project [the search for an Arnold replacement].

She kind of walks a line with her material: her persona on the albums is very much that of the hapless child, but at the same time she does very much know how to play her instrument, as do the other people (Including Eric Mingus) who play with her. Her songwriting is aptly described in Allmusic as too pop for jazz people and too weird for pop people. A lot of her melodies sound like the sorts of ambling things that little kids sing when they're making up songs for themselves, but the final arrangements are polished and clearly the work of an adult who knows what she's doing. The risk when performing that kind of an act is that it can get a little too cutesy, and to various degrees her 1st, 2nd and 4th albums succumb to this. The one album where she really nails it is her third, Farewell.

I posted Arnold's Dead the last time I talked about Karen, but it really is her quintessential song (she reprises it on Pet Project) so I'm posting it again. I can pretty much guarantee that you'll want to put it on a mix at some point, if you're a mix-CD maker. And here are two other tracks, Con Edison and I'm His Boss, both also from Farewell. I managed to catch Karen at her last show in New York, and she's pretty funny (again, in a hapless child way) live, so I'm betting that the WFMU appearance should be a good one. Anyone know if she really works as a waitress at Olive's? That would be worth a trip.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

 
I was going to talk about a great overlooked band from the eighties today, but I'm postponing that until tomorrow.

Having decided that the 60's band Fifty Foot Hose weren't obscure enough, Kristin Hersh (ex-Throwing Muses) is back muddying the waters with a new band called 50 Foot Wave who just released a self-titled CD EP. It's basically Kristin and the boys turning the volume up to 11 and letting it rip. Hmmmm, I don't know if there's really anything else to say. I guess that the odds are good that if you're a fan of the louder side of the Throwing Muses, you'll like it least some of this. Fans of Kristin's acoustic albums may want to stay away. From the 50 Foot Wave EP, here's the first track which is called Bug.

While I like the EP, I do tend to like Kristin's work better when it has more dynamics to it: my favorite Hersh songs are the ones where she's singing nicely and then, Boom! starts ranting like a sheep being stabbed to death. I also like to be able to hear the lyrics a little bit more clearly, as lately she's been writing some pretty funny/bitter lines (I'm thinking especially of some of the songs from Sunny Border Blue). Luckily, the Throwing Music website has the lyrics. It also lets you purchase the EP as a CD or as a download, which is nice.

To help avoid confusion, here's one of the longer tracks by Fifty Foot Hose: Fantasy. At times this reminds me of Jessamine (electronics + guitar, bass, drums, female vocals + droney noodley tendencies), at other times of standard-issue boring sixties guitar solo music, but I think the good parts are are worth sitting through the bad parts. More on Fifty Foot Hose here.

Having decided that Das Damen weren't obscure enough, Kristin Hersh (ex-Throwing Muses) decided to muddy the waters by calling the first song on 50 Foot Wave's EP Bug. Das Damen had released a pretty good song by that name on their third album, and also as the first track on one of their EP's way back in 1988. I'm open to correction, but as far as I know the EP in question (Marshmellow Conspiracy) is the only Das Damen release worth buying by the casual fan of mid-eighties indie guitar rock (especially Dinosaur Jr.). If you have a turntable, you'll definitely want to get the 12" version which comes on stunning bubble-gum pink vinyl and, more importantly, includes a pretty neat cover of the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour, listed on the album as Song for Michael Jackson to $ell which I'm thinking is at least partly a reference to the old Minutemen song Political Song for Michael Jackson To Sing. It's also referring to the fact that Michael Jackson had recently become the owner of the Beatles' catalog. Contrary to some reports, Das Damen did not give themselves credit for writing the song, but they didn't credit the Beatles either.

Michael Jackson apparently didn't find this amusing, and the song is missing from the CD version. On the other hand, the CD is one of those cute little three-inch things, a format that SST was really pushing back in a day. From the Marshmellow Conspiracy EP, here's the first track which is called Bug. People with good memories may recall that this EP came out not long after Dinosaur Jr. put out an album called Bug, and that Thurston Moore was quoted (I think in Spin) as saying that "bug" was in the air (and that Dinosaur Jr.'s album, which is going to get reissued shortly, was better than Sonic Youth's new album -- I think that Thurston was absolutely right).

Sorry about not posting the Beatles cover, but my turntable hasn't been playing at 45 RPM lately. Hopefully I'll have it fixed by next week.

It's tempting to wrap things up with Bug Day by The Fall, but I'm guessing that most of you already own The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall, so I won't.

Monday, April 26, 2004

 
More Twin/Tone

For the last week or so, I've been going on about the treasures of the Twin/Tone label's website. One of the biggest surprises for me was the fact that Jonathan Richman's Rockin' and Romance is available on CD via the site. You probably know that that album was vinyl/cassette-only, and it's been out of print for a long time. It's one of his "childlike innocence" records, with songs about UFO's, jeans, chewing gum wrappers and so on.

I like it for some boring reasons: because I think the songwriting is especially strong, because the lyrics are fairly clever, because even the a cappella track has a decent melody and a nice hook with the "boom-ba-boom-ba, boom-ba-boom-ba, boom-ba-boom-ba, boom!" Here's my thought regarding the post-Modern Lovers albums: a lot of people who I know seem to associate them with events in their lives, and then prefer the album that has the best associations. For me, Rockin' and Romance conjures up memories of my last month-or-so in high school, when I had finished all of my AP classes [non-US readers: these are classes that prepare you for a standardized, "college level" test. The tests come before the end of the school year. At my school, AP classes ended after the test] and pretty much had to report to school only to take gym. I spent the rest of the days lying in the sun, learning to play guitar, and (often) listening to a tape of this album. Good times.

I also learned two important lesson from Rockin' and Romance: vinyl records warp when you leave them in your car on a hot day and if you keep your unlabeled cassettes in a big pile in a milk crate, you'll lose track of them. Rockin' and Romance doesn't sell for all that much on eBay, but I've been waiting for a CD reissue, and then just last week I discovered that that had already happened. Hoorah!

Here's My Jeans (the song's use of the word "bum" irritated Christgau, but I don't mind, and I dispute the Dean's assertion that "tush" would be an improvement), the informative and surprisingly catchy-for-what-it-is Walter Johnson, and finally a song about Vincent Van Gogh, who may or may not have been called an asshole. Guess we'll never know, 'cause this song doesn't get into that.

The rest of the album is equally charming and goofy and sweet. Nice backing band, with a lot of small touches like handclaps and harmonies to flesh out the arrangements. I support you if another one of his albums is your favorite, but this one is mine (not including the first Modern Lovers album, of course). On Allmusic, Richie Unterberger rates it as Richman's best 80's album, and I mention that because tomorrow I'm featuring a band that Mr. Unterberger ranks as an overlooked treasure of the 80's.

Friday, April 23, 2004

 

Fridays are No Wave and related days here for the foreseeable future.

I was still in high school in the early 80's, and I don't want to pretend to be an expert when I'm not, so I'll refer you to this article at Perfect Sound Forever which gives a lot of background for the bands that followed and were influenced by the original no wave groups. (I had no idea that Amy Rigby was once part of that scene!)

I do mean "influenced": V-Effect don't sound like anyone on No New York. They were much less chaotic, noisy and aggressive, and will probably remind you more of "downtown" or "Knitting Factory" music. My working definition of "Knitting Factory music" (which is no longer the right term, since the club books differently now): music with annoying saxophones that Americans don't like.

As you might guess from that definition, it's not a kind of music that I normally take to. But, V-Effect have a few things in their favor. Their songs have fairly tight structures, there's a lot of post-punk evident in their rhythm section, and their lyrics, which often sound like a Seven Sisters version of the Minutemen, are especially sharp. From their one album Stop Those Songs, here are my three favorite tracks: A Tree Grows in Managua, Boyce Life and New Song (Old Story). If you have to pick just one, I'd go for Boyce Life which features a clever take on its theme of cold war spying. [note: I currently have the line "I'm betraying my country, it's no longer top secret" just terrifyingly stuck in my head. What a great song!]

Band members were Rick Brown (who I know the best due to his later band Run On, formed with his wife Sue Garner and ex-Love Child guy Alan Licht), Ann Rupel (later in Curlew and probably other Downtown Music Gallery-type acts that I don't follow), and David Zonzinsky (about whom I know nothing).

The album is very much out of print, and has never been on CD. I kind of think that now might be a really good time to reissue it, given the recent resurgence of interest in this sort of thing.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

 
After yesterday's post on Men Without Hats, today seems like a good time to mention The Vapors. Since they never appeared in a video with a dancing dwarf, they don't seem to suffer the same presumption of mediocrity. For the most part, I think people have either never heard anything but Turning Japanese, or they're aware that the rest of the Vapors' catalog is good-to-great.

Here's a nice website that has more info than most, including an interesting interview. You know what I wonder: how many people know that Turning Japanese supposedly refers to masturbation, and write articles about the Vapors that mention this, but don't actually know why the song supposedly refers to masturbation? I've been reading this for years, and most people don't seem to bother to explain the connection. I wonder how many hours I've spent thinking "Turning Japanese, Turni Ng Japanese, TuRnInG JaPaNeSe" and imagining Japanese people "turning" and generally trying to figure that one out. So anyway, the answer turned out to be much less clever than I'd expected (it has to do with squinching up your eyes, and it looks like David Fenton has given so many different answers to questions about the song that no one but him will ever know if it's really about anything.)

There's a fair amount of variety on New Clear Days, and I can see many of the tracks being someone's personal favorite. The one I like best (I'm sort of amazed that no one seems to have covered it) is Trains.

There are now something like three or four Vapors compilations available, but I don't think there are any live albums for sale. Which is too bad, because there are some reasonably high-quality live tracks by the band and I imagine that they'd be snapped up by the same people who keep the compilations in print. Here's a live Trains (I told you it was my favorite song) and here's (from the same concert) Jimmy Jones and News At Ten (sorry, my copy has one small glitch near the beginning). I've been told that there's at least one other live set of similar or better quality floating around, but I don't have it.

Kaito UK watch: This is probably more useful for people who don't live in the US. Their 2nd album, Band Red, is getting a UK release that includes bonus live tracks and a video. Kaito do sound great live, but I'm not sure that there's enough of a difference between the live and studio versions to make it worth buying Band Red twice (though the video might be enough of a reason). If you don't have Band Red, though, you might want to look out for the new version. Details here. One review here.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

 

Back in January, I read a blurb in Gawker that said:

"Put on a flannel shirt and get your early-90's on with the Swirlies."

It stuck with me for a couple of reasons. The more obvious one is that it's strange that a blog that gets many of its yucks by making fun of members of Group A who don't know the rules of Group B would think that a 2nd generation shoegazing/experimental pop band from Boston had anything much to do with le Grunge. But what I really wondered about is the kind of person (who pretty clearly exists, and probably reads Gawker more often than I do) who thinks to themself, "I want to reexperience time-period-x tonight. I wonder what band will provide the best soundtrack." I'm not saying that there's no validity to that view of entertainment, but I have to admit that it's not one that I find very interesting.

What got me thinking about this is Men Without Hats. If you want to see something instructive, go to Amazon and read the reviews of the Men Without Hats best-of collection. It's about what you'd expect: a bunch of people reminiscing about Safety Dance, with star ratings ranging from zero to five. And a lot of the reviews are very much along the lines of "Get your 80's on with Men Without Hats!" Then take a look at the reviews of Pop Goes the World. The first thing I noticed is how much better written they are. The second thing that really jumps out is the fact that all of the reviews save one give it five stars (the one not-five-star reviewer grants it four stars). I can think of a bunch of possible explanations for the discrepancy, but the one that appeals to me is the idea that it would never occur to people-looking-to-get-their-decade-on that a "one hit wonder, eighties band" might actually have written a great full-length album. If that's what's going on, their loss.

Since I'm going to post three songs from the CD today (which is available as a Canadian import), I don't really feel the need to go on and on about how great it is. And actually, the Amazon reviews do an excellent job of explaining why it's so wonderful. A few things that I find interesting about the album:

1. Flute by Ian Anderson (of Jethro Tull). The most obvious of a number of signs that Men Without Hats knew a thing or two about prog.

2. References (via music and lyrics) to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. It's probably worth remembering that during their career (still ongoing, by the way) Men Without Hats covered Roxy Music's Editions of You and the Beatles' I Am the Walrus, as well as Abba's S.O.S. And, they had references to Van Der Graaf Generator, to a Phil Manzanera album, to the Gang of Four (as band and political entity) and to author Harry Crews (giving them something in common with Kim Gordon). I don't think you can make these sorts of connections easily with, say, Kajagoogoo.

3. A loose concept about Johnny and Jenny that might be loosely based on the plot of the movie A Date with an Angel (which featured Pop Goes the World on the soundtrack and Emmanuelle Beart as the angel)? I think they're still trying to sort out just exactly what it's about on the Men Without Hats message board, but it's definitely about something.

I hope that all of this is enough to get you intrigued if you're not familiar with the album. Here's the Intro that leads very nicely into Pop Goes the World. And here's Moonbeam. Yes, I'm posting the "hits" from the album, but they do seem like the most immediate tracks. Rest assured that the rest of the album is all quality stuff, and it flows together surprisingly nicely. [Turns out I have extra space. Here's In The Name of Angels.]

Finally, here's that Roxy music cover that I mentioned above. The Men Without Hats website is kind of clunky looking, but has a lot of really interesting stuff. And their message board is well worth a read (especially if you're not aware of the prices that some of their CDs command on eBay). One item on the website that I really need to get ahold of is the track The Same Halo, an outtake from Pop goes the World, which is apparently available to purchasers of the new album via some complicated passwordy type thing.

Hey, Pitchfork is kind of worth reading today.

Monday, April 19, 2004

 
No One Knows!

[I decided to assume that you all know who the Feelies are, so no real explanation of what they sound like is provided. If you don't know the band, please buy their first album immediately. Not knowing who they are is about on par with not knowing the first Modern Lovers album. Sorry if that sounds snippy!]

Last week I mentioned the Twin/Tone site, where you can download a pretty cool live Replacements show. I didn't mention something else, and I suspect it's not as well known as it should be. I've taken a look at eBay, Amazon, Gemm, and a few other places, and it seems pretty clear to me that in general, people aren't aware of this.

["this" is the the fact that the Feelies album The Good Earth, which I've seen selling for $30-$60 lately is not, in fact, truly out of print.]

And even if people are aware of that, I wonder if they're aware of this.

["this" is the fact that the Feelies EP No One Knows, a companion to The Good Earth, which was vinyl-only and went out of print long ago, is available on CD.]

And even if they know that, I'm pretty sure that the majority of Feelies fans don't know this.

["this" is the fact that Shore Leave by Yung Wu, basically the Feelies with their percussionist singing lead and originally vinyl/cassette only, is available on CD.]

I long ago lost any perspective on the Feelies, as they were my favorite band until the early 90's, so I can't really tell you what their best album is. What I can tell you is that the Yung Wu album is fantastic (don't confuse Yung Wu with Wake Ooloo: big difference in quality), that it's the Feelies-related album that I play the most these days, and I don't think I'm going out on a limb when I suggest that it's utterly essential if you're a fan of the Haledon combo. It came out a year after The Good Earth and features the people who appeared on that album plus a keyboardist. Want to hear a few tracks? Ok, here's Shore Leave and here's Return To Zion, both taken from the CD version. Generally it's a little bit looser and more informal than The Good Earth, and includes more cover versions.

The only bad thing about this is that I really think the Feelies need a box set, and the way Twin/Tone is handling things would seem to make that less likely, at least in the near future. I'd love to see a reissue that included, along with the regular albums, the two items mentioned above and various b-sides and the complete tracks that appear in the movie Something Wild. That last part would really make me happy. From that No One Knows EP, here's the Feelies version of the Beatles She Said, She Said.

Now, where's the Trypes EP?

There's at least one other "wow, I had no idea that was available, much less on CD" album on the Twin/Tone site, but I want to write about it next week. Please don't ruin my surprise!

Magic Dirt watch: according to their website, their last album Tough Love is getting reissued as a double-disc set, with the second disc to include a bunch of live tracks. Go to the fanclub section on their site for more details. I already shelled out for the first version, which came with a bonus DVD (that I can't play yet, as I don't have an all-region player), but I'm sure I'll be picking up the new version as well. I'm guessing that I'll have to order it from Australia, as usual, which isn't as good a deal as it used to be, thanks to the weakening US dollar. I always say this, but be aware that Tough Love is a lot poppier than their early stuff. Nonetheless, I think it's pretty great.

 

Last week Matthew Fluxblog posted a song by a longtime Mystical Beast favorite band Laptop. Matthew reaches a pretty huge audience for an mp3 blog, so I thought that even though this makes the third or fourth time that I've promoted Jesse Hartman's work here, it might be nice to take advantage of whatever momentum exists. I believe that one of my compatriots may be doing something similar today.

Superfast recap: Laptop is the 80's-inspired project of one Jesse Hartman, formed after the dissolution of his previous band Sammy, plagued by problems with record labels, and virtually unknown in his hometown of New York City. Laptop's 2003 album Don't Try This at Home was typically wonderful and as a reward it received one whopping vote in the Village Voice Pazz & Jop poll (thank you J.R. Taylor!). I make such a fuss not to protest the unfairness of the world or a general lack of critical taste, but simply because Jesse Hartman has been making some of my favorite music over the last 10 years and I'd really like him to get some encouragement so he doesn't stop. Good Lord, he even hired a backing band of six super-foxes for his last tour and you still didn't go to see him play live! What do you people want anyway!?

Not the Jesse didn't predict his lack of success. As far back as his 1999 song I'm So Happy You Failed, he noted the possibility that he might be "setting myself up for the same song to get sung right back to me," and at this point the Strokes (or whoever he was referring to) would be well within their rights to start serenading Jesse from outside his window. As far as I know, his most public exposure has been the appearance of one of his songs on the soundtrack of an unbelievably terrible movie called The New Guy, which I recommend you avoid like the Strokes.

One of the neater things about Laptop is that Jesse, who also has a theatrical background, frequently includes skits within the songs (why should hip-hop have all the fun), most of which involve what an ass he is. Here's Gimme The Night, which includes the immortal exchange:

Woman: Well, I'm not going to your place.
Man: Why?
Woman: 'Cause you'll be there.


I wish I could promise you that this is the last time I'll be posting a Laptop song, but Jesse is working on a new album even as we speak. If it's as good as his previous work, and if you people keep ignoring him, you can bet I'll be plugging him yet again sometime soon.

One bad thing about Laptop is the name "Laptop." It makes it a real pain to do Google/eBay searches on the band. You know what band has a worse name than Laptop? I submit The Strawberry Smell. They're from France, but they sing like Americans pretending to be English (a pretty neat trick). Not content with choosing a horrible band name, they proceeded to call their debut album Odorama. Luckily, there's nothing smelly about their music (I am so sure that I'm the first person to make that joke). Their album was released by the Rainbow Quartz label which pretty much tells you that it's going to be inspired by sixties pop/psych (other bands on the label include Cotton Mather and now, apparently, the Lilys). The CD and Strawberry Smell's website feature neato graphics that would have fit in perfectly in the movie CQ. I wonder what happened to the follow-up album mentioned on their site. Here's the track Balthazar from Odorama, and I hope you enjoy it, my smelly little cabbages.

Friday, April 16, 2004

 
Last week I started a Friday feature on bands with a no wave or Sonic Youth-y background who weren't hugely successful. I'm defining "hugely succesful" in relative terms, obviously. This week it's Nice Strong Arm, originally from Texas. I knew their name for years before actually hearing any of their music: there's a song called Axl Rose Is Love by a band called Mary's Danish that includes the phrase "nice strong arm" and it always stuck with me.

Their first album was called Reality Bath, it came out on Homestead in 1987 and there's no CD version. It sounds somewhat like a cross between the Butthole Surfers who made Psychic...Powerless...Another Man's Sac and Sonic Youth circa Evol, but without most of those bands' more extreme (some might say "interesting") tendencies. The Butthole Surfers similarity comes mainly from a double-drum lineup and the singer's vocal similarity to Gibby Haynes (in Gibby's less crazed moments). The Sonic Youth influence is mostly evident in some guitar parts that are swiped directly from Evol's poppier numbers.

All this might sound intriguing, but unfortunately Reality Bath is produced with a very generic, Homesteady, indie style that kind of obscures the band's charms. There's not much stereo image, the guitar is badly recorded and undermixed, and there may very well be two drummers, but on record they've got the oomph of a cardboard box. If you crank up the volume and fiddle with the EQ, you can kind of hear what might have been on tracks like When Truth Comes Around and Free At Last, but it might require more imagination than many people are going to want to expend.

There's an interview with Nice Strong Arm from way back when here, and a few photos (of them and of some other 80's indie folk) here. There's one video that I'm aware of that appears on a kind-of interesting tape called 12 O'Clock High which was put out by Atavistic. There are a couple of volumes, and they include videos by Pussy Galore, The Tall Dwarfs, Bongwater, Mudhoney, The Flaming Lips, Lee Ranaldo, etc. Again, this probably sounds more interesting than it really is: most of the videos just plain stink. I wouldn't pay a lot for the tapes, but if you see them cheap they're probably worth watching once.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

 
First some news. Thou are a band that I like a lot, and I've posted their songs in the past. Annoyingly, they're extremely inept when it comes to making their CDs available for purchase outside of Belgium. Today I got an email informing me that they've finally gotten their act together. You can buy their wonderful I Like Girls In Russia here. Hooray!

I'm not going to post any tracks, but the whole album can still be streamed at Thou's website. I also see that they've finally translated some of the info into English (I know it sounds typically American for me to expect English, but they sing in English so it doesn't seem weird to expect their fans to...read English). There's a cute story in the Bio section about how they got the album title. A quick description if you don't know the band: blur + Portishead. It's more complicated, of course, but that's the super-short version.

I have just one huge track to post today, a lesser-known Brian Eno song. He didn't write it, and he only sings back-up and plays synthesizer, but he produced Train To Mercy by The Walkabouts with a very heavy hand, as if he was trying to fit it onto Another Green World. That one song is Eno's only collaboration with The Walkabouts (not counting another version on a 12" ep) and I get impression that he just happened to be around the studio. The Walkabouts are a very long-running concern, and have a great website here. Train To Mercy appears on their Scavenger album which came out on Sub Pop in '91, just in time to get lost in the Nirvana shuffle.

One more link, since I'm only posting one song. I don't have time to write a lot about Bugskull, but here's the Trouser Press article on them. (By the way, this is another write-up that originally appeared in Badaboom Gramophone's issue on bands left out of Trouser Press. Wouldn't it be nice if Allmusic accepted outside contributions to correct its myriad omissions?). I was pleased to discover that that 10" on Quixotic mentioned in Trouser Press is actually available online here (along with a bunch of other Quixotic releases). It's not like it's going to change your life, but the song False Alarm is a reasonably nifty bit of mellow indie-rock. It doesn't exactly sound like Pavement, but it probably wouldn't have existed without Pavement.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

 
I set some sort of a record yesterday for post-revising. What I originally wrote at 6:00am didn't make a whole lot of sense to me after several cups of coffee, and I spent my spare moments throughout the day trying to tease it into something slightly less awful. I'm not sure if I succeeded 100%, but it's at least a little better.

As you probably know, Largehearted Boy is a great site that posts daily links (usually without much commentary) to all kinds of (frequently legit) mp3s and videos and such. The only downside is that I feel compelled to double-check against it whenever I post a link, to make sure that I'm not duplicating any recently-posted info. I'm pretty sure, but far from certain, that he hasn't yet mentioned the Twin/Tone site, but it seems impossible to me that at least one of the major bloggers hasn't pointed it out.

Twin/Tone is probably best known as the label that the Replacements were on, though they put out a lot of other great stuff. They aren't releasing new product, but have made an increasing number of their out-of-print titles available for purchase on CD (without cover art). You might want to check out their website and have a look around at what's there. Aside from the CDs, they also have a bunch of downloadable videos, including several by the Mekons (among which is the video for Memphis Egypt from my favorite Mekons album Rock and Roll). Even better, though, is a complete show by the Replacements from 1981.

I've become pretty jaded on the subject of live videos, since they're rarely as interesting as I wish they were. Usually they're shot from too far away or the sound is bad or there aren't enough camera angles (or if there are enough camera angles, the video seems too "slick"). I honestly don't know if I've ever seen anything as good (at least via download) as the Replacements show on the Twin/Tone website, and I'm not even a particularly huge fan of that band: I liked them at the time, but got bored after Let It Be, and have been utterly uninterested by any of Paul Westerberg's solo stuff. I now kind of think of them (possibly unfairly) as the indie Bruce Springsteen.

As I said, though, the videos are just fantastic. The show (and it's not one of those legendary drunken-sloppy-mess shows either) is broken up into chunks, so you don't have to download any enormous files. Also, it's available in low, medium and high quality file (Quicktime) sizes, so people with dial-up can test the waters before committing to the larger (20MB or so) files. Just to save you some trouble, here's one of the smaller high quality videos (it's about 14MB). It's for Kids Don't Follow. For the rest, go to Twin/Tone's site and click on the Videos link.

Yesterday I posted some tracks from Joy Zipper's American Whip, which finally came out after a nearly year-long delay. In the same issue of Mojo that originally reviewed that (Jan 2003), there was also a review of Cha Cha Cohen's album All Artists Are Criminals. I've featured tracks from this a long time ago, but was struck, while writing about Joy Zipper yesterday, by the extent to which All Artists Are Criminals has slipped through the cracks and vanished. As a quick recap, Cha Cha Cohen is the band that Jaqi (formerly of the Dustdevils) formed with Keith (not Steve!) Gregory. They have two albums, both of which are terrific, as well as a few singles. They sound something like a mix of the Fall (the post-Brix Fall) and Soul Coughing (I'm thinking of Soul Coughing's rhythm section, not Doughty, so don't be scared). Jaqi sing-speaks the words, and even though I can rarely tell what she's talking about, she has a Mark E. Smith way about her of coming up with compelling/unintelligible lines. To The Letter is still my favorite track from All Artists Are Criminals, so here it is again.

Finally, I'm thrilled to see that Fluxblog has a song posted today by Laptop, a band that I've gone on and on and on about in these pages. Maybe now people will listen! I really hope so. Laptop's website is here, and it seems that Mr. Hartman is currently working on new material.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

 

Without much fanfare, at least around these parts, Joy Zipper's long-delayed album American Whip has finally come out. Well, in England anyway. I've looked all over, including on their website's discussion board, and I still can't figure out what the US release date is, other than the fact that Tabitha said, "soon." In case you haven't been following the Joy Zipper story, their second album American Whip was supposed to come out last year. Advertisements were run. Promotional copies went out. Reviewers reviewed it. But, after all that, their record label ran into some temporary money problems which took a while to resolve. Anyway, the wait is over. As far as I can tell, the only difference between this release and the promos that circulated last year is the absence of some dialogue from one song (they had to remove some slightly disturbing tapes of an Alzheimers patient).

Today makes, I think, the third time I've talked about Joy Zipper here. I still haven't managed to pin down the reason why I find them so fascinating (the above photo of Tabitha eating spaghetti notwithstanding). Musically they're not revolutionary: I remain convinced that their sound can be boiled down to a mix of American indie pop ( e.g. Apples In Stereo, Dressy Bessy) and My Bloody Valentine, but the details of their songs are odd and the trajectory of their career thus far is anything but normal. For one thing, I can't figure out why they've clicked so much better in England than in America (they're originally from Long Island). And, even though I'm sure it boils down to "someone knew someone" their hooking up with Kevin Shields struck me as unexpected. Their lyrics touch on a number of standard indie themes (drugs, I wuv you, etc.) but never in the way I'd expect (as an example, they have a song about Alan Watts that doesn't actually say much of anything about Alan Watts other than a few vague generalities: he's dead and he wrote a lot of books.). There's something slippery and effortless about them that's just...odd. I don't know exactly how to put this, but something about Joy Zipper's image and their sound and the way they look (Marsha Brady dating that nice boy from the neighborhood) and their lyrics and even their band name (supposedly Tabitha's mom's name) just doesn't add up for me. I don't know, maybe it's my paranoia coming out, but I wouldn't be surprised to learn that there's a lot more to them than what's contained in their official bio (which seems to get repeated just about verbatim in every review of Joy Zipper that I've seen).

Don't get the impression that my inability to explain exactly why I find them weird means that I don't like them. I pulled out American Whip last week after a break of several months, and if anything it sounds even better to me now.

Here's a quick Joy Zipper primer. From their first, self titled album this is The Power of Alan Watts, where songwriter Vinnie Carfiso (a name that seems too real to be real) and his girlfriend Tabitha Tindale (a name that seems too fake to be fake) manage to avoid the difficulty of writing a chorus by speeding up the verse's melody to doubletime here and there.

From a recent EP The Stereo and God, recorded with Kramer while waiting for American Whip to come out, here's Gun Control.

And finally, from American Whip, here's my current favorite song Out Of the Sun. There's a tantalizing snippet of the video for this on the band's slightly annoying website, featuring the loving couple looking disturbingly perfect as 1970s-style television evangelists.

Monday, April 12, 2004

 
Mainstream Monday

My little sister has mentioned from time to time that it might be nice if I wrote about a band that she's heard of. Today might be the day (maybe).

For a band that sings about going to the record store to buy some Gang of Four and the Beatles' Revolver (and on vinyl, no less), Fastball sure have a lot of songs on their forthcoming Keep Your Wig On that would fit nicely into Patrick Bateman's music collection . The album opens with a slew of classic with a capital C rock tunes, including a Randy Newman-esque snoozer called I Get High that would sound perfect in a Pixar feature if Pixar ever releases a movie about a bunch of lovable alcoholics. About halfway through, Fastball seem to conclude that they've fulfullied some sort of obligation, and out comes the Beatles/Elvis (Costello) pop that made them one of the rare mainstream guitar rock bands worth paying attention to in the late 90's. I always wonder about groups like this: I don't hear them as an indie band with a fluke hit (or two), but rather as a solidly Classic band who, against all odds, manage to sneak some interesting stuff past the guards. Last I heard, they were back to playing small clubs, but it seems at least possible that Keep Your Wig On (out on Ryko in June, I think) could make some waves with the Walmart set, especially if they get a commercial tie in...I'm thinking Budweiser. Here's Perfect World, which reminds me an awful lot of what (fellow Texans) Cotton Mather might sound like after a semester or two at Rock School [if you don't know Cotton Mather, their Kon-Tiki album is one of the more essential lo-fi/60's-influenced albums out there]. And here's Our Misunderstanding, and if that isn't a sly tip of the hat to Belle & Sebastian at the very beginning of the song, I for one am surprised. [I have a promo copy of the CD, and there's something odd about the sound. I don't know if it's some sort of copy protection or what, but the crackling you may hear is there on mine as well.]

Semisonic, would be the other band-worth-watching (that I'm aware of) who got popular in the later 90's-early 00's. Yes, Closing Time. I know. I don't like it either, nor much of anything else off of Feeling Strangely Fine. But, their follow-up to that, All About Chemistry was a really fun album with some amazing production smeared all over a bunch of catchy pop tunes. It's another good example of what mainstream rock can do at its best, and I'm not indie-snob enough to dislike it. The song of theirs that really blows me away, though, is from their first EP. Pleasure, kind of like Fastball's product, sits on the Classic Rock wall with one foot dangling over into the land of more-interesting things. The first time I heard Wishing Well, I started off thinking it was going to be a boring lighter-in-the-air ballad, but instead the band suddenly decides to be influenced by Queen and spirals off into an over-the-top extravaganza with huge backing vocals and a pretty May-esque guitar solo to wind things up. Not bad for a band that Allmusic compares (like Fastball) to the Wallflowers (though Semisonic's indie side is a little less hard to fathom, as they started out as Twin/Tone band Trip Shakespear). Semisonic have a website here with all sorts of mp3s/videos here.

Just to follow up on something, the subject of the loop from Scott Johnson's John Somebody came up in the comments section of my April 5th post. I tried googling an anser, but failed, and finally just emailed Scott Johnson to ask. Surprisingly, he answered a few hours later. So here's what he said about it (I asked him what the story was behind the quote):

I never knew about any story, and that's part of the point. I never met John. I was doing a little random audio collecting in 1976-7, and I stuck a mic in front of the phone, and asked a friend to call anybody up and talk about anything. I couldn't have asked for anything more completely faceless than what happened at one point: "....John somebody - he was a, sort of a...." So I made an anthem to anonymity. Everyone is just somebody to most everyone else. We know they are more to themselves, but it will never matter much to us on an individual level: there are just too many of us. A little poignant, a little ridiculous.

Friday, April 09, 2004

 

Art Art Art!

For the next few Fridays (my slowest day, hence the day that it'll irritate the fewest people) I'm going to post songs by Sonic Youth/no-wave related bands that didn't quite make it. I'm doing my favorite one first, so it's all downhill after this!

It's really too bad that there hasn't been a CD reissue of Rat At Rat R's output. To my ears, they sound like the missing link between pre-Evol Sonic Youth and pre-Children of God Swans. They have the guitar chimes and noises of the former and a lot of the power of the latter. Lyrically they're much closer to Swans, with a lot of repetitive lyrics about power and such, delivered in a kind of "arty" vocal style that's aged less well than the rest of the band's sound. On the plus side, they have pretty decent production and a good rhythm section, which are two things that early Sonic Youth didn't have. At their worst they remind me of Live Skull (I haven't quite given up on Live Skull, but to date they're probably my least favorite band of this type) and, in fact, at least one of them wound up in Live Skull. The Trouser Press info on Rat At Rat R is here.

When I first got their 1985 debut, Rock & Roll Is Dead, Long Live Rat At Rat R (on the Neutral label which also hosted Sonic Youth and Glenn Branca) I liked the sound but didn't find the songs themselves that interesting. Over time, though, a few have really grown on me. Here's Asshole (the lyrics are a little bit on the serious side, but actually don't sound too stupid) and here's Assassin, which seems at times to be a distant relative of the Gang of Four's Damaged Goods. I especially like the former, which builds to a pretty visceral climax before breaking down into a section of clicks and noises that actually reminds me of some Kronos Quartet pieces that I've heard. These songs sound much, much, much better at high volume: I really can't emphasize this enough.

One good thing: Rat At Rat R are sufficiently unknown that you can buy their albums fairly cheaply, and the records seem to turn up in stores and on eBay reasonably often. Nonetheless, I'd love to hear a good remaster, since the main appeal is the impact of the sound. I'd guess that they were great live, but I was busy idolizing Beat Happening during Rat At Rat R's heyday, so I never did see them.

Thursday, April 08, 2004

 
Artist response day

Today I'm posting two interesting responses that I received from artists whose bands I mentioned on the site.

First, though, a couple of songs by a band from New Jersey called The Cucumbers. Recently, I stumbled upon a record store in New York that seems to have every single indie label record from the eighties that I never got around to buying. Even better, they're really cheap, so I've been filling in all sorts of gaps in my collection. I knew about The Cucumbers' sort-of hit My Boyfriend because the video used to play on this amazing local alternative to MTV called U68 that I watched incessantly when I was in high school. I should spend a day sometime talking about all of the incredible videos that I managed to catch on that station, but not today. My Boyfriend is a nearly perfect pop song with a melody as instantly catchy as any advertising jingle I can think of it and a cute verse (repeated several times in lieu of chorus) about a boyfriend who has his good and his bad side. It lasts just over two and 1/2 minutes (exactly the right length) and it's about as charming as boppy singles get. It originally came out in 1983. I was thrilled to discover that it still jumps off of the turntable (kudos to whoever produced/engineered/mastered the four song EP) and here it is. What I hadn't suspected was the presence of a second song, Susie's Getting Married, that might be even better. If anyone knows the lyrics to this, please let me know because the parts that I can understand sound pretty interesting and I just can't figure out what we're supposed to tell the man from the bank, among other things. Website with more info on the band is here.

On January 2nd of this year I did a very brief feature on a band called The Silly Pillows. A week or so ago, I noticed that lead Pillow Jonathan Caws-Elwitt had posted a few corrections in the comments section. But, given how old the post is, I didn't think that what he wrote would be seen by too many people. Then, a few days later, I got a nice e-mail from one of the members of Bipolaroid (a band I mentioned last week) that actually shed some interesting light on their album. I thought it would be nice to free the musicians from the cramped confines of my comments section, so here's what they had to say:

From Jonathan Caws-Elwitt of the (no longer extant) Silly Pillows [his corrections are still up for the 1/2/04 post, but he thought -- and I agree -- that the subject of twee/lo-fi (which have gone somewhat out-of-style since the mid-90's) should be addressed]:

It's funny, that whole "twee"/"lo-fi" thing. (Maybe I should have put "thing" in quotes as well, just for good measure.) Not perhaps since Dada, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism (these are 20th c. fine arts movements, not the name of a rock supergroup) has there been a genre that so consistently invites the question of intention vs. accident. Now, with world-class fine artists one knows enough to assume complete forethought and control. They take care to prove the latter by means of flawless conventional landscapes early in their careers, and the former by dint of tedious manifestos. But when it comes to indie-pop music . . . well, we're not always so sure, are we?

Speaking for myself, I've observed that some of my honest mistakes sound like intentional brilliance to certain listeners; while, on the other hand, some of my deliberate artistic decisions sound like amateurish clumsiness to other listeners. Some people mistake the painstaking studio-recorded tracks for casually-home-recorded "demos", while others feel that those same tracks have a "slick" quality that does a disservice to our delicate "bedroom-pop" aesthetic. Enthusiasts in the latter category might, by contrast, applaud us for having used certain "lo-fi" sounds at home that we actually never would have used if we'd had access at the time to something higher-fi.

Related (?) ramble: Sometimes I think about how my background assumptions can color my interpretation of "where the artist is coming from". With respect to my own band, a listener may have read something along the lines of "The Silly Pillows [original lineup] are a boy-girl couple who live in the hills of rural Pennsylvania." This is true, and perhaps makes the listener predisposed to find a certain lack of sophistication in what (s)he hears. (Whether this would be snobbishness or cultural sagacity, I'm not sure.) But what if one finds out that the boy and girl both graduated from Harvard? And that the girl grew up in Manhattan, catching up-and-coming bands like Gang of Four and XTC in club dates? Or that by the time the band's first vinyl was released, the "boy" was 30 years old? Do these facts (all true) change the assumptions one brings to the music? Maybe. But . . . is any of that even relevant? If the music sounds a certain way -- for better or worse -- to a given listener left alone with headphones, then is that all that counts, for that listener? In other words: for the purposes of our hypothetical listener's enjoyment of -- or distaste for --the music, does it really matter at all whether (s)he decides to label the band's attitude as "naivete" versus "studied idealism", or their execution as "unpolished" versus "self-consciously natural", "simplistic" versus "deliberately spare"? Eat-in versus take-out? Latitude versus longitude?? Lola versus the Powerman???


From a member of Bipolaroid [these comments actually made me much more motivated to hear what their next album sounds like]:

Hey, I was googling and found your blog. This is really funny for me to respond to, but I just wanted to let you know the band is only half American- the keyboardist is from London England, and the bass player was born in Italy.

I thought we did a good job spreading the sound out (for sixties and seventies at least). Here are the primary influences it would only be fair to credit:

Farwell & Godspeed - Pink Floyd and Hawkwind with Byrds on chorus
King of Cabbages - the Beatles!/Genesis
Callous Affair with Lady Godiva - Syd Barrett/George Harrison on guitar
Insect Religion - Pretty Things?Family/Gong
The Looking Glass - the Beatles!
Old Witch - Syd Barrett/Incredible String Band/Beatles orchestration
Dimension Five - Hawkwind/Stereolab/Spaceman 3
Madeline - Kinks/Pretty Things
Sympathy for the Swine - Pretty Things/Beatles
Galileo's Son - Pink Floyd
Time Machine - Genesis/Hawkwind

I'm assuming you already know these bands, but if not, you'll definitely pick out more of the subtleties if you pick any of their stuff up. I wasn't really interested in fooling anyone that this was a 60's record production wise. But you are correct, the reverb is way more 80's. haha

I just don't like rock'n roll after about 1978-1980. There are a few good rock bands still, but only the ones that stay true to the form. For instance, Guided By Voices can be completely brilliant when they're coping the Who!

The next record is written and I can tell you since only the Americans stayed in the band it will probably sound more like Bipolaroid.


[He also added, and I thought this was interesting, that the lead singer had tried his best to not sound like Syd Barrett. -- MB]

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

 
Oh, hell, I'll jump on the Prince bandwagon as well, and hopefully I'm not duplicating another mp3 blog. (It's getting so there are too many to keep track of. I'm sure it's only a matter of time before two or three of us show up wearing the same dress. Maybe today's the day.)

I went apeshit over Purple Rain when it first came out, just like everyone else. It's probably the last time that I was perfectly in sync with popular music. Saw the movie the day it opened, bought some extremely embarrassing "Prince inspired" clothes, played the soundtrack endlessly. My best friend actually quoted When Doves Cry once when his mom was yelling at him: "Mom, don't you realize that this is what it sounds like when doves cry!" I don't think she knew how to respond to that. I haven't watched the movie since, and I don't think I will. I remember it as a masterpiece, and I doubt that I'll gain any more insight by a second viewing.

But, aside from Cut Your Hair I mean Raspberry Beret, I haven't been as interested in his subsequent songs. Who knows why. Different times, different priorities, and I have a limited tolerance for sifting through enormous catalogs for the occasional gem. So that's how Prince and I relate.

Sometimes, though, music snobbery comes to the rescue. I have this occasionally productive habit of buying rare records when I find them on the cheap, regardless of whether they're by bands I know. You just never know who you're going to end up liking, so it's sometimes worth gambling $5-10 on the unknown from time to time. As it happens, I had just read about Prince's protege Jill Jones when a copy of her self-titled album showed up at the local record store, so I bought it despite having a limited interest at the time. As you probably know, it's a gem that would probably get more attention if it was a little less hard to find: the CD never did get reissued and sells for a fair chunk of change on eBay. It was released in '87, but composed over several years prior to that, meaning its creation coincides with a period when Prince was very much on.

You know, Prince apparently wrote all the songs and recorded (at least some of) the music and Jill Jones sings so much like Prince that I don't really hear much difference between this and a Prince album. In fact, there are a few tracks where you could probably have told me that it was Prince singing and I would have believed you (he does have that falsetto thing, after all). Like For Love, for example (one of three songs marked as "co-produced by Prince" and I have no idea if that means he's singing on it...sure sounds like it). My favorite track is the last one on the album, Baby You're a Trip. I'm not expert enough to know if anyone else made this a hit, but if not, it's a sad loss for high-school dances everywhere.

Here's a (out of date but very thorough, not that I'd really know if it wasn't) page for Jill Jones. Her album on vinyl costs *a lot* less than the CD, so here's a perfect example of the benefits of holding on to your turntable. I haven't heard the CD version, but given the quality of CD mastering in 1987 I wouldn't be at all surprised if the vinyl sounds better.

Keeping with the theme of Minnesota, here's a band that started out at Macalester college in St. Paul, Walt Mink. They have nothing in common with Prince, as far as I know. Their first album to see a real release, Miss Happiness, is one of the few items from indie-rock land that you can play to impress fans of guitar wankery. John Kimbrough manages to be a monster on guitar without letting it detract from some ever-so-slightly proggy pop songs. One of the most unlikely successes on the album is this high energy cover of Nick Drake's Pink Moon...it would have been kind of fun if this had been the song playing at the party in that famous Volkswagon ad. The other song that I like a lot is Smoothing The Ride, but the whole album is great. Probably fantastic driving music if I drove. The vocals are a little high and nasal, so you may have a problem if that's the sort of thing that bothers you. Sometimes it annoys me and sometimes it doesn't...on this record I'd say mostly not 'cause I'm really listening to the guitars. Drumming by that famous Joey Waronker, by the way.

Walt Mink's second album didn't have the same quality of songwriting as the first. Their third record El Producto is a comeback of sorts, but it's still not as good as the first, and I kind of stopped paying attention at that point even though they have a few more releases and I wouldn't be at all surprised if these contain some decent tracks. Here's a page that hosts a few mp3's and there are still more here. Still not happy? Ok, here's their demo tapes. Special thanks to my little sister, a Macalester alumna, who introduced me to the music of Walt Mink.

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

 
I won't be posting today due to the holiday (Passover) which I will celebrate by buying as many bottles of Coca Cola with the yellow cap (indicating that they're kosher for Passover, which means that they're sweetened with sugar instead of that horrible corn syrup garbage) as I can fit into my fridge.

I'll return tomorrow, in an excitable and jittery state.

Monday, April 05, 2004

 


A while ago I posted an excerpt of Scott Johnson's John Somebody, and promised that I'd put up the whole thing at some point. This isn't exactly the whole thing (which has several parts, some of which don't use the main vocal loop) but it's all of part 1, which is enough to get a sense of the piece.

If you didn't read the earlier post, basically John Somebody starts with a woman saying "You know who was in New York? D'you remember that guy J-John somebody? He was a, he was a sort of a..." Scott Johnson loops the phrase and then starts adding instruments that mimic and then play off of the natural melody of the speech. The liner notes point out that you probably won't notice the melody when she first speaks the line, but it becomes inescapable after you've heard the piece. Some of the other parts use different vocal samples, none of which are quite as catchy as the main loop. I wonder if the ambiguity of the sentence (we don't know who John is or what he was a kind-of-a or how the speaker knows he's in New York, etc.) makes it more compelling than the more fragmented pieces of speech that Scott Johnson used elsewhere.

I don't know of any real precedents for John Somebody other than Steve Reich's work with tape loops . I was kind of surprised to hear Madlib sampling a Reich tape loop piece (Come Out) on the recent Madvillain album (it's on the track America's Most Blunted). I wonder if anyone has gotten around to sampling Scott Johnson.

I should probably mention that there's a strong rock element to John Somebody, so don't expect something like Steve Reich. The album came out in 1986 originally, and to the best of my knowledge it's currently out of print.

Friday, April 02, 2004

 
I posted a link to a video and some mp3's by Boyskout at the beginning of February. At the time I kind of flippantly focused on the video which features the (very cute) band members making out with each other and rolling around in bed in (and out of) their underwear. Surprisingly, I'm finding a month down the road that I really, really, really like the single Back To Bed, so I'm going to post it here in higher quality than their website provides. I finally broke down and bought the album it's from, School of Etiquette, and while I can't say that the whole CD is great, it's definitely promising (this seems to be the year that I keep hearing bands who I think will improve in an album or two). Here's another song from the CD, Identity. I like the band's sound a lot (a mix of post-punk and early 80's electronic stuff), and I love the vocalists, so it's really going to come down to their songwriting in the future. I found an interview here, and noted the band's interest in covering Never Say Never, which seems like an excellent idea. Actually I was a little bit surprised/impressed by their favorite bands: hadn't expected the Syd Barrett love.

I seem to like Freezepop in proportion to their resemblance to the early Magnetic Fields. They have a new album in the process of coming out, and here's their website which has all sorts of videos and mp3s and stuff. This is Tender Lies from Freezepop Forever. I hold the somewhat controversial view that Stephin Merritt was at his best (at least lyrically) on the first two Magnetic Fields album, and that his later CDs have seen him getting a little too schtick-y for his own good (I know that lots of people disagree with this). I secretly suspect that Claudia Gonson has something to do with the slide, but have no hard proof. Anyway, I like Freezepop better on the less clever/more melodic songs, but you might very well disagree. All of this doesn't mean that I don't think Shark Attack is pretty funny, especially the "S-H-Blank-Blank-Blank..." part. (I'm assuming that my foreign readers have seen the game show Wheel of Fortune. If you're not understanding the song, feel free to post a comment and I'll explain.)

Thursday, April 01, 2004

 
I spent yesterday trying to come up with a suitable early John Kongos track to illustrate what his stuff on the Lavender Popcorn compilation sounds like, but I ran into the problem that the songs from his first solo album don't sound much like the rest of the collection, so I really have to post two tracks. Here's Confusions About A Goldfish, from the solo album of the same name, which has some of the worst lyrics that I've ever heard. The fact that he delivers the lines totally straight (some might say passionately) makes it even better. Man, I'm tellin' ya, we're all just goldfish in god's cosmic bowl! That is when we're not sugar packets (line from another song that I'm not posting).

Clearly John Kongos was trying on various popular styles during his early days with occasionally embarrassing results, not unlike a lot of other people (early David Bowie springs to mind). As Scrugg (what a lovely name) there are a bunch of...I guess 60's-esque is the best description...songs that will sound instantly familiar in a reasonably pleasant way. Lurking in the background of his early songs there's an interesting similarity to Neil Diamond which is probably most obvious on I Love Mary, and whoever failed to put this on the soundtrack to There's Something About Mary ought to be in big trouble. (It actually does sound like it would work well as a movie soundtrack. Can't you just hear it playing in the background as someone who loves Mary walks around town on a fall day, thinking about how he shouldn't have let Mary get away? Send me a check if you turn this into a screenplay.) My other thought is that Urge Overkill might want to take a stab at turning this into another Girl, You'll Be a Woman Soon. The lines about Mary not being so pretty or bright are kind of an odd thing to put into a love song...maybe there's a reason she treats him like a brother. And now that I think of it, Mary is mooning over someone who's away, but the singer of the song is mooning over Mary when she's away. Just where exactly is everyone? Lyrics just weren't John's strong suit in the early days, unless I'm missing something and the song is actualy about a school of goldfish.

Ultimately it's a little sad that John Kongos eventually did develop his own sound (on his two most popular songs, posted yesterday) but then didn't really follow up on them.

Speaking of the issue of sounding like other people, I recently got ahold of Bipolaroid's (I really hate that name -- can we declare a moratorium on three-part names where A+B go together and B+C go together, but A+C don't) recent Pink Floyd-to-the-max album called Tranparent Makebelieve. The album gets points for a pretty impressive channeling of Syd Barrett era Floyd, though it doesn't really sound authentic...no-one ever gets the reverb right on these fake 60's recordings. I kind of don't know what to make of it. They do a pretty impressive job of duplicating the Pink Floyd sound, and the singer should definitely get the job of doing Syd's voice if there's ever a movie (he totally nails the tendency to wander off-key), but I can't really hear this as anything other than a tribute: I keep imagining that I'm on Bleeker Street watching the Lemonade Babies or something like that. I wonder how this would sound to someone who's never heard the original. Here's the first song Farewell and Godspeed. For the first minute I was pretty impressed, but they don't really build on their mimicry. You can hear another track on the band's website if you're interested.

My other problem with the record concerns the tracks that try to duplicate the precious "treacle and cranberry sunbeams" lyrical style of 60's English psych. My general feeling is that it's sometimes charming in songs that were actually recorded back then, but comes off a little creepy from a band of Americans from New Orleans. Is it really impossible to sound like Syd Barrett while singing about, oh I don't know, girls and cars?

Nonetheless, the production and the execution of Transparent Makebelieve are impressive enough that I'll be interested to see what the band comes up with next. I guess it's sort of authentically 60's of them to copy another band so exactly, so maybe they'll continue the tribute by actually developing their own sound.

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