Tuesday, August 31, 2004

 
This week is devoted to the band Slapp Happy and its derivatives.

For their second album, Slapp Happy again teamed up with Faust and recorded another great set of catchy, clever and eccentric songs. After that, though, things get complicated.

The Faust recordings were rejected by Slapp Happy's label, Virgin, and so Peter, Anthony and Dagmar re-recorded the songs with all sorts of session players (I mean strings and woodwinds and such). The album that resulted is the one that got released, and it's great. A lot of Slapp Happy fans consider it the group's best.

From that, here's The Drum (Bongwater oh so cleverly changed a word when they covered this). And here's the first track Casablanca Moon, which has one of the better opening lines that I know of:

He used to wear fedoras, but now he sports a fez
There's cabalistic innuendoes in everything he says


The Faust-assisted recordings eventually did get released years later. There's a lot of confusing naming and re-naming of the albums. To keep things simple for today's shoppers: the Faust recordings are on a CD that looks like this:

and it's called Acnalbasac Noom and I don't know if it's still in print. Maybe in Japan? Anyone?

The Virgin re-recordings are on a CD that looks like this:

and it's called Casablanca Moon/Desperate Straights and you can buy it from Amazon and elsewhere (the CD contains two full albums: Desperate Straights is Slapp Happy's next album and I'll get to it tomorrow).

From Acnalbasac Noom, here's The Drum (a pretty rocked-out version) and Casablanca Moon. Each album has its fans; I lean ever so slightly towards the Virgin version, but if you buy one you'll probably end up buying both. Each CD has one song that's not on the other, but Acnalbasac Noom also some additional semi-interesting bonus tracks.

Tomorrow: what the hell does Mark Robinson have to do with any of this?

Monday, August 30, 2004

 

This week's theme begins with this guy, Neil Murray, who may ring a bell with you Whitesnake or Black Sabbath fans. In school, he hooked up with a couple of pals named Peter and Anthony, and they formed a band called Slapp Happy and the Dum-Dums and... You know, maybe this isn't the best way to start. Sorry Neil, see you some other time.


A long time ago a serious musician with ties to the avant garde teamed up with a guitar playing rock and roll fan, then enlisted a German chanteuse to front their band. After recording two forward looking albums, the group would release one much more listener-friendly disc, followed by a change of direction and a shift of lineup for its fourth album. A fifth record bore little relation to the group's previous efforts, as the driving force of the original band departed to pursue other projects. While that story may sound familiar (especially to those of you who know Squeeze), this time we're talking about a group called Slapp Happy who are, in their own way, just as important as the Velvet Underground. It's just that the people who bought copies of their first album haven't quite gotten around to forming their own bands just yet.

Last week I oh so cleverly led up to this by posting a bunch of covers of Slapp Happy songs. I'm willing to bet that a lot of people have been listening to that Mazzy Star cover of Blue Flower for years without suspecting that the song was originally released in 1972.

Peter Blegvad (the rock loving guitar player) and Anthony Moore (the avant garde guy) wrote all of those songs, and all of them were originally recorded by Peter and Anthony's band Slapp Happy. [War! was actually recorded by Slapp Happy in collaboration with another band called Henry Cow. More about that later.]

Peter Blegvad wasn't necessarily the biggest talent in Slapp Happpy, but he's currently the best known, so I'll start with him. Anthony Moore gets his own day later. The third member of Slapp Happy, singer Dagmar Krause, isn't going to get as much attention. Sorry, Dagmar fans. Nothing personal...just a lack of time and space.

First things first. It's always good to know how to pronounce someone's name.

Second thing. I could blab a bit, but why not get Peter's own history from the horse's mouth. That gets us to 1990, which is a good start.

I can't present a complete picture of Slapp Happy and all the related projects in one week. It would take too much space, too many mp3s and too much writing. I'm basically just going to post the things that I like the best, and I apologize if I leave out your favorite song.

Let's start off with the original version of Blue Flower. This comes from the first Slapp Happy album Sort Of, which was out of print and hard to find for a very long time. A few years ago it was finally issued on CD by Voiceprint, complete with a bonus track. Huge chunks of the Voiceprint catalog are available for download from eMusic for a fairly reasonable price, and Sort Of is among those chunks, so that's another way to get it. One thing you might want to look out for: in 1980 Sort Of got reissued by Recommended Records on vinyl, and that edition came with a one-sided single called Alcohol that's not available elsewhere. It's a weird song, not really worth killing yourself to get, but for the completists...

Sort Of was recorded with help from the Krautrock band Faust, and in many ways it's a relative of Faust's 1973 "pop" album Faust IV. In the past I've often had these strange arguments with Slapp Happy fans who always seem to prefer Slapp Happy's second or third albums and don't understand how anyone could prefer Sort Of. I think the answer may have to do with how much you like the Faust influence.

It's hard to give a complete picture with a few mp3s. Sort Of has twelve tracks and they all sound very different. Some are sung by Dagmar, like Little Girls World. These tracks are usually a mix of wistful folk with some bits of jazz, and the occasional tricky time-signature. Others are sung by Peter or Anthony. These tend to be weirder, like Tutankhamun with loopy lyrics and an extremely loose rhythm section driving it along. On headphones you'll hear a lot of easily-missed details. None of the tracks on Sort Of can be described as being about love, cars or girls and I can't think of any other records that really sound like it. Think of it as a Whitman's sampler of possible approaches to mildly experimental folk and jazz influence rock that hadn't been tried yet.

Slapp Happy compared themselves to the artist Henri Rousseau at the time. Reading this quote about Rousseau:

"The emergence of Rousseau is an isolated fact separate from the day to day development of art; Rousseau's painting is totally foreign to every contemporary school, whether old fashioned or avant garde."

...I think I see what they were getting at.

Tomorrow, the second album. And, the second album.

[I'd like to thank Tim from Pledge Drive for some invaluable help with this week's feature. Some of you may remember that Matthew of Fluxblog posted a Christmas-y revision of Bohemian Rhapsody done by Pledge Drive last December. That and more can be found here.]

Sunday, August 29, 2004

 
One more weekend only post. Here's one more cover of next week's featured band. This is an Australian group from the 80's called No Night Sweats doing a cover of a song called Who's Gonna Help Me Now? You can read more about them here. Thanks to them for letting me post this track.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

 
I used to run a message each weekend explaining this blog. I should probably start doing that again. Maybe next week. The gist of it was that I named the blog after a children's book by Alison Farthing called The Mystical Beast. It was all part of a complicated metaphor having to do with the fact that the book The Mystical Beast (which isn't a masterpiece, but does have a strange quirky charm) isn't rare, but you can't find much of any info about it or its author on the internet (unless things have changed since the last time I looked). So I started my blog The Mystical Beast to deal with music that isn't exactly rare, but which has been somehow overlooked or forgotten. I've been pretty fast and loose with that definition though and I often wish I'd picked a different name, since 4 out of 10 people misread the title as "Mythical Beast" and 3 out of 10 think that it's a pseudonym that I'm writing under (which is partly my fault since I post semi-anonymously...I think that may be ending soon).

Anyway, I'm posting today because I finally broke down and got a Mac account. I've been hosting my files on the space that comes with my AOL account, and you don't even want to know how dumb an idea that is (though it was pretty cheap). I'm kind of amazed that it's worked thus far. Would you believe that when I first started this blog I was using dial up! Those were the days...waiting two hours for the mp3s to upload. Aaah, memories! So I wanted to test out the Mac account, so I'm posting two weekend-only files. Let me know if they don't download, download slowly, etc.

First, here's yet another cover of Blue Flower, this time by the Electronica Etcetera group Hermann & Kleine. As with many of the covers I've posted over the last few days, it seems inspired by another cover version rather than the original song. In this case, it's pretty clearly a revision of the Pale Saints' version of the song.

And here's a neat track from a neat blog that I recently discovered (I'm going to add it to my links list as soon as Blogger lets me). The song is called Y Teimlad, and it's the original version of a track that Super Furry Animals covered on their all Welsh album Mwng (don't be scared by the language...Mwng is possibly their best album). This is by Datblygu, and I got it from Pop Peth. I'm really happy that someone is documenting the Welsh music scene in an mp3 blog. There's only one small difficulty with Pop Peth, which you'll discover when you click the link.

Friday, August 27, 2004

 

Today's post continues on from yesterday.

Here's UK Shoegazing types The Pale Saints doing yet another version of Blue Flower. This is from their album In Ribbons which came out in 1992, two years after Mazzy Star did their cover of the same song. Someone might want to write to Allmusic and explain to them that Mazzy Star didn't write Blue Flower. They seem a little confused on the subject. To be fair, though, the Pale Saints really seem to be covering the Mazzy Star version of the song rather than the original. This seems even more likely given that the Pale Saints had previously covered a track by Clay Allison/Opal called Fell From The Sun (Clay Allison and Opal were pre-Mazzy Star bands of Dave Roback...Fell From The Sun was released under both names). Here's the Opal version of that, from their Early Recordings.

And finally, here's a guy named Anthony Moore, though sometimes he spells his last name More, performing a song called...no, not Blue Flower. It's called Timeless Strange, but it may sound familiar if you've been following along. You Pink Floyd fans may recognize his name from the credits of several post-Waters tracks.

On Monday I'll finally get to the point.

But wait! Stop the presses!! It doesn't end, because moments ago Simon of Spoilt Victorian Child was nice enough to send me a song that I've been looking for for years. So here's yet another version of The Drum (see yesterday's post if you missed the first version), this time by The Impossibles (who are clearly covering the Bongwater take on the song, not the original). Thanks Simon!!

Thursday, August 26, 2004

 

Today's post picks up where yesterday's left off...

Moving along towards next week's theme, here's a band from New York called Bongwater covering a song called The Drum (no, the original version does not contain the word "bongwater"). Bongwater was a collaboration between Kramer (who has produced millions of great albums, including everything by Galaxie 500, and who was called "Kramer" before Seinfeld was a glimmer in a water-cooler's eye) and actor/performer/presence Ann Magnuson. Bongwater deserve more discussion, but there's no time for that now.

Here's a song called Blue Flower, as covered by snoozegazers Mazzy Star. I think that just about everyone reading this knows Mazzy Star. I was recently surprised to learn that vinyl copies of their albums bring out the bidders on eBay. Who knew?

Continuing tomorrow...

[Unrelated: I recently got one of those "I love your site, your the best, hey i just found this cool website that has great bands, why dont you check it out," emails, and being bored, I did. I have no comment on the bands on the site, but my irritation at their promo department is almost mitigated by the fact that the site plays Neu's Hallo Gallo in the background while you're browsing. If you've never heard that great song, here's your chance to do so while looking at a polar bear.]

[Wow, as I look more closely, if you play around with the Radio section on that site, you can hear a bunch of Neu tracks. They're one of the biggies of Krautrock, and really pleasant to have on in the background while writing emails, etc. They have a "!" after their name, but it makes punctuation look strange, so I often leave it off.]

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

 

I have this plan to sneak up on my topic for next week.

Since the German band Can recently came up on another mp3 blog, I'll start there. Here's a song by them called Oh Yeah. It comes from a 1971 album called Tago Mago which is as good a candidate as any for Can's best album. The singer is named Damo Suzuki and his vocals are only backwards for the first part of the song. Can are a band that you probably want to be familiar with: they were great, influential, and they come up a lot when music critics start talking. I'd recommend buying compilation albums as a good way to get to know the band, as they went through a number of very different sounding stages.

Here's a song by The Fall (we all know The Fall, right?) called I Am Damo Suzuki. It's from a 1985 album called This Nation's Saving Grace, which is as good a candidate as any for The Fall's best album. A lot of you have probably heard this. If you haven't heard Can's Oh Yeah, you might want to pay close attention to that song starting about 3 minutes 22 seconds into the track.

Trivia worth knowing: Damo Suzuki became a Jehovah's Witness (it's almost impossible to understand Mark Smith's lyrics in the Fall song unless you know this sort of thing). Can also have a song called Vitamin C. Can's first singer was named Malcolm Mooney. The band The Mooney Suzuki hooked up with The Matrix (last seen getting a lap dance from Liz Phair) for their most recent release.

Moving along, here's The Fall covering a song called War. This is from their 1994 album Middle Class Revolt which isn't bad, but isn't a good candidate for the best Fall album.

I promise this is all heading somewhere. More tomorrow...

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

 

"John and Dave did everything," admits Sara. "That's actually them singing on the album. We sped up their voices to sound more feminine. Tegan and I just did a lot of blow and hung out with hookers in the lounge."

One of the things I miss most about Holy Cow (dearly departed Brooklyn record store) was the unpredictability of the staff's interests. I never really knew what would be playing when I walked in, and at various times I was turned on to The Wombles, The Millennium, John Kongos, The Blood Brothers and Fannypack . One album that I almost certainly wouldn't have heard save for Holy Cow was Tegan & Sara's If It Was You from 2003.

All I really knew about them was this vaguely snarky (though not entirely dismissive) concert review from the NY Press. (Snarky? The NY Press? How could it be!) It didn't get me interested.

But Holy Cow had T&S's 2003 CD If It Was You on all the time, day after day, at one point, and I'm listening to it in the store thinking that their voices remind me of Alanis/Ani (neither of whom I like) but wow, the production is wonderful. Finally I just gave in and bought the CD. [Sticklers will point out that the CD came out in 2002. I'm talking about the expanded 2003 version.]

Don't get me wrong, it's got a lot of mainstream-type aspects. The songs are mostly about relationship issues with "you," the vocals are pretty forward, and there isn't much of the world-weary insouciance that we know and love in our indie rock.

The first thing that you (as a reader of this site) should probably know is that If It Was You and the forthcoming album So Jealous were produced by John Collins and Dave Carswell, both associated with the New Pornographers. The Tegan and Sara albums have the Pornographers' New Wave nouveau all over them, though I'm wondering if the producers had a much bigger budget than their usual or something. To be blunt, If It Was You sounds flat out fantastic on headphones. I don't quite understand why the New Pornographers' own albums don't sound this good. When I wrote about T&S previously, I posted Want To Be Bad, and I'm going to repeat it as there's this amazing Eno (circa Another Green World) inspired thing going on during the instrumental parts.

The first track off of the album is called Time Running, and once it hits the chorus it's got all the oomph of a Neko-sung NP's track. I'm not saying that T&S are clones of the New Pornographers: their voices are different, the songwriting is different, they don't harmonize as much and their lyrics are straightforward. Just sonically, though, the resemblance can be pretty strong at times. A good example of that is I Hear Noises (with special emphasis on the bridge).

In the beginning I looked on If It Was You as a weird curiosity. You know, "Isn't it bizarre that these Ani-wannabies have decided to go in this direction." But I kept playing the CD over and over, and at some point it just became clear that it's a fantastic album. The owner of Holy Cow agreed, and we had a long talk about how it was probably a tough item to market. I say "Tegan and Sara" to people I know and they generally mumble the word "Lilith" and then fall asleep. And, if you look at the comments on the various message boards for the band, you'll see a pretty sharp divide, with a lot of their old fans looking on the New Pornographers association as a misguided deviation from their folkie sound.

I'm happy to say that, based on the soundclips on their website, it's not a deviation. I haven't heard the whole album yet, so I can't say if it lives up to my expectations, but check out the song I Know I Know I Know (you can stream it from their website) for starters. Indie folk sometimes react badly to their voices in my experience. Get over it, I say. Chan Marshall and Steve Malkmus and Kim Gordon and Mark E. Smith sound like talentless boobs to 99% of the world, so let's compromise on this one.

Ultimately the NY Press guy's obsession with their being twin lesbians doesn't seem to have much to do with anything. I've read their press and I've downloaded a bunch of live clips of the two bickering (a major and somewhat entertaining part of their act) and if anything they remind me of a couple of those kids from Degrassi Jr. High, grown up, in a band, and just starting to find their own sound. There's nothing tAtU or Olsen about them (a point rammed home by the fact that their promo videos seem to always revolve around Tegan or Sara getting some unpleasant disease: last time it was diarrhea, this time it's hives). There's a great quote from them in one interview I read, where they talk about asking a particularly pushy photographer if he'd urged Radiohead to snuggle in bed for their promo photos.

I hope T&S do well with the non-folk stuff. Honestly, if the people who were horrified by Liz Phair's recent activities put a fraction of their whining-energy into supporting a band that's crossed over in the opposite direction, the world would probably be a better place. If you think that supporting a mainstream band that takes its cues from indie is a noble goal (and just to emphasize, T&S are playing at Farm Aid with Dave Matthews in September) then here's your chance to give at the office. If you're looking for one more nudge, I'd note that their US promotion is handled by the same people who deal with The Clinic and Ken Stringfellow, leaving little doubt about which side of the line Tegan and Sara want to be on.

They have one of those fanatically loyal fanbases, so off to teganandsara.org and teganandsara.net for more info than I could possibly give you.

Monday, August 23, 2004

 
Over the weekend I found a link to this amazing site, which documents Camp Records ["The Most Outrageous (and Queerest) Record Label of the 60s "]. Really great stuff to enliven your next mix tape, plus find out what Rodney Dangerfield was up to in the early 60's. The song Good Old Fashioned Balls shocked, I repeat, shocked me. You mean to tell me that AC/DC didn't invent the concept behind their high-concept Big Balls out of thin air?! (This version courtesy of The Dwarves from a tribute album.)

In other news, there's a new album by Tegan & Sara due in a few weeks, to be titled So Jealous. Go ahead and tell your Lilith Fair jokes, 'cause in a day or two I'm going to have Tegan & Sara day and hopefully wipe that smirk off of your face. Production on the new one, as on their last album, by several New Pornographers and keyboards by the guy from the Rentals.

Meanwhile, mull this over:


(The Philosophy of Momus)

and...

(I wish I could claim to be the person who spotted that one.)

Friday, August 20, 2004

 
(I wrote today's post in a hurry yesterday, planning to revise it, but then had an emergency of sorts last night and didn't get to. No time today either. As it is, it reads kind of know-it-all-y...I hope you'll ignore that aspect of it and just take away the fact that the two artists mentioned have some great songs.)

I'm not sure where I first heard it, but a number of people have been linking to a great song by a guy named Jens Lekman called You Are The Light.

It's a wonderful track, but what started to weird me out is that I keep reading that Jens sounds like Stephin Merritt or Belle and Sebastian. I went to his label's page and there, along with a few other people, is that comparison to Stephin Merritt and Belle and Sebastian. After a while this started to kind of puzzle me. Ok, I'm not saying that there's no resemblance at all, but it's sort of like talking about the Raveonettes without ever mentioning The Jesus and Mary Chain. There's a huge pink elephant in the room, and you keep ignoring it, and I'm getting nervous. Also I've been getting concerned (not really, but you know...) that Belle and Sebastian are coming to represent every single vaguely twee band not from America: they're being overused as a reference point. Likewise, The Magnetic Fields seem to pop up as a comparison a little too often these days.

Finally it freaked me out so much that I wrote to Jens (did I mention that I love the internet) and he wrote back and confirmed what I'd suspected: that he's a big fan of the band Orange Juice and the Postcard label. I think the problem is that his record label doesn't think that Americans know Orange Juice (they may be right), so they went for substitutes, and I'm guessing that of those substitutes (including Harry Nilsson, Todd Rundgren, The Modern Lovers, and Smog) Belle & Sebastian and Merritt were the best known in certain circles, so people picked up on that and repeated it until it became official.

You can decide for yourself. I'm curious...to me it seems totally obvious, but life is complex. Here's Orange Juice doing a cover version of an Al Green song, called L.O.V.E. Love, from their album You Can't Hide Your Love Forever. The Jens Lekman track can be found via Stereogum. I basically hear Orange Juice, mixed with some Morrissey on the vocals, as the overwhelming influence. Be forewarned that Orange Juice's lead singer has a distinctive voice.

In his email Jens mentioned that he sampled the Orange Juice song In A Nutshell for a vinyl single that's coming out this fall (the version I posted is from a CD called Ostrich Churchyard that compiles early recordings of songs that got re-done for official release).

Finally (setting a record for using the words "Orange Juice" in one post) a lot of people probably know Orange Juice's lead singer Edwyn Collins via his huge hit A Girl Like You from some years back, even if they don't know the band itself.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

 


"Things I probably could have figured out earlier if I'd been paying more attention, Part Two."

"She ripped her glittering gown,
Couldn't face another show, no.
Her deoderant had let her down,
She should have used Odorono."


Odorono was a real product. It seemed like such an obviously fake name that it never occurred to me that The Who might not have made it up. So imagine my shock when, while leafing through a copy of a really old "true stories" type magazine at a bed and breakfast last weekend, I came across this. (The text is a little hard to read. It's the "Halgene" that makes Odorono work so well!) It was an American magazine from 1949, so I'm not 100% sure it's the same product that Pete Townsend knew, but I'll bet it's related.

According to this place the initial batch of Odorono had to be withdrawn because the instructions read "To use push up bottom." I hope that's true.

No, I'm not going to post the track by The Who. Partly because that seems like asking for trouble, and partly because everyone in the world should own The Who Sell Out. I actually need to conserve some server space for tomorrow's post, so I'm just going to point you in the direction of a lovely picture of Yo La Tengo's Georgia Hubley sitting in a vat of baked beans. Also, you might want to read about her mom and dad's work as animators here. My favorite piece of their's is Cockaboody (Georgia provides one of the voices) which is available here. And (wow, the internet is wonderful sometimes) you can see a sample of it, as well as some of their other films, here.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

 

"Things I probably could have figured out earlier if I'd been paying more attention, Part One."

We've probably all read the Trouser Press section on Thinking Fellers Union Local 282 where they mention that band's fixation on Raymond and Peter, but up until a day or so ago it had never occurred to me that the Swirlies had sampled the tapes too (I probably should have read the page I just linked to more carefully, since it includes that information). Here's the Swirlies song where they do that: it's extremely good and it's called Park The Car By The Side Of The Road and here's the original Raymond and Peter bit. And here's another Raymond and Peter bit, this time about toenails.

The Swirlies: just in case you don't know them, they combined Isn't Anything era My Bloody Valentine (which would be my favorite era for that band) with a dash of twee-pop, a smattering of inspired lo-fi songcraft, and every audio gadget they could find in their kitchen drawer. Their album Blonder Tongue Audio Baton (now you know what it means) is an indie classic of sorts, and after listening to it again last night I can say that it's aged pretty well. Their singles collection What To Do About Them is also good. Their second full-length album They Spent Their Wild Youthful Days in the Glittering World of the Salons is so full of interesting production and sequencing ideas that it's easy to overlook the fact that the songs are mostly so-so. After that, it's fans-only time.

I had high hopes for the Swirlies when I first heard BlonderTongue, and it's kind of sad that they never quite panned out. They were also pretty bad in concert (maybe they had good days, but whenever I saw them they were overwhelmed by gadgetry, and they seemed to have trouble singing in tune, and they were very un-charismatic). Oh well.

Interesting story: I first heard BlonderTongue when I found a promo cassette of it at the no longer extant Venus Records on St. Marks in New York. I had never heard of the Swirlies, and I was so blown away that I faxed a letter to their publicist asking for more info (I used company stationary). So their publicist actually calls me back (using the number she got off of the company stationary) and wants to know where I got the cassette, some record store is stealing money from the mouths of the Swirlies' children, etc. I didn't tell her, but doesn't that seem kind of quaint in view of the current situation with leaked albums, etc.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

 
After all of my iPod prep for my flight last week, what I ultimately ended up listening to was Albert Ayler's Spiritual Unity which I was too distracted to really follow, that Lilys album that I recently wrote about (I guess this means I am a Pink Floyd fan) and the forthcoming Dizzee Rascal album Showtime.

In most ways I'm the wrong person to write about Dizzee, since I don't listen to that much hip-hop and I'm pretty clueless when it comes to the ancestors of Grime, so forgive me if I'm overly impressed by how distinctive his albums sound. (But keep in mind that it's kind of nice if he can have appeal outside of the usual audience).

Here's what I loved about his first album Boy In Da Corner: when I first heard the song I Luv U (I somehow accidentally heard it long before the album started to get hyped in the US, so I had no idea what it was) I thought it was a joke. It basically sounded like someone was just punching buttons at random on a drum machine, way too fast, and then adding on the most irritating vocal sample in the world whenever they got bored. It's not that I'd never heard any Garage or Hip-Hop, and I live right on the edge of Flatbush in Brooklyn, so I hear a surprising amount of what I assume is Dancehall music blaring from vans and sidewalk shops and so on, so I am pretty familiar with how it sounds, but I wonder if being introduced to Dancehall by having it blasted in your face through distorting speakers while you're walking to Veggie Castle is really the best way to get to know the music. Maybe it is. I just don't know. Regardless, that first Dizzee Rascal album was the most incomprehensible-sounding thing I'd heard in years.

So after all the fuss started about Dizzee last year, I made a really huge effort to figure out the album, basically by not allowing myself to listen to anything else for several weeks. Sometimes that works, sometimes not (see Fiery Furnaces/Blueberry Boat). In the case of Boy In Da Corner it really worked...pretty quickly I found that it made literally everything else that I own sound old. Like I said, I'm coming to Dizzee's stuff from the wrong direction, but what got me excited was that he sounds as unlike the hip-hop that I know as, say, Sonic Youth sounded unlike just about every other guitar based band in the early 80's. Of course there's all sorts of dispute about whether Dizzee is related to hip-hop, but that's another story. Regardless of what his music is or isn't, it gave me that great experience of hearing something that sounds awful slowly resolve into something that sounds wonderful, which is one of my favorite experiences with new music.

With the new album I'm not getting the same sensation of plunging into the unknown, but I still like what he's doing. To me Dizzee's voice sounds goofy in a really interesting way, and I actually wonder if that's going to keep him from massive success in the US: I find it hard to imagine Eminem fans cottoning to that voice and accent. I love the fact that nothing Dizzee does reminds me of funk or jazz or whatever, since (to be honest) I've just never liked hip-hop based on that. In some ways he sounds (to me) closer to some weirdo experimental music than to anything that normally hits it big in the mainstream. Like what?

Ok, don't laugh. Here's my favorite song from Showtime: Graftin'. Sasha Frere-Jones had this to say about it:

"Graftin'": Mugwump limp. Yet more of the Snoop-derived meme: "In the LDN." Hey, someone found the Pitch Bend function. Again. Not the RZA. Not even the platinum dragonist lyricist can save a half-assed beat. Billy Squier is on line 2.

As far as I can tell, that means that Sasha doesn't like it so much. I'm not entirely sure.

Anyway, I love that song. Had it on repeat for a lot of the plane flight. And while I was listening to it for the umpteenth time I decided for sure that, in a strange way, it reminds me of the Starfuckers, an Italian group who pretty much established the absolute end point for abstracting guitar/bass/drums/vocals. The album on which they do this, Infrantumi, is kind of hard to take all the way through, but I think everyone should hear at least one song from it at least once, just to get some perspective on things. So, from that, here's Ostinato. I'm not saying that it sounds "just like" Dizzee, and I'm sure that Dizzee has never heard them and vice versa. But the way the sonic elements sound so cold and disconnected seems very similar to me. Of course Dizzee ties things together more with his vocal, and his beat does have a beat, and the Italian whispering kind of bugs me after a while...

I know it may seem dumb to draw this connection. Most articles I've read about Dizzee take the approach of trying to explain the history of Grime, in order to place him within some sort of a musical context for American listeners. But the thing is, he's really caught on with a very unexpected crowd in the US, i.e. people like me, and I tend to doubt that it's because we were all secretly fans of underground UK dance music. Dizzee does a lot of things (a very different sounding track may still be available over at fluxblog) and I can see him appealing to different people for very different reasons. The main reason for this whole spiel is that I think he's worth checking out even if you don't usually like the genres that contribute to his sound.

(The Starfuckers album Infrantumi looks to still be available in the US from Aquarius Records. It was licensed here by Drunken Fish records.)

Monday, August 16, 2004

 


I got back from Minnesota kind of late last night, so I'm really just throwing today's post up without much preparation. I actually hate things like this, which are basically the musical equivalent of the Freak Show: it looks fascinatingly awful, you pay your money and, surprise, it's awful! A friend made a copy of this for me, so I don't feel bitter, but really, albums like this seem to exist for no other reason than to torment record collectors. It's hard to read the type on the cover in the above scan: Mae is saying "Come on up and Rock with Me."

If you're sure you're in the mood to throw money out the window, CDR's of the album can apparently be purchased here (those with long memories for trivia may recall that the song It's a Smiley Face World from another CD sold on this site made some very tiny waves a few years ago).

I know that a few tracks from the album have been anthologized by Rhino on their Golden Throats series. I didn't have time to check to see if the songs I'm posting are available on those CDs or elsewhere.

Anyway, this is for real and it's pretty scary. Here's Day Tripper, When A Man Loves A Woman and Treat Him Right.

The New York Times has an article today on mp3 blogs and major labels and such. Thanks to fluxblog for the heads up.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

 
(I'm away for the next few days. Something very much like this piece originally ran on June 1st of this year. I was sure someone would be able to tell me something/anything about the band, but thus far it hasn't happened. I've added a couple more mp3s this go round. I'm still completely baffled by the intent of this album.)

Over the weekend I paid another visit to The Record Store That Sells 80's Albums That No One Has Ever Heard Of For $2.99, which is currently my favorite store in NYC. I didn't find anything as amazing as the Wayfarers album, but I did turn up a really weird mystery record. I'm hoping that someone will read this and shed some light.

The band is called The Upbeats , the record is called Pop Songs, and it's on Laser Records. It came out in 1986, and the address for the label is in Athens, GA, which says to me that someone must know more about these guys -- that's too much of a music hub to produce an unknown band. I can't find a thing on the internet. Well, I did find one store that's selling a promo copy of the album, but they gave no information. My copy is a promo also, in a plain black sleeve. I wonder if there are any "real" copies.

I bought it after previewing a song that should be better known. Here's Jello Party Mania, which I'm sort of stunned not to find on any WFMU playlists. This song is kind of a novelty song about two girls with cute Georgia accents who've always dreamed of throwing a "Jello Party Mania Party". It goes on too long and makes all sorts of "mistakes" as far as being a novelty song, but I'm just fascinated by it. Just one of many strange details: note the nature of the phone ringing at the beginning. My wife is patiently waiting for me to stop playing it over and over...I give it another couple of days. [Two months later and I'm still liking it.]

So by itself, Jello Party Mania isn't that weird. What's weird is the rest of the album. It kicks off with a Windbreakers style track called Just Another Pop Song that has an almost Game Theory-esque chord progression and a lead guitar part that sounds like it was influenced by the sound of a turntable coming up to speed. The production is mostly what you'd expect from an 80's bar-band's demo and the group doesn't seem to know what to do for a bridge and chorus, but somehow the verse is getting really stuck in my head. [Two months later and I still really like this track as well.]

Next track is a pretty straight cover of I Wanna Be Your Man, the purpose of which is a mystery to me. Other tracks on the album include a classical piano piece called Nothing To Fear (you keep waiting for it to turn into a pop song, but instead it turns into a horrible fusion instrumental) and an absolutely terrible prog/fusion instrumental called Roadrunner. There's a pop song called The Laser Beam Boys that features kids singing, a catchy verse/chorus that they repeat over and over, and an awful wanky guitar solo that's straight out of Guitar Player magazine. It's like someone doesn't understand the mechanics of writing the kind of material they're writing.

Finally, the record ends with two almost Terrastock style pieces: an instrumental and a kind of pretty folk/psych (but still with cheesy 80's production) track called Someone Like You.

I don't know if I've encountered anything, this side of Kim Fowley, that combines good ideas with garbage in quite the same way. Part of me wonders if the record is a compilation of different bands, but there's nothing to indicate that. I'd love to find out more about it. I can't say that Pop Songs is exactly good, but it's one of the most interesting things I've heard lately.

 
There'll be two posts today. This one, which links to someplace else, and then later on I'll have a repeat of an old column, expanded with a few extra songs.

I was trying to decide what to put on my iPod for the plane ride out to Minnesota. My flight leaves early. I'm going to have to get up at about 4:30 am, so I'm planning on being exhausted, which means loud rock 'n' roll is probably out.

As it happens, the answer fell into my lap yesterday. I was poking around for information on a slightly rare Larry Coryell-related album that I recently found, and discovered The Kosmigroov Konnection. (I'm surprised I never found this page before. I'll bet lots of people have linked to it. Ah, I see DJ Martian does.) If you go to the recordings page, there are seven huge mp3s of spacy-jazz type mixes. Dial-up people are pretty much out of luck: we're talking 80Mb or so. I downloaded Cosmic Jazz Journeys last night and it's exactly what I was looking for. The tracklisting (songs segue into each other on the mix):

lonnie liston smith -- siad (egypt)
oneness of juju -- space jungle funk space
black renaissance -- black renaissance
mike koskinen -- 60 winslow
carlos garnett -- taurus woman
norman connors -- morning changes
norman connors -- dreams
eddie henderson -- anua
marcus belgrave -- space oddysey
woddy shaw -- love: for the one you can't have

Perfect for groggy me at a high altitude. There's lots of info and reviews and links on the site, making it a pretty fantastic resource if you're looking into this type of music. Basically we're talking slightly trippy, mystical, jazzy stuff that's often from the 70's. Or, in their words, "Kozmigroov is a transgressive improvisational music which combines elements of psychedelia, spirituality, jazz, rock, soul, funk, and African, Latin, Brazillian, Indian and Asian influences culminating into an all encompassing cosmic groove." Alice Coltrane is probably a good example of the sort of thing they're talking about.

(And of course, five hundred people ran out and tried to download this and overloaded the guy's server. As far as I can tell, it's currently running way too slow. I'd suggest waiting a few days and then going back.)

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

 
I'm going to be leaving for Minnesota soon to attend a wedding, so the Thursday/Friday post is going to be a rerun. I can promise you that when I get back I've got a couple of really neat vinyl-only things that I finally managed to find during my break last month. I've been holding off on one, but it's starting to look like Kim Fowley isn't going to reply to my email (I'm actually kind of surprised by that) so I may as well just go with what I've got.

I rarely talk about my personal associations with songs, since that's not what this blog is about. Today I'll break that rule.

I had gotten an album by a Minnesota band The Soviettes called LP II which came out this year. I don't love it, but it's nice energetic rock that sometimes reminds me of Sleater-Kinney and the early Replacements or Ramones. It's basically a good album with short catchy tunes. There can never be too many of those.

So the one song that really jumped out at me was Pass The Flashlight. At the time, I didn't know that the band's drummer is a guy named Danny. He's singing on this track. This turns out to be an important point.

So I'm listening to the song and I can't really hear all the lyrics, but there's this very Sleater-Kinney part where the women in the group keep shrieking "I don't know, Daddy!" or "It's right here, Daddy!" And of course, if there's a reference to "daddy" in a Sleater-Kinney song, you know he's up to no good. "My god!" I thought. "That horrible man is forcing his daughter to play pass the flashlight." I have no idea what "pass the flashlight" is, but it sounds awful. The song was giving me chills and nightmares, like that Sleater-Kinney song about the girl who has something awful happen to her.

As you've probably guessed, the line is "It's right here, Danny" and the song isn't about anything creepy. I do really like that track, even if it's awfully similar to the Replacements' Taking A Ride, possibly on purpose?

[I'm still getting a crazy number of hits from The Morning News who were nice enough to let me blab away in their recent mp3 bloggers round table. If the mp3 links here stop working, it's due to the extra traffic. They'll start working again after midnight. When I get back from Minnesota I'll figure out some way to scare all the new readers away. Maybe it's time to devote a week to a song-by-song analysis of the Starfuckers' Infrantumi...]

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

 

When I wrote about Kevin Tihista a couple of weeks ago, I mentioned another orchestral pop band from Chicago called Yum Yum. Here is the sad, depressing, and slightly icky story of Yum Yum. I'm presenting the short version, as it's been written about elsewhere.

So this guy named Chris Holmes decides to record an orchestral pop album (alternatively, this guy named Chris Holmes decides to become a big star) (alternatively, this guy named Chris Holmes decides to make a complex statement, using the music industry as a tool). He calls his project Yum Yum, manages to interest a major label (if I understand correctly, the order was actually label-->band) and records a very pleasant album called Dan Loves Patti. In an unassuming way, it's a very nice CD. Not a classic, but a good solid B or B- of an album. A little orchestral pop here, a touch of shoegazy guitar there, a dollop of those hushed vocals that get fans of Eric Matthews in such a tizzy.

From it, here's Train Of Thought. And here's what was supposed to be the hit single, Apiary (presented in the radio edit version...what? You never heard it on commercial radio? How strange!).

Fine. No problem. But then his really smart friend writes this incredibly long and complex article for Harper's magazine. It was all a joke. I meant to do that. I was making a point.

Oh really, said most people who had heard the album and didn't live in caves.

The sad thing, as far as I'm concerned, is that the Harper's article is so off-putting, so smug, asinine, just irritating in so many ways, that it pretty much ruins the record. Dan Loves Patti just isn't that good, and now every time I hear it I think of the annoying people behind that article and get distracted. If you're enjoying the mp3s, you might just want to skip all the other links in this post.

Apparently the Harper's powers that be never did admit that they were full of shit. (Unless they did it when I wasn't in the room.)

Dan Loves Patti can be found in a used CD bin near you, most likely for less than a dollar. At that price it's an excellent deal.

In view of all the above, I have no real opinion (or interest) in this. I wonder if anyone does.

(I'm probably going to add one more track later on, but I'm still looking for somewhere to stash it. Ok, found a spot. Here's Doot-Doot.)

Monday, August 09, 2004

 
Michael Cudahy sighting.

So this is what our hero Michael Cudahy (of Christmas and Combustible Edison) is up to lately. I first noticed this via a link from Slatch. It's not clear whether the Slatch guy knows who Michael Cudahy is or not. I'm leaning towards not. Somewhere online there's supposedly a photo of Michael on the show, but I haven't found it yet. Apparently, though, he's now bald.

I've been spending a lot of time over the past two weeks trying to decide to what extent I like that Fiery Furnaces album Blueberry Boat. The answer seems to be that parts of it are wonderful, but there's just too much of it. I'd like to see them forced to fight it out in the studio with a producer who's trying to get them to produce a hit. It's definitely an interesting approach to making a prog-rock album.

And if the kids these days are into prog, then why not post some Crack The Sky? They're incredibly well known for an unknown band (probably the only unknown band to have its first record named debut album of the year by Rolling Stone) so there's no shortage of online info. Their website is here, and if you google "Crack The Sky" you'll be up to your ears in reminiscing Baltimoreans.

I can't honestly say I'm a huge fan, but some of their stuff is pretty fun. For the casual fan, the best albums to buy are probably the debut (Crack The Sky) and the third (Safety In Numbers). I heard Safety In Numbers first, and was kind of impressed by the first song which begins sounding like Big Star and then mutates into something very Rush-like. You don't see that happening every day.

Since I grew up listening to 70's and early 80's FM commercial radio, a lot of their songs give me slightly unpleasant flashbacks to listening to Foreigner and Elton John and Boston and Styx on my little tiny one-speaker radio. Ok, actually Styx's Greatest Hits CD gets played surprisingly often in my home...

My favorite songs by Crack The Sky are both from the debut, and that's the album I'd get if I was getting just one. Here's Robots For Ronnie, about some concerned parents helping their nerdy boy. Musically it's somewhere between Eleanor Rigby and Styx's Paradise Theater. God I miss the 70's sometimes.

And here's the song that I really like the best, Surf City. Take one part of Queen's Flash Gordon theme music and mix with an off-kilter and slightly punky verse, and you've got a song that gets stuck in my head every time I think to play it.

The band is still around and still releasing albums. Their good CDs are all in print, and a lot of their albums recently became available via eMusic. There are a bunch of live shows on their website, but they're really not kidding when they say the sound quality isn't the best. Some of the shows are ok...it's probably best to sample before downloading.

[I have this odd feeling that all the classic rock references in this post may scare people away, so I wanted to especially encourage comments if you like these songs. Of course, if you hate them you're more than welcome to express that too, but I'm more interested in giving potential downloaders the nudge that it may take to get them past the prog label.]

Friday, August 06, 2004

 
I wasn't planning on posting today, but changed my mind. The link to the mp3s is at the bottom of this post, and the post itself is kind of stream of consciousness, so you might just want to skip it. Seriously.

Yesterday, for the first time since I started this blog, a publicist forwarded me some mp3s and info about a band that not only wasn't terrible, but was actually good enough that I requested the CD. Truly amazing. (I don't usually talk about bands that I don't like here, unless their name is Fountains of Wayne, so I've never discussed the submissions that I get). So I've heard some mp3s and now I'm waiting for the CD to arrive, and I'll write about it when I hear it (unless another mp3 blogger does it first).

The main thing that intrigued me about the group, let's call them "Band X," is that they're hugely influenced by some 80's bands, but by some very unexpected ones, i.e. not by the usual post-punk or dance-pop suspects. So I was in an 80's state of mind, and I got to thinking that I haven't seen any mp3 blog links to another 80's influenced band The Lovemakers (just to be clear, The Lovemakers aren't Band X). It's really hard to double check this, so I apologize if I missed someone. Needless to say, there's something about them at Jenyk, but nothing gets by him!

The Lovemakers are busy recording their next album for Interscope right now, and presumably they'll be huge. I hear them as a cross between Freezepop and Duran Duran. They've got some of Freezepop's geeky sequencers approach (though their cute girl is sexier than Freezepop's more bookish cute girl) and a melodic and style sense that often screams Duran Duran. They have a "sexy" video (the quotes are there on purpose) for their song Internet Girlfriend. The thing about that song/video: in general it's pretty dumb (softcore lesbian doings while he said/she said about her internet gal pal) but some of the lines are funnier than I'd expected. Like when he pleads "We live together and we have a cat...Internet Jen's got nothing on that." It's all a little too obvious, but shows promise.

So, I can kind of see why this band has a buzz. Nonetheless, I can't help but think that if The Dandy Warhols continue their 80's bound trajectory, their next album could wipe the floor with The Lovemakers: say what you will about Courtney Taylor, but he can write a killer hook when he focuses, and if he ever masters beats he could be a force to be reckoned with. Time will tell.

In the meantime, The Lovemaker's mp3s are here, and I highly recommend checking out the song Dance if you haven't heard it...seriously great chorus. I was surprised to find myself enjoying some of the remixes as well (I usually don't like remixes). And the video's there as well. This is all pretty old news, but I'm assuming that they'll be back in the spotlight within the next year so it can't hurt to be prepared.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

 


The biggest surprise reissue of the year, at least for me, this CD on the Castle/Sanctuary label combines Annette Peacock's two albums for the Aura label, X-Dreams and The Perfect Release, along with two previously vinyl-only tracks. I wrote about Annette Peacock back when I was first starting out.

If you're already interested in her, or if today's mp3s pique your interest, you'll almost certainly be buying this CD (you don't have much choice...almost everything she's done is out of print). And since it has fantastic liner notes (some cool photos too), I don't see any good reason to regurgitate much of her history.

If you're trying to decide whether to download, here's the quick version: jazz eccentric associated with Gary Peacock and Paul Bley in the 60's, first person (probably) to modify vocals with a synthesizer, David Bowie was a fan, Mick Ronson copied and covered her songs, her song Survival (which is on this CD) is big with the hip-hop crowd for sampling purposes...it's way funky and very long.

Her big break into mainstream recognition might have come when Kevin Smith included her song My Mama Never Taught Me How To Cook on the soundtrack of Chasing Amy, but the soundtrack never came out on CD.

It might have been nicer if this re-release had paired X-Dreams and her prior album I'm The One, since they're more of a piece. The Perfect Release dips more into funk and jazz fusion, but her voice is still killer. And, if you're coming from a hip-hop or funk direction, you might like The Perfect Release more than I do. Here's the first track, Love's Out To Lunch.

I don't tend to make lists, but if pressed I'd say that her singing on I'm The One is my favorite vocal performance in any genre. It's not on the reissue, but the album it is on I'm The One pops up on eBay frequently and won't break your piggy bank. The first pressing has a neat foil cover. I'm going to strongly urge you to check this song out...it's really amazing the way the Moog-modified bits pop in and out, almost like someone is breaking into the recording.

She also did great ballads like Questions, which is on the reissue. I'm sort of surprised that Bowie hasn't covered this as it seems like it would work with his voice. I'm not saying he'd improve it...

Here's a hip-hop track by Madd Rapper called Bongo Break [not work safe] that samples that song Survival that I mentioned up above. I suspect that a lot of people have used bits of that song. It's nearly 15 minutes long, which is too long for me to post, but you hear it and your first thought is that there are about 18,000 different parts that would make good samples.

Two of Annette's later CDs (otherwise out of print) seem to still be available via CD Baby...I don't recommend them for fans of her more rock oriented stuff. [Oops, looks like one of the two has sold out.]

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

 
No real post today, but did you know that Elefant Records has a whole ton of downloadable mp3s and videos (as well as real audio streams, which are less fun)? Probably the best known thing there is Camera Obscura, a band that sound just about exactly like older Belle and Sebastian, though the vocalist is female. (Ok, B&S have female vocals too sometimes, but usually not.)

Other things to look out for are videos by Heavenly and Marine Research and Tender Trap (Amelia Fletcher connection), Camera Obscura, Freezepop (Freezepop have some cute videos and a cute website), and Le Mans.

Think twee and breezy.

Monday, August 02, 2004

 


The Lilys are twisting and turning, trying to shake off whatever fanbase they managed to amass over the course of their strange career.

The latest episode:

When we last saw the Lilys in 2003, they had ditched much of the Kinks-inspired sound of their breakthrough album Better Can't Make Your Life Better and released the odd Precollection on the Manifesto label. Precollection is a strange album that sometimes sounds unfinished, though after listening to it a gazillion times I started to find it making sense.

Kurt Heasley's voice had roughened and widened out in the general direction of Robert Pollard and the crisp jingle and jangle of the 60's-revival days had merged with the woozy guitar of the Lilys' early days to create an odd mish-mash. The chord changes were still tricky as hell, but in a more understated way than in the exuberant "let's cram fifteen songs into two minutes" days of Better or The Three Way.

So how to follow that up? The obvious answer, if you're Kurt Heasley: re-release the album in Europe with different artwork, a different title, several re-mixes, and three new songs, on yet another new label. This time the label is Rainbow Quartz, a favorite stopping place for the 60's-inspired set and the album is called The Lilys.

Pity us poor Americans. Most of us missed the boat, at least initially, when the Lilys became huge blue jean-advertising stars in England and pulled a similar re-mix/expand trick with Better Can't Make Your Life Better. (If you still don't know, there's a souped up version that came out in the UK. Highly recommended. English people: your version is missing one song.) I wonder how many US fans are left with any interest in tracking down act two of Kurt's "if you love me, you'll buy the import" plot.

I'm intrigued enough by the band that I'm still following their every move. But, it's getting clearer and clearer that underneath everything, Kurt's really a prog-rock fan, in love with extended structure, sneaky melodies, and doofy lyrics. It's just that he keeps cramming all of these into very non-prog styles. Unfortunately, this tends to confuse people who think that because one day he sounds like, say, My Bloody Valentine or The Monkees, he belongs in the shoegaze or 60's pop wing of the indie museum. In fact, we may as well give in and admit that he's for Yes fans. And since I wore out a copy of Fragile before succumbing to the siren song of a borrowed copy of No New York, I'm on board. Up to a point: I can't shake the nagging feeling that this is music about chord changes, pure and simple, and that that kind of insularity is a dangerous path to follow at a time when the indie kids are thinking about dancing again.

But I still want to hear those chord changes. Here's one of the three new tracks: You're Getting Closer. And here's one of the more straightforward songs (it originally appeared on Precollection and it's unchanged on The Lilys) called Squares. That wacko progression that first pops up 35 seconds in is the kind of thing that ultimately separates this from Guided By Voices: I honestly don't think that Pollard is capable of writing that. Finally, here's an example of the often-strange production. It's called Mystery School Assembly, and I for one thought it was pretty darn boring the first few times I heard it, and I also wondered why the drum part sounds like it comes from a demo. Like most of Precollection/The Lilys, it grew on me.

In the end, I'd say that listening to this kind of feels like being a Pink Floyd fan in 1979, so you kind of have to decide if, metaphorically speaking, you want to be sitting alone in your room listening to Comfortably Numb on headphones while all your friends are out pogoing to the Gang of 4.

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