Monday, January 31, 2005

 

Some day you're going to be on Jeopardy, trailing as the show's end approaches, and as the new categories are being posted you'll hear Alex Trebek say, "Things about Steve Kipner," and a wave of relaxation will flood through your body is you realize you're about to win it all. And that's why you read this blog.

We previously met Steve when he was a member of Skyband (or, if you're just coming to this blog, you met him when you heard a little tune he co-wrote called Genie In A Bottle or possibly another one called Physical). Just before Skyband, he was involved in a short-lived group called Friends who released one self-titled album in 1973 on the MGM label. As you can see above, Steve's excellent taste in band names and cover art didn't start with Skyband (it didn't start with Friends either, but we'll get to that some other day).

On Friday, I posted what's probably the standout track from the Friends album, their cover/rewrite of The Easybeats' Good Times. Kipner and Co. gave that song a mostly new set of lyrics, a new title (Gonna Have A Good Time), and a new set of writer's credits. Here's the original track. I go back and forth on which one I prefer. The Easybeats version is rawer and the vocals have more personality, but I think that the Friends version's lyrical changes work well, and I prefer the way Friends do the chorus. If you've ever listened to a rock radio station on a Friday, you've almost certainly heard the Easybeats song Friday On My Mind, at least via a cover version.

Hey, this is the first Kipner project we've encountered thus far where the credits actually tell us who's who in the band (don't forget that he was in the mysterious Fut as well). You can click the photo below to get a close-up:



...and while I'm slightly dubious about some of the claims made on the back cover (were Tin Tin really produced by "the Bee Gees" and did Steve really co-write "Toast And Marmalade For Tea") there's no denying that his bandmates are one Darryl Cotton (formerly of Aussie band Zoot, home of one Rick Springfield) and Michael Lloyd (famous producer and former member of The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band). I didn't post them, but inside the gatefold of this album there are lots of photos of Steve, Darryl, and Michael singing, strumming, being friends, and running down the sidewalk as if they're auditioning to be in The Monkees.

So what was my reaction on first hearing all this musical talent?
"God, what crap!"

I wasn't completely right, but lets say right off that Friends were no Skyband, and nothing on the album has the same energy as the Easybeats cover, which really sticks out like a sore thumb. For the record, this has never come out on CD, and was apparently pulled from stores early on when Michael Lloyd left MGM.

In the end, I've softened my opposition, and actually enjoyed this album quite a bit, but I wouldn't mock anyone who didn't feel the same way: my taste has been pretty strange lately. I'm posting some of the tracks I like best below, with brief comments. Of the Steve Kipner projects I've heard thus far, though, this is probably the weakest.

Glamour Girl - the album opener sets the AM radio, early 70's tone of the record. Is that an ARP I hear? Kind of sugary, but I've come around to it.

She Knows - apparently every Steve Kipner album has to have one homage to a former musical era. This album actually has two. She Knows is like one of those Paul McCartney or John Lennon "50's songs" and I like this one a lot. The backing vocals remind me a lot of McCartney's Ram album.

Would You Laugh - and back to the sensitive stuff, sort of like the Bee Gees collaborating with solo Paul McCartney. Probably one of the best soft tracks on the album. Nice bridge!

Applecart - Starts out really promising, like it's going to be It Don't Come Easy, but then it turns into the song that the Rutles rejected in favor of Ouch! Ok, I ended up liking this one too.

Deep River Blues - and here's the song that Paul Williams rejected in favor of the entire soundtrack to Bugsy Malone. My wife said, "It's really stupid, but actually somewhat catchy." I'm guessing that we have Paul McCartney to blame for this one.

I've Known You So Long - has that Rhodes piano that's going to be behind every 70's schmaltzy ballad, but retains a tiny bit of 60's toughness. You can totally hear the space at the end of the song where the DJ should come in and back-announce it.

I wish I could end on a higher point, but I posted that higher point on Friday. Fans of soft pop should definitely check this out. It has a lot going for it as far as production and playing, and the singing is fine, but most of the material is -- let's be gracious -- kind of B- to B level.

As best as I can tell, the Easybeats were a big influence on this (Friends is an Easybeats album title) and I don't know them well, nor do I know Zoot, so I may be missing some obvious references.

Friday, January 28, 2005

 

Friday On My Mind

I am Andy Warhol, blasting the same 45 over and over while my assistants put the finishing touches on the soup.

I am Faye Wong, but my dreams of California have been replaced with dreams of Australia.

I have played this song nearly fifty times in the last few days.

I'm the guy on the subway with the iPod and the goofy grin and the tapping feet.

It's not the Easybeats, though they might have helped.

Details on Monday. Best song I've heard this year, hands down, and it's nearly as old as I am.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

 

More Simon Fisher Turner

Simon Fisher Turner's discography is a real bitch to get a handle on. Two good resources are this page run by a fan and this Mute Records related spot. And here's one of the best brief bios I've seen. As a warning, you really have to take his CDs one by one: liking one doesn't mean you'll like another, though some can be grouped. For example, he has a couple of "world sound" collections, Shwarma and Swift (the latter a CD/DVD package) that kind of go together. Both of those are interesting (that word again) but so diverse that they don't necessarily make for the best sit-down listening. On a separate note, I hereby advise you to stay away from his Kendall Turner Overdrive album unless you really know what you're doing.

About six years ago, he did the music for Croupier, a movie that I saw twice and liked. But I can't remember much about the soundtrack, and I've read that SFT didn't think he did a good job either. He teamed up with Croupier's director Mike Hodges for a second go with the more recent I'll Sleep When I'm Dead.

This soundtrack is available only as a download, from this place. It's very different from the Nadja soundtrack that I posted bits of the other day. Nadja is really accessible and pretty instantly likeable, to my ears. At least part of this is because it's based on a sort of minimalist chamber music most people are familiar with.

I'll Sleep When I'm Dead has SFT's trademarked electronic-messing-with-sounds, but the source material is jazz, prepared piano, and a gospel vocalist (not always at the same time). Parts of it are incredibly neat, but it doesn't exactly flow the way Nadja/Deux Filles do. Don't get me wrong: I like it. I like it a lot. But I would like to see him take some of the individual ideas and expand on them, rather than jumping around quite so much. In the end, this one sounds like a soundtrack, rather than standing completely on its own feet. Also, it seems to sound much better on headphones, as he's doing some weird stuff with stereo placement and phasing that isn't always apparent if you're not sitting right between the speakers of your stereo.

I have mixed feelings about posting a track, given that this album can be downloaded for about $13 with ease, so I've converted the mp3 to a lower bit-rate (128). That seems like a reasonable compromise, I hope. So, Here's the first of four sections that you get when you download I'll Sleep When I'm Dead. Other sections include bits that sound like John Cage and other bits that sound like Bitches Brew and other bits that sound like a jazz band getting pulled through a time vortex, and so on...

[Note: I've used "SFT" as an abbreviation at times, but Simon Fisher Turner sometimes records as "SFT" and seems to differentiate that from recordings under his name, so don't get confused.]

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

 
HOLY MOTHER OF GOD!! PITCHFORK LOOKS INTO THE SUN!! DETAILS BELOW...

I just noticed that Pitchfork reviewed Tegan & Sara's So Jealous yesterday. If you've been following this story, you may be aware that Pitchfork's reaction to any mention of Tegan & Sara is normally to start softly muttering "there's no place like home, there's no place like home" while rocking back and forth and hugging its knees, eyes closed and fists clenched tightly. Sometimes they have to run an extra Wilco feature to help take the edge off.

They gave the album a 3.4, but of course.

Classic line from the review: "Still, I can't spare So Jealous the critical scalpel just because it's inexplicably below the mainstream radar."

"inexplicably below the mainstream radar" = "reviewed in the NY Times, on the best-of-2004 list of the New Yorker's music critic, made Rolling Stone's top 50 of 2004, played on Conan O'Brien, etc., but we're just getting around to mentioning this band for the first time ever, four months after the album came out."

Incidentally, did you know that Wilco are re-releasing A Ghost Is Born? Full details at Pitchfork!

 


Ok, so getting back to Simon Fisher Turner...

After leaving The The, Simon and his friend Colin Lloyd Tucker (who some Kate Bush fans may know...see, yesterday's post wasn't totally random) decided that it might be fun to pretend to be women and record several albums of very strange, quasi-ambient, sometimes soothing/sometimes creepy, song-length sound sculpture collage things. And so began the careers of Gemini Forque and Claudine Coule.

Now that we have the internet, the whole Deux Filles thing is kind of less fun/mysterious, since anyone with access to Google can figure out what's what. But there was a time when it was practically impossible to get info about strange recordings, and this one was a real mystery to a lot of people. (The person who introduced me to Deux Filles loved them "because women never seem to make music like this.")

There were two Deux Filles albums. One (pictured above) did come out on CD, though the LP is a thing of amazing beauty and if you ever see a copy for a remotely reasonable price, snap it up. The second album, Double Happiness, was vinyl only, and hard as hell to find. I mean really, seriously hard to find. Like, basically impossible to find unless you were blessed with huge amounts of luck by a tribe of happy magical elves.

And now for the exciting news:

While trolling Soulseek, I recently came across a folder containing The Arcade Fire doing a complete cover of Wilco's demos for a forthcoming tribute to The Flaming Lips.

Oh, wait. Sorry, that's something I'm only going to post on my secret blog.

But I am thrilled to announce that Double Happiness is finally available on CDR, from Colin Lloyd Tucker himself (he'll even sign your copy). Go here for details. It's mastered (apparently with great care) from vinyl, as the master tapes are gone daddy gone.

I just want to stress that you may very well be grumbling about the fact that you don't know about my secret blog (which means you also missed my recent contest whose prize was tickets to a top-secret Killers show, with Asobi Seksu opening -- by the way, did you know that Asobi Seksu means "food madness" in Italian?), but I can pretty much guarantee you that several people (probably in Japan) have begun jumping up and down with excitement after reading the previous paragraph.

Double Happiness is a little stranger than Silence & Wisdom. I've posted tracks from S&W before, and I'm rushing to get this post up, so for now here's just one sample from Double Happiness. I'm not 100% sure, because the album flows in a way that makes it hard to relate the track names to what you're hearing (I didn't get my CDR yet, so this is from vinyl) but I'm pretty sure this is Albert the Mud Fish followed by the ultra creepy Who art in Heaven. One of the instruments listed on the album is "Insane Woman" btw.

I'll try to expand this post tomorrow, but I wanted to make sure I had something ready to go, as I may be busy until the evening.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

 
Taking a short break from Simon Fisher Turner to clean up some loose ends. Today I have some very brief reviews of a couple of CDs that were sent to me.

[Quick note: damn, I guess it had to happen eventually, but fluxblog and I both posted the same track today. I'm surprised it hasn't happened before. Anyway, go to fluxblog for more on AK-Momo.]

AK-Momo have gotten some notice on a few other blogs (scroll down on the last one) for their CD Return To NY, and the info page about them is here. Their label, part of the Parasol Records empire, is usually pretty good with the descriptions and seems to have it about right when they recommend this to fans of Kate Bush and Portishead. The vocalist does sound very Kate Bush, and a lot of the songs have a vaguely noir feel, though the instrumentation is dinkier than Portishead's (that's not an insult...AK-Momo are putting the Optigan to good use).

I've always liked Portishead's sound, but have never been the biggest fan of their songwriting (too much spy music) and have the same general feeling re: AK-Momo. My favorite song of theirs (also apparently the first one they wrote) is a little more major-key, and actually reminds me a tiny bit of Cocorosie. Here's the opening track, Greasy Spoon. Not to be one of those old people who always make inappropriate references to the music of their day (i.e. "everything sounds like the Beatles" syndrome), but I can also see this song appealing to Slapp Happy fans. Really.

FWIW, Parasol is currently selling the CD for $8.50, so if this interests you, be aware that it's cheap. Moving on to CD #2...

Trztn used to be in Flux Information Sciences, a terrific and missed NYC band who put on a helluva hot live show. Their CD for Michael Gira's Young God Records has moments of greatness and can be found here.

Recently Trztn put out an album called Waiting For The Sun as Sauna Kings (band is him and Fabian Stall, with occasional help from a guy from Einstürzende Neubauten, and I'm not going to pretend I know anything about Fabian Stall). As with just about everything I've heard of Trztn's, it's got a neat creepy agression, a decent hit/miss ratio, and an often surprising amount of tunefulness given the overall sound. It's mostly damaged electronics, and I keep being struck by the fact that some parts of it aren't really all that far from some of Dizzee Rascal's more out-there tracks. Not that Sauna Kings are remotely hip-hop or grime, but sonically there's some shared territory.

In general, I'm a song-oriented person, so I'm more interested in the songs with vocals. A couple that I especially like are the title track Waiting For The Sun and The Sauna King (I've yet to figure out the Doors references, so if anyone can help with that I'm all ears). I saw this up on the wall at Kim's the last time I was there, so hopefully it's doing reasonably well. In my humble opinion, especially in these post-Strokes days, there aren't nearly enough people in NYC doing this sort of thing (or maybe "getting any attention for doing this sort of thing").

If the Kim's shopping experience isn't a part of your lifestyle, you can also buy the album direct here.

Monday, January 24, 2005

 

Nadja, Simon Fisher Turner and Cologne for Vampires

Snow does nice things to New York. When there's a lot of snow on the ground, we say "hello" to each other. I've been here through a bunch of heavy snowfalls now, and it's the weirdest side effect. After the snow has stopped, you go for a walk, and as long as the streets are empty of traffic and blocked by drifts, random people will say hello to you as you pass, as if the local rule against saying hi to strangers has been suspended along with alternate side of the street parking regulations. Once the snow goes away, so do the greetings.

The other aspect of a big snow storm that I always enjoy is more cinematic. It cleans up the details of the city's scenery, removing distractions and leaving the focus on the larger lines of buildings, streets, bridges, trains, etc. It's very bracing and gives an exaggerated sense of solitude and timelessness that's great for long walks and deep thoughts.

One of my favorite things in the world is to go walking through Chinatown (especially the area near the Manhattan bridge) during snowstorms. I have mixed feelings about this, since part of what I like has to do with the fact that a lot of it is old and decaying, which obviously isn't very nice for the people who aren't making enough money to keep it otherwise. That aside, it feels older and more interesting than most other parts of town these days, and a haze of snowflakes only increases the effect of being somewhere else.

My favorite CD for walking through snowy Chinatown is the soundtrack to a quirky vampire movie called Nadja that came out in 1995. The movie is kind of like a Hal Hartley take on the undead, and the cast included Hartley faves Martin Donovan and Elina Lowensohn (she's pictured above, though that photo is from a different movie). I rented Nadja recently, and actually liked it better this time than when I originally saw it. The movie may be best known for featuring scenes shot on a Pixelvision camera (google that if you don't know what it is), and I sometimes wonder if the static-filled Pixelvision images are the element that linked the soundtrack with snow in my mind.

The music is by Simon Fisher Turner, who I've been name dropping a lot lately. He's hard to describe in one sentence. He's been a teen pop idol of sorts, a member of The The, a soundtrack composer for Derek Jarman, a soft-pop behind-the-scenester loosely affiliated with the Mike Alway/Bid/Momus/Cherry Red gang. He's covered PIL's Poptones and Bowie's The Prettiest Star, released two albums in the guise of a woman named Claudine Coule, and collaborated with a member of Wire on a series of international soundscapes. I could probably keep going like this.

I have the feeling that the difficulty in pigeonholing him has had a negative effect on his popularity, at least in the US where we like our musicians bite-sized. From what I can tell, he's bigger in Japan. I'm more and more convinced that if the music to Nadja was by, say, Tangerine Dream or something like that, it'd be a cult favorite of major proportions.

While the soundtrack works extremely well with the movie, the nine short pieces that make it up stand on their own. The music is often pretty, but has a creepy undertone, with classical elements like piano and cello colliding with some fairly warped electronics and sound effects. I'm always worried that people will tune out when they hear the word "soundtrack," expecting something diffuse and backgroundy. The soundtrack to Nadja isn't like that. A large part of what makes Simon Fisher Turner's work interesting is that he's focused on sounds, like a lot of ambient people, but has a pop star background that begs attention. Think of it as background music that demands to be in the foreground.

The CD is out of print, but currently it's easy to find used. I highly recommend it...I've had it for about nine years now, with no signs that I'm getting sick of it. And I continue to pull it out every winter, around January or February.

From it, here's:

Love, Death, Avoid It which I've posted before. Probably the catchiest track, it's almost a "song," though the vocals are all sound-bites from the movie.

The Dead Travel Fast, which opens the CD. Starts out with piano and strings, and that part is really wonderful, but about halfway through the track things get stranger.

Isle Of Spices was originally, if the liner notes to The Many Moods Of Simon Turner (a compilation of early Turner pieces) can be believed, the soundtrack to a Japanese cologne commercial. Whether that's true or not, it fits in perfectly on Nadja, to the point where I find it hard to picture the original ad unless it involves vampires.

Pixsmiles is the longest piece on the album. Like The Dead Travel Fast, it starts in moody classical territory before morphing in several different directions across eleven minutes.

I'm going to stick with Simon Fisher Turner this week. I have one big surprise regarding him that'll probably make at least a few people (who I suspect live in Japan) jump for joy. I'll also have some vinyl-only stuff he's done. I'm going to stay away from his pop side, so this week is more for people who liked the recent Flying Lizards/David Cunningham posts.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

 
Recently, I've had some celebrity visitors (we take a broad view of the term "celebrity" around these parts). Go to this post about the band Yo (assuming that's something that interests you) and check the comments to learn one reason why their lead singer wasn't the girl.

And go to this post about Hose (and once again I'll repeat: they had the first ever release on Def Jam!! Impress your hip-hop friends with your old school smarts!) and check the comments, for we have been visted by the guy who sang Mobo! Since he asked about the Dustdevils cover, here it is once again, from their Geek Drip album, which was an early Matador records release that never did come out on CD (though, to be honest, it's not really that great other than this one incredible song).

One last thing. It's been a while since I've posted photos from my neighborhood, and since tomorrow's post has to with music to listen to while walking around in the snow, now seems like a good time. So here's what my part of Brooklyn is looking like these days:















Friday, January 21, 2005

 
Tugboat, not Tin Tin

Well, I was planning on writing about a great lost album from the early 70's today, but then I surprisingly managed to get in touch with one of the members who agreed to answer some questions, so that post is on the backburner until I get his email.

I've been meaning to mention Australian band Tugboat for a while, and since they say that their new album will be coming out soon, now seems like a good time.

glenn (he doesn't capitalize it) at the on-hiatus music site War Against Silence reviewed Tugboat's 2001 album All Day here at length, so read that if you want a detailed blow-by-blow.

I'm just going to focus on a couple of songs.

Before I settled on Tugboat, I was thinking of doing another Simon Fisher Turner post today, because I always pull out his CDs around this time of year. My theme was going to be something along these lines: if you took SFT's Nadja soundtrack and renamed it Das KolnSchrabben (I hope that doesn't actually translate into anything in German) and put a photo of some late 70's German hippies on the cover holding homemade electronic gizmos and a cello, you could probably sell a copy or two to your local Tangerine Dream fanclub.

(It's really an amazing CD...I posted one track long ago and I may put up a few more over the weekend. It works well in the winter in New York.)

Likewise, if Tugboat had released the fantastic and fairly Bats-like Don't Care, Really and Next Year's Words as limited edition lathe cut singles in New Zealand with help from members of the Tall Dwarves, you'd probably see the occasional eBayer shelling out hundreds of dollars for said tunes. Instead, Tugboat's album came out on a small Australian label, and they're not too terribly famous.

Such is the way of the world.

Recently there's been some excitement because The Unforgettable Arcade Fire performed a Magnetic Fields cover. ("Doesn't that singer sound like Wolfman Jack crossed with Bob Dylan?" asked my wife who was half-listening and who often does a better job of this reviewing thing than I do.)

But, since it's always newsworthy whenever someone covers The Magnetic Fields, I should probably mention that Tugboat do so as well, with panache, though fans of Under A Blood Red Arcade Fire might judge Tugboat's approach slightly lacking in the passion department. Here's Love Goes Home To Paris In The Spring.

Tugboat's website is here, and here's hoping that their forthcoming album gets some distribution in the US.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

 
Tin Tin, but not *that* Tin Tin

Everyone from England (maybe even everyone from Europe) will want to go somewhere else today, as I can't imagine that anything I write about Robbie Williams will interest you. Scat!

Luckily, he's almost completely unknown in the US. As is his current collaborator, Stephen Duffy, who was an original member of Duran Duran, put out a number of lovely folk rock albums as The Lilac Time, reunited with Duran Duraner Nick Rhodes to record as The Devils, and once recorded as Tin Tin, no relation to the Steve Kipner/Steve Groves group Tin Tin that I'm going to be featuring on Friday. Whew, long sentence.

Getting back to Robbie Williams...oh, lord, just google his name or something. It's kind of weird that pretty much nobody in the US has the slightest idea who he is. I took an informal poll at work this week which, granted, is on Wall Street. Nonetheless, it appears that Robbie Williams could walk in wearing a "Take That" t-shirt and not get the slightest reaction.

The strange part is that he's actually not bad. (I told you English people to go away, so don't even think about commenting!)

The song of his that kind of captured my attention might be about 75% of Murray Head's One Night In Bangkok and thoroughly atypical, but that's not a lethal criticism of the fabulous Rock DJ. This song is old and unfashionable, I think, but I have this feeling that not too many of my countrymen have heard it. Except for people who read mp3 blogs. Meaning, I guess, that this post is mainly intended for people who won't read it. Correct me if I'm wrong...I'm sometimes out of the loop when it comes to top-40 types.

As for Stephen Duffy, he's put out a number of lovely warm and fuzzy acoustic folk-rock albums. My favorite is probably the ever-so-slightly country tinged Looking For A Day In The Night, which came out in the US on the Spin Art label in 1999. From that, here's the most psychedelic track, A Day In The Night, and here's I Won't Die For You, which starts with an awfully familiar organ part. This is a great cold-weather CD and makes an excellent background to hot chocolate sipping and such. I actually hadn't listened to it in a few years, and was pleasantly surprised by how well it holds up when I was picking tracks to post.

Finally, from that aforementioned Devils album, here's a song about a group of people who called themselves the Barbarellas. What a dumb idea. Who'd ever pay any attention to a group that gets its name from that movie!

I can highly recommend The Lilac Time and The Devils, assuming you like the tracks I posted. The Robbie Williams track Rock DJ isn't really representative, so if you want to follow up on him, write to someone from England and ask them for advice. The slightly annoying but ultimately worthwhile website for The Devils is here.

Monday, January 17, 2005

 


I'm not sure how many people will be reading today, since it's a holiday. I'll try to get to Tin Tin before the week is through.

Meanwhile, here are two songs that I'm listening to a lot these days.

[Quick note for people who don't usually read this blog. I don't really like jazz, so when I post jazz tracks, as I am today, it's unlikely that you'll be hearing a drummer going nuts on the hi-hat while a saxophone bleats endlessly in the distance and a bass plunks hither and thither. Today's track could probably appeal to, oh say, your average Tago Mago fan, not that it sounds like Can or anything. That's my sloppy way of saying, "not necessarily for jazz fans only."]

I think I've posted from the vast majority of jazz fusion pioneer Larry Coryell's sixties albums, but I never did get around to his debut on Chico Hamilton's The Dealer. I held off buying that album for a long time, thinking that since it was Coryell's debut with an established bandleader, his eclectic influences might be held in check. True, it's a much more trad album than what would come later, but it's also a pretty great record, with some strange stuff scuttling around the edges. My favorite track (predictably enough) is A Trip, which is a little more experimental than usual. The end of the track is pretty, um, trippy, with what sounds like guitar feedback swelling over a randomly bowed bass as the drums finally relax after keeping a pretty strict groove for the rest of the song.

For a more "jazz" approach to the album, here's a neat and enthusiastic review of the track For Mods Only. I just don't know enough about jazz to feel comfortable writing in that type of voice, but each time I reread that piece it makes me want to run out and buy another copy of The Dealer.

Totally unrelated to that, here's the somewhat lost 60's group Mortimer with a song called Singing To The Sunshine. If you've heard Cardinal's album (Cardinal being Richard Davies and Eric Matthews, who collaborated on a fairly classic one-off) you've heard a remake of this track. For some reason, the liner notes credit the original writers but don't give the name of the band (I'm referring to the CD issue of Cardinal...not sure if the vinyl is the same) and the liner notes are kind of tiny, so I'll bet a lot of people aren't even aware that this is a cover. Anyway, the original is very nice, as is the rest of the Mortimer album, though I'm not sure it's worth spending big bucks to get the vinyl (I don't think it's yet made it to CD). Pitchfork discovered the album back in 2003, though they didn't bother to mention the Cardinal connection (probably because they're evil) .

If you can read French, here's a recent overview of Richard Davies. Looks like the mp3s are still up too (as I write this). Incidentally, it looks like the Cardinal CD has turned into a bit of a collector's item since last I checked. Wishing Tree was supposedly working on a reissue with bonus tracks, but I haven't seen any news about that in a while, nor have I heard anything about the Richard Davies solo album "Tonight's Music" that was supposed to come out last year. Hmmmm.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

 

Ok, this continues the previous post, so go there if you didn't download the suspiciously Beatle-esque Have You Heard The Word by The Fut.

So I was listening to that song in my kitchen and my wife walked in and I said, "Guess who this is!" with this goofy smile on my face: the kind of smile that says, "C'mon, say 'The Beatles.'"

And she replies, with the sort of patience that you get after living with me for a while, "Let me guess, Skyband." Damn her! And she's pretty much right.

The full story of The Fut is here, and an interesting story it is. The short version is that The Fut were Steve Kipner (our friend from Skyband aka the guy who co-wrote Genie In A Bottle) and Steve Groves, recording at the time as "Tin Tin," with some drunken help from Maurice Gibb and his friends. The song was released as a single, kind of illegitimately, and rumor quickly had it that it was The Beatles in disguise. Later it started turning up on Beatles bootlegs, and later still Yoko Ono tried to register a copyright for it.

It's currently available on a really, really, really cool CD that came out last year on the Castle Music label called Maybe Someone Is Digging Underground (The Songs Of The Bee Gees) which features cover versions of various Bee Gees composed songs.

One of the best is this soul version of To Love Somebody, performed by P.P. Arnold, one of Ike and Tina Turner's back-up singers (apparently the song was originally composed for Otis Redding to sing, before the Bee Gees decided to record it themselves).

I really recommend the Maybe Someone Is Digging Underground CD. The liner notes are fascinating, and the vast majority of the cover versions range from good to great (there are one or two clunkers). And it was wonderful to finally hear a non-acetate performance of Mrs. Gillespie's Refrigerator!

More on Tin Tin coming next week.

 
The Word Is Fut

Tofu Hut has one of the weirder Beatles tracks posted today (You Know My Name, Look Up The Number). If you haven't heard it, it's worth a listen, if only to remind yourself that the Beatles (and especially Paul) really were pretty strange.

That prompts me to post today's track, which I've been meaning to get to in order to kick off a feature on a band that isn't the Beatles.

Anyway, here's a great song called Have You Heard The Word. Hmmm, that vocalist sounds awfully familiar. I wonder why they left this off of the Beatles Anthologies!

Ever noticed that "Tofu Hut" is an anagram for "U Hot Fut"? Stranger and stranger. I wonder if this was all meant to be...

(More details this evening, and I kindly request that all Fut fans keep the word to themselves until then.)

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

 

This Is Not Your Bloody Valentine

Last week Largehearted Boy had a link to an EZTree bittorent of a live Band Of Susans show, which was a really pleasant and totally unexpected surprise.

The description of the band over at EZTree goes:

think USA's answer to My Bloody Valentine

I'm really grateful to the person who posted the show. I'd never previously seen any live recordings by Band of Susans (apparently there aren't many: see the comments at EZTree...someone emailed Robert Poss, who lead the Susans) and I'm mentioning it here 'cause it's unusual enough to merit extra notice. It looks like there've only been 300 hits on the bittorrent, and I'll bet there are more people who'd be interested in the show than that.

Nonetheless, it's probably worth noting that BoS's distorto-rama predates My Bloody Valentine's, and that the two groups didn't really sound much alike (the way their songs are put together is completely different, for starters). They did both release albums with a photo of a guitar on the cover, but BoS did it first.

I'm a little sensitive on the subject of BoS comparisons because one of the reasons that it took me so long to "get" them is the fact that, during their heyday, they were constantly compared to Sonic Youth/Glenn Branca. So I kept buying their albums, thinking "yuck, this doesn't sound anything like Sonic Youth" and setting them aside.

I didn't really start to like them until I started to listen to them as amped up guitar minimalism, which is basically the source of their sound. Here's a link to an article that Robert Poss wrote, explaining the influence of Rhys Chatham on his work. Rhys Chatham, if you haven't heard his name before, is the other guy who came up with the concept of composing for groups of electric guitars. Unlike Glenn Branca, he wasn't so big on distortion or dissonance.

And here's an example of Rhys Chatham's music. This is a piece called Die Donnergötter which saw a US release on the then Gerard Cosloy stewarded Homestead label, strangely enough. You know how Great Plains sang "You like almost everything that comes out on Homestead." Well, Die Donnergötter might be one of those "almost" albums that didn't click with the new wave girls or the punk rock boys. (Sorry dial-up people: it's 40Mb and worth every Mb.)

It's currently found most easily on a box set of Chatham's work called An Angel Moves Too Fast To See that came out in 2003 (I'm not sure if it's still in print, but used copies are easy to find).

Die Donnergötter doesn't exactly sound like BoS, in part because Chatham uses much cleaner guitar tones than Poss. In a weird way, it's almost like a cross between the Feelies and Neu (it takes a couple minutes to hit its groove, so you won't notice the Feelies/Neu thing if you don't listen past the intro). Nonetheless, you can definitely hear similarities between Poss and Chatham in the way multiple guitar parts are being put together (and Poss played in the Die Donnergotter ensemble). Band Of Susans covered one Chatham composition during their career, with a neat take on a pretty important (and listenable, considering it involves one note) piece called Guitar Trio.

The last time I wrote about Band of Susans I posted a few tracks from their last and probably best album Here Comes Success, and a Peel Sessions version of a song called Hope Against Hope. Here's the version of Hope Against Hope from their first album (slightly different, though not in any important way, from the version on their first EP). I have issues with the drum sound, but it's still a great song that sounds better and better the louder you play it. It has vocals, but they don't start for a minute or so. Be patient!

Oh and the sound on the live show is pretty good, surprisingly. The vocals are kind of low in the mix, but this is one band where that's not much of a problem.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

 
One more track from The Yellow Box will be in this space tomorrow. [Ok, here's Potomac, with a plane crash soundbite that probably seems more resonant now than when it was recorded back in the early 80's. The beginning of this track sounds an awful lot like The Fall's Winter, which is slightly interesting since they were recorded around the same time...though I doubt that either track influenced the other.]

Meanwhile, more link updating. Pitchfork is gone because, having been somewhat justifiably harangued out of their little indie world, they're now nearly identical to reading Fluxblog and I Love Music, so why expend the extra effort. I finally added 20 Jazz Funk Greats, who have an especially terrific post up right this second (Royal Trux et al.). Should have done that long ago, but I hate updating my template because once Blogger ate it and I had to redo everything. (Now I have it saved as a text file, but old phobias die hard.) Blogship is gone because I never read it. Can anyone recommend a good hip-hop site for people who like weird hip-hop and don't have the slightest interest in that genre's politics? I like Dana Dane, MF Doom, some Dizzee Rascal and various things that young people always tell me are "old school" with a look that resembles blank respect (the blank part probably being more felt than the respect part).

And finally, on the subject of links, I'm more and more convinced that Locust St. could be the mp3 blog that really justifies the form, if he keeps up the current level of quality. Subject matter is music from the 40's, but even if you could give a fig about that, it's still worth reading. Great writing, great photos, great details. The link is over there on the left. I'm counting the minutes till NPR does a feature (and that is not, as it normally would be, a backhanded compliment).

Monday, January 10, 2005

 


As a quick recap for anyone who wasn't reading last week, David Cunningham was the guy behind The Flying Lizards (the band that did that wacky cover of the song Money, often heard on news programs about conspicuous consumption).

Before that, though, he had recorded an album back in 1977 called Grey Scale. It's basically an experimental record and sort of sounds like The Flying Lizards with every single aspect that might be considered catchy or "pop" removed. That includes the rhythm section. No vocals either. If you thought that The Flying Lizards' schtick involved removing all the "pop" from pop songs, you have no idea how far this can be taken.

It's made up of two kinds of pieces: side A consists of "Error Systems" which involve playing a repeating phrases until you make a mistake, then incorporating the mistake into the phrase. Side B puts the emphasis more on manipulated tape samples. Both sides have the potential to be excellent room clearers at the end of a party. Descriptions of this album from the web site:

"... a whole bunch of those toy monkeys who bang little cymbals when you wind them up but they're playing little pianos and water glasses and synthesizers instead, and some run out of steam before the others and you have to rewind them and then the sound changes slightly"

"Your mom gets really stoned and goes into the kitchen to make dinner, but instead of cooking she starts hypnotically banging and tapping on all the pots and pans and utensils... making a strange music that only she can understand"

You get the idea. Here's track three from Side A, Error System (C pulse group recording) and here's track two from Side B, Water Systemised.

Several years later, David Cunningham teamed up with downtown Manhattan composer Peter Gordon (last seen in this blog back when I wrote about a record called New Music From Antarctica) for a record called The Yellow Box. This one, I like a lot.

People who play on the album include John Greaves (of Henry Cow) and Anton Fier (Feelies, Lounge Lizards, Golden Palominos). I'm not sure there's an official name for the kind of music that's on this album. It's got too much going on to be ambient, it's got a little too much rock and jazz to be classical, but for the most part it's not skronky and/or arch enough to really qualify as downtown experimental (by which I mean that, with a few exceptions, it doesn't sound like either John Zorn or David Byrne were ever in the room). It makes use of a lot of sampled sounds (via tape, not sampler), but it's not exactly industrial or music concrete or anything like that. And at times it can be quite melodic, but it's sure not pop or "early post-rock".

The closest comparison I know of might be Simon Fisher Turner's work, much of which is/was movie soundtracks. In the liner notes, Peter Gordon talks about, "treating musical materials which [he] produced as 'found objects'" and that might be the best description: an album full of found objects. David Cunningham talks about making the album like a painter, and that seems like another good way of looking at it. But I want to stress that it's not especially abstract or all that hard to listen to. There's definitely a musical focus for most of the songs.

Unlike Grey Scale, this one is on CD. From it, here's Are You A Fish? and Citizen. I want to strongly encourage the use of headphones, partly because there are lots of neat little details and partly because I find that this doesn't really work well as background music (it's generally more jagged than Simon Fisher Turner's stuff).

For what it's worth, I'm not sure that The Yellow Box is the kind of album that grabs you by the throat on first listen, but I can honestly say that I listen to it frequently. It has a lot of variety, and I really wish that I knew of more records like it. I'll probably post one more track from it tomorrow, but I'm in a rush today.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

 
Everyone who failed to tell me about the wonderful New York City funded video show New York Noise is hereby banned from ever reading this blog again.

We don't really have cable (our tv is hooked up to the cable that goes to my modem, via a splitter) so I never really checked out anything above channel 13 (PBS) assuming that it was all Japanese westerns (not that they don't have their charms). But tonight while trying to torment my wife, who was underneath a cat or two and unable to reach the remote, I was flipping randomly and stumbled onto channel 25 right in the middle of Night Nurse by Dean Wareham and his main squeeze. If you go to the listings homepage, you'll see there's lots of other great stuff.

But you knew that, and just didn't want me to find out. Well Ha! I found it.

Thank you Mr. Mayor...you're the best!

[Update after watching the whole show: My Favorite are the clear winner, though they remind me almost exactly of Heavenly. The Chromeo video is kind of funny, the Burnside Project video is intermittently interesting, Ari Up is a hippie, that White Magic song really is sort of ok, the Stills really blow, and I realize I really miss low-budget local tv. I'm getting nostalgic for Dance Party USA! Did I mention that they played an Ultra Vivid Scene song in my gym on Wall Street last night and my jaw dropped? Anyway, Goodnight.]

Friday, January 07, 2005

 


Monday is going to be kind of serious and artsy and all that, with some of David Cunningham's less pop work (he's the guy behind The Flying Lizards...did I mention that the other day?), so to tide everyone else over, here's a band called Eagle with a great, great cover of the glam rock classic Dyna-Mite, best known as performed by Mud, though apparently its writers Chapman and Chinn originally pitched it to The Sweet, and it was originally recorded (though not released) by a band called Hello, who we Americans seem to know almost nothing about. This version of Dyna-Mite has turned into one of my "go to" songs when I don't know what I want to listen to. I love it dearly.

It's probably the best track from a reasonably strong compilation called Blockbuster that includes the Donnas, Nick Heyward, Dramarama, and...um...a bunch of other people covering glam rock classics. Yes, that's Nick Heyward from Haircut 100, but if you've heard his later solo albums, like the wonderful The Apple Bed, and his channeling of The Beatles, as on All My Loving from Heyward's A Hard Days Nick, this isn't really that weird.

Eagle, who include people w/involvement with The Eels, Possum Dixon, The Lilys and god only knows who else, later turned into The Blondes, apparently after one of the Eagles got mad at them (I'm not sure if that really happened or if it just makes for a good press release). And The Blondes are a band that I've been meaning to check out for a while (they released an album last year, details and a short song sample are here). I'm assuming that they're not mind blowing, but probably good glammy fun. Any readers heard them, wanna comment?

Thursday, January 06, 2005

 

Ugh, so it's turning into one of those weeks. I have a bunch of not-on-CD albums that I want to post (including still more on the Steve Kipner/Skyband story) and various and sundry other things, but I just can't seem to get the time to sit down at the computer for more than a few minutes.

Another problem I've been having is that every time I set out to listen to something new, I seem to get bored and end up listening to I Like Girls in Russia (see last post) and when I manage to stop myself from listening to that, I've been obsessively listening to The Flying Lizards song Hands 2 Take, from their Fourth Wall album. It kind of reminds me of a cross between Eno's Baby's on Fire and Kevin Ayers' Song From the Bottom of a Well, with the addition of a pouty New Wave girl singer.

Fourth Wall is an album that deserves better treatment than I'm going to give it (also better treatment than Allmusic gives it -- no review? Come on!) but if you're a fan of, oh I don't know, maybe an oddball approach to strategies from Brian Eno's rock albums and work with Cluster (I'm especially thinking of the song Broken Head), it's a record that you'll probably want check out. There's a lot more to The Flying Lizards than Money and Summertime Blues... I guess that's the main point.

Other examples? Well, OK... here's a song that's not officially by The Flying Lizards, but it's by The Flying Lizards. It's called The Laughing Policeman, and was released under the band name The Suspicions. I thought about pairing it with Bowie's The Laughing Gnome, or with Robyn Hitchcock's Do Policemen Sing, but maybe some other time.

Instead, here's another Fourth Wall track, a cover of Curtis Mayfield's Move On Up (single version, 'cause I'm running out of space). I keep thinking that this could have been a minor hit if it had been released in 2004... it has a very "now" feel. Why this album is out-of-print, I couldn't say. It shouldn't be.

All the Flying Lizards information you're likely to need can be found here.

Anyone want to hear Grey Scale next?

Monday, January 03, 2005

 

And I'm back. Happy New Year! Thanks again to Sleeve for posting last week. That Half Japanese song Zombies of Mora-Tau is just amazing, on so many levels. I mean, it's funny, but it really is kind of scary, in a funny sort of a way. And that ending!

I wanted to do a top 10, but as of today I still don't have ten albums that I could honestly put on a pedestal. My general sense about 2004 was that there were a lot of good or very good albums, but I didn't hear many that struck me as the sort of thing I'll be reminiscing about in ten years. In ten years, I'll probably have some vague memory of a band called The Tom Tom Human Annie who released a hit called My Fascinating Boyfriend's Chewing Gum, and that's how I'll remember 2004. It also occurs to me that the fact that The Arcade Fire ranked so highly this year kind of goes to my point. It's perfectly nice, but it seems awfully boring to think of it as the musical artistic acheivment of the year. At least to me. Kind of like naming "bread" the food of the year.

But let's face it: my favorite album of last year was the Mystical Beast mp3 reissue of Skyband.

So instead of a top 10, I'll do my usual bitchfest about overlooked albums that aren't likely to get more than one Pazz & Jop vote. Last year I whined about Laptop and The 88 and Magic Dirt, if memory serves. This year let's talk about Thou, a fairly long-running project by Bart Vincent and Does De Wolf.

As best I can tell, this blog is the only English-as-a-first-language source of info on Thou's current activities that can be easily found via Google. How things got so dire, I have no idea.

I've written about them many times before, so longtime readers might want to step outside for a cigarette for the next paragraph or so.

For everyone else, Thou are a band from Belgium. They've been around for years, and had a US label at one point in the early 00's. Their producer is John Parish, the same guy who works with PJ Harvey (and whether you love or hate PJ Harvey -- I'm kind of on the fence -- you have to admit she's got pretty great production). They're tight with Portishead, and once released an album recorded on top of spare Portishead backing tracks. As best as I can tell they're fairly big in the part of Belgium that doesn't speak French, which is annoying because I can read French and I can't make the slightest bit of sense of Dutch. They sing in English, with a minimal accent. If you've heard the Moonbabies song SloMono, that's pretty much how the vocals sound, with a fair amount of boy/girl unison going on. I sort of think they might appeal to fans of the Moonbabies, though Thou don't gaze at their shoes.

And what do Thou sound like? Well, they cop to being influenced by Sonic Youth (i hear Goo-era, especially when Bart sings) and Portishead (especially when Does sings) and I hear a fair amount of post-Great Escape Blur (and we all know how unpopular those bands are in the English speaking world). Unlike Sonic Youth, Portishead and post-Great Escape Blur (ok, maybe post-Blur Blur, but that's a confusing way to put things), Thou retain the ability to write a catchy two-minute pop song. On earlier albums, there was a pretty sharp divide between the rock songs and the trip-hop songs, but lately the two sides have been pretty well-integrated.

So, in 2004 they released an album called I Like Girls In Russia which, if I had a top 10, would probably be ranked first or second. Incidently, the album gets its name via the In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida route. Drink a bunch of whatever they drink in Belgium and then say "I Won't Go To Nashville" five times fast. Ok, six times. Anyway, Allmusic never heard of it, but of course, and I don't think it got reviewed by any of the normal outlets, internet or otherwise. I'd be surprised if (not counting readers of this blog) more than 100 Americans know it exists. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's my understanding of how things stand. The only way I know that you can buy it is to order it from Belgium, and it took my copy about a month to arrive.

Given all this, I'm going to post a huge chunk of the album. My sense is that the band needs exposure in the US more than anything (if they disagree I'll take the tracks down...I don't usually post more than one or two songs from new releases). I'm not saying you have to love this album, but I hope that you'll agree that it's something that would appeal to a reasonable number of people, and that it's kind of a sad commentary on the laziness of US critics that you're probably reading about it here for the first and last time. Just to pound the point into the ground, this is a band with connections to some extremely popular bands/producers and a good bit of history. It's not like they're some obscure local group from Abu Dhabi who released a limited edition cassette. It's just that Thou don't currently have a US or UK label.

So, here's the majority of the album, with minimal comments. It's ripped at 128, and I've got to tell you that it sounds much better via CD. Motivation for you to send some $ to Belgium!

Can't Get: first song on the album and pretty typical of the Thou sound: keyboards and electronics fight it out with late-Blur guitar work.

I Won't Go To Nashville: I think of this is the hit song from the album (it was the first track that they made available on their website). On first listen it sounds like they're ripping off the Raveonettes, but you'll quickly noticed that the song is a lot more complicated than that, esp. w/reference to key changes. By the end, all the little simple bits have kind of locked together into one massive hook. I definitely underestimated this song on first listen.

Scotty: I guess I'm slightly uncomfortable with songs that reference Star Trek, but otherwise this is really pretty. The flange-y, wah-wah-y guitar solo is especially trippy and cool.

Kickin': this is one of a couple of tracks with an unexpected 1950's influence. Even though the song doesn't sound overtly strange, I'm not sure I've heard anyone else do something like this. Elvis meets The Pixies (or something like that)?

Love Passion: another weird 1950s fusion, this one sounding almost like it could have come off of the soundtrack of a Belgian remake of Grease. At first I thought it was kind of dumb, but it's awfully catchy. Might have been better as a B-side, if only because it doesn't fit in well with the rest of the album.

No Love: the trip-hop side of things resurfaces here. If you like Portishead or the Beth Gibbons album, this is the track to download.

Dizzy Daydream: and the Blur side of things bounces right back...if you share my taste, this is the track to download.

Affection: last track on the CD, with an especially great chorus. Nice mix of the band's two styles.

I Like Girls in Russia came out early in the year, but I dug it out recently just to doublecheck my impression, and it still sounds pretty fantastic to me. Lots of variety in the songwriting, great production (headphones reveal a lot) and I just don't hear too many bands today working this territory (in contrast of the alarming number of bands who seem to have decided that late period Mercury Rev/Flaming Lips represent the pinnacle of musical achievement. I'd like to buy everyone a copy of In A Priest Driven Ambulance some day, when finances permit.). Enon springs to mind, but as with early Thou, Enon haven't yet managed to combine the boy songs and the girl songs, so their albums can sound a little schizophrenic. And, well, their last album Hocus Pocus was kind of underwhelming... I'm hoping they'll bounce back this year.

I'd like hear what people think, but in my book this is one of the more significant "pop albums you didn't hear in 2004" that isn't going to make most (any?) "pop albums you didn't hear in 2004" lists.

Thou's website, much of which isn't in English, is here.

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