Monday, August 20

NEWS

I folded the non-updated Robyn Hitchcock Project blog into this one, back-dating the posts to the date they were written. Sadly, there was no way I could continue under the present nor the expected future situation.

I'm also going to be closing up shop here; I have surgery scheduled for next week and decided it was a good time to hang up the spurs. I'm sure I'll make some sort of comeback down the road, but not at Crackle & Pop. I enjoyed the writing and hope you enjoyed reading it.

I'm thinking of keeping up the podcasts just to keep my toes wet for when I'm ready to jump back in. I'll email a download link to whomever is interested, so drop me a line and I'll add you to the list.

Thanks for all the kind words, feedback and conversation. It has been a pleasure.

Thursday, August 16

Me & Connie Down By The Schoolyard

From Free Darko via True Hoop:

To Make A Table Stand

Tracklist:
"Detouring America With Horns" - Yo La Tengo (from May I Sing With Me)
"I'm Insane" - Sonic Youth (from Anarchy at St. Mary's Place)
"Outfit" - Drive-By Truckers (from Decoration Day)
"Time After Time" - Cyndi Lauper (from She's So Unusual)
"Ship Of Fools" - Robert Plant (from Now & Zen)
"Three Is The Magic Number" - Jeff Buckley (from The Rare Tracks)

Intro & Outro: "Easy Snappin" - Theophilus Beckford (from Trojan Battlefield)

Thursday, August 9

Can You Believe It's No. 43?

Tracklist:
"Tricky" - Prince & Morris Day (from Ice Cream Castles single)
"Blu-lu-lup" - Lord Fly & Dan Williams and His Orchestra (from Mento Madness)
"$1000 Wedding" - Evan Dando & Juliana Hatfield (from Return of the Grievous Angel)
"Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde" - Alcest (from Souvenirs D'un Autre Monde)
"Patter" - Benoit Pioulard (from Précis)
"Ash Wednesday" - Elvis Perkins (from Ash Wednesday)

Intro & Outro: "Easy Snappin" - Theophilus Beckford (from Trojan Battlefield)

Thursday, August 2

Wacha Wacha Wacha

Tracklist:
"Imagination (Is A Powerful Deceiver)" - Elvis Costello (from My Aim Is True)
"Day Tripper" - Whitesnake (from Trouble)
"Crumblin' Down" - John Mellencamp (from Uh-Huh)
"The Only Living Boy In New York" - Simon and Garfunkel (from Bridge Over Troubled Water)
"Tina" - Camper Van Beethoven (from Telephone Free Landslide Victory)
"Radio Commercial" - The Sugar Hill Gang (from The Sugar Hill Story: To The Beat Y'All)
"Paper Planes" - M.I.A. (from Kala)

Intro & Outro: "Easy Snappin" - Theophilus Beckford (from Trojan Battlefield)

Tuesday, July 31

Soldiering On

Sadly, it seems anything that could go wrong with my recovery has gone wrong. What I hoped was just a simple sprain has turned into yet another nightmare. It seems in attempting to heal me, my body has decided to grow a cyst. This cyst has not responded to normal treatment, so yet again I am facing surgery on one of my hands.

All it is not lost for you, gentle reader. Through the auspices of an unnamed benefactor (codename: Dad) I now have voice recognition software that should assist me with my writing. It will take some time to train, but I hope to quickly move beyond that frustration and to resume regular posting. Based on what it is filling in here the adjustment may be a while.

Friday, July 27

Somethin' Weird & It Don't Look Good

Tracklist:
"Wagon Wheel" - Old Crow Medicine Show (from Old Crow Medicine Show)
"Psychopharmacology" - Grandpaboy (from Grandpaboy)
"Thirteen Men" - Ann-Margaret (from 1961-1966)
"Electric Relaxation" - A Tribe Called Quest (from Midnight Marauders)
"Don't Go Breaking My Heart" - O.D.B. & Macy Gray (from some mixtape)
"Da Feelin'" - Dizzee Rascal (from Maths + English)
"Thunderbusters" - Wax Audio (from waxaudio.com.au)

Intro & Outro: "Easy Snappin" - Theophilus Beckford (from Trojan Battlefield)

Pickin' Apples, Makin' Pies

Monday, July 23

Must Read Marcello

Go visit The Church for the best write-up on Elvis Perkin's Ash Wednesday I've yet seen.

Wednesday, July 18

100% Less Bohemian

Tracklist:
"Lazy Flies" - Beck (from Mutations)
"Memories Can't Wait (live)" - Living Colour (from Biscuits)
"Ballad Of The Yellow Beret" - Bob Seger (from The Singles 66-67)
"Things Go Better With Coca-Cola" - Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell (from Coca-Cola Commercials)
"Kick, Push" - Lupe Fiasco (from Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor)
"Birmingham" - The Wolfgang Press (from Queer [UK])
"Birmingham" - The Wolfgang Press (from Queer [US])

Intro & Outro: "Easy Snappin" - Theophilus Beckford (from Trojan Battlefield)

Friday, June 29

Let Yourself Go


Tracklist:
"Ghost Of A Dog" - Edie Brickell & New Bohemians (from Ghost Of A Dog)
"When Will They Shoot?" - Ice Cube (from Predator)
"The Jean Genie" - David Bowie (from Aladdin Sane)
"Blockbuster!" - Sweet (from Sweet's Greatest Hits)
"Cast A Shadow" - Yo La Tengo (from Genius + Love =Yo La Tengo)
"Always On My Mind" - Pet Shop Boys (from Discography)
"Superfreaky Memories" - Luna (from The Days Of Our Nights)

Intro & Outro: "Easy Snappin" - Theophilus Beckford (from Trojan Battlefield)

Thursday, June 21

Distrusted Not Rusted

Tracklist:
"Theme from Don" - Kalyanji Anandji (from Sitar Beat)
"Daisy Bomb" - Robyn Hitchcock (from A Star For Bram)
"Bert's Apple Crumble" - The Quik (from The In Crowd: The Ultimate Mod Collection))
"Yesterday" - Bob Dylan (from Almost Went To See Elvis)
"Helpless Automaton" - Men At Work (from Business As Usual)
"Let's Drink" - Korpiklaani (from Tervaskanto)

Intro & Outro: "Easy Snappin" - Theophilus Beckford (from Trojan Battlefield)

Tuesday, June 19

Special For Tuesday

It's a new podcast - before Thursday!


Tracklist:
"Cheree" - Suicide (from Suicide)
"Sweet As A Candy Bar" - Air Miami (from Me.Me.Me.)
"Mama Weer All Crazee Now" - Slade (from Slayed?)
"Pleasure To Burn" - Sasquatch (from II)
"You've Got To Hide Your Love Away" - The Beatles (from Help!)
"Supersonic" - Oasis (from Definitely Maybe)

Intro & Outro: "Easy Snappin" - Theophilus Beckford (from Trojan Battlefield)

Monday, June 18

I Blame The Muppets

My love of twitchy dancing puppets can have no other root. Fell in love with this on my honeymoon and it still makes me happy.

Thursday, June 14

...And the Wreck of the Hesperus Too

Tracklist:
"Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)" - Sly & The Family Stone (from Greatest Hits)
"Stigmata Martyr" - Bauhaus (from In The Flat Field)
"I Was Born" - Billy Bragg (from Hamburg Radio Broadcast)
"Rock 'N' Roll Suicide" - David Bowie (from blah blah blah...Ziggy Stardust...blah blah)
"I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday" - Morrissey (from Your Arsenal)
"Lydia The Tattooed Lady" - The Marx Brothers (from At The Circus)

Intro & Outro: "Easy Snappin" - Theophilus Beckford (from Trojan Battlefield)

By the way, the tracklist for each podcast is available under the lyrics tab in the mp3 file (at least in iTunes).

Thursday, June 7

River Deep, Catalog Shallow

Podcast 35; remembering Jeff Buckley, ten years gone.

Tracklist:
All songs by Jeff Buckley
"Mojo Pin" (from Grace)
"Last Goodbye" (from Grace)
"Yard Of Blonde Girls" (from Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk)
"New Year's Prayer" (from Sketches For My Sweetheart The Drunk)
"Lover, You Should Have Come Over" (from Grace)

Intro & Outro: "Easy Snappin" - Theophilus Beckford (from Trojan Battlefield)

Tuesday, June 5

Songs for June Fifth

The following songs have a time of 6:05 in my iTunes library:

"Lonesome Day Blues" - Bob Dylan
"Atrocity Exhibition" - Joy Division
"Show Biz Kids" - Steely Dan
"House Taken Over" - The Hummingbirds
"Dry The Rain" - The Beta Band
"Emotional Weather Report" - Tom Waits
"You Don't Know What Love Is" - Cassandra Wilson
"Kya Jane Yeh Duniya Kya Jan" - Amit Kumar & Sulahshana Pandit
"Holiday On The Moon" - Love & Rockets
"Always Keep A Diamond In Your Mind" - Tom Waits & The Kronos Quartet
"Les Fleur" - 4Hero
"One Two Three Baby" - Asha Boshle & Mahendra Kapoor
"Dono Ke Vichkar Lagta" - Asha Boshle
"Zoom And Bored" - Carl Stalling and the Warner Bros. Studio Orchestra
"Fishnet" - Morris Day
"Archie & Veronica" - Lovage

Thursday, May 31

Tommy's Loss

He can't hear my latest podcast, but you can:

Tracklist:
"Millions Of Images" - William S. Burroughs & Gus Van Zant (from The Elvis Of Letters)
"Waiting For The End Of The World" - Elvis Costello (from My Aim Is True)
"Maneater" - Hall & Oates (from H2O)
"This Charming Man (NY Vocal)" - The Smiths (from The Ongoing History Of New Music 2)
"I Feel An Idiot" - Go Home Productions (from gohomeproductions.co.uk)
"This Is Where I Came In" - The Bee Gees (from This Is Where I Came In)

Intro & Outro: "Easy Snappin" - Theophilus Beckford (from Trojan Battlefield)

Tuesday, May 29

Rough Break

I've managed to sprain my wrist pretty good. I'll be pretty screwed for at least a few weeks. Might get an extra podcast or two as I can still flap my gums.

Monday, May 28

Uncorrected Personality Traits

A Capella three-part harmony is not common in any modern artists catalog, but Robyn here does it in his own inimitable style. With a loose premise of the damage done by accepting quirky behavior in children, Robyn gets his digs in on the modern fixation with pop psychology and media coverage of the same. My favorite verse:

Even Marilyn Monroe was a man
But this tends to get over looked
By our mother-fixated
Overweight, sexist media

What does that have to do with the subject at hand? Rather little, but it is an amusing aside.

Since much of this project is really about my involvement and connection with Hitchcock, allow me to digress into anecdote. Some time ago (roughly a decade, I think) I made a mixtape of cabaret/music hall inspired music for my mother. This is one of the tracks I chose, I believe to end the first side. I picked the song because of it's sonic sensibility not lyrical content, but my mother picked up on the lyrics right away. If you examine the lyrics (available for perusal here), there is a verse describing the balance of parental involvement and the consequences. The consequences do not describe me, but the over/under involvement ratio was the same in my life as stated herein. I was asked rather pointedly whether I was trying to imply something with this choice of song; she certainly did not see her role in raising me as coddling to my strange childhood tics and behaviors, or that any issues I may be facing as an adult could possibly be tied to how she treated me as a child, excepting maybe in my poor relationship with my father which she tried, oh she tried, so desperately to strengthen and improve.

Please believe that I had not consciously meant, or hoped she would infer, anything from this track. That she did, however, and the way she reacted to it, made me reconsider it and what possible correlations it has to my life. Since this event, I've liked the song much more than I had in prior years.

Tradboy Shuffle

"Poet" - Sly & The Family Stone
As loose as Sly sounded on record (his work overall strikes me as drum tight, jammy but meticulously so), it is sketchy, almost slurred slow funk. "My only weapon is my singing", Sly starts, but it is a weapon that, here, he seems reluctant to use.

"Come Coser" - DJ Zebra
Mashups may be far, far past their expiration date, but this one still works for me. Nine Inch Nails "Closer" crossed with The Beatles "Come Together". Somehow funkier than both, but not funkier than Little Richard's appropriation of the "Come Together" bassline for "Nuki Suki". Though Richard didn't flat-out say "I want to fuck you/Right now", he sure implied it.

"Soundtrack To Mary" - Soul Coughing
Their first two albums got spun by me as much as anything that came out in the 90s. I'm a sucker for a stand-up bass; add a smart-alecky singer and a penchant for Raymond Scott samples and I'm caught hook, line and sinker.

"We Love Pizzicato Five" - Pizzicato Five
The sentiment is correct, the children's voices pure. "We love you P5, Oh yes we do".

"The Long Black Veil" - Johnny Cash
The singer dies instead of sharing the fact he was gettin' busy with his buddies woman, so she mourns in the long dark night. Die for the honor of a woman you love; Cash makes it seem the only sensible thing to do.

"John The Revelator" - Blind Willie Johnson
The voice. Neither Beefheart nor Waits nor any death metal vocalist has ever approached the growl and throaty dissonant howl of Blind Willie. I always loved the fact that so many of his songs have sweet, slightly off-pitch female vocal accompaniment. Makes his voice seem even rougher, if that's possible.

Friday, May 25

52 Stations

One of the few songs from the ill-fated Groovy Decay sessions that Robyn hasn't disowned, "Fifty Two Stations" is a bittersweet love song, a remembrance of a past relationship that ended poorly. The singer can't understand her and sees her as self-absorbed, all of which messes with his head until he lashes out and leaves. Only in hindsight can he see that the differences and the self-absorption was on both sides. Instead of recriminations and anger, Hitchcock's focus is on the sadness of it all.

As far is the music, it isn't much more than a mid-tempo rocker with a bad Dire Straits panning drum intro (really close to "Money For Nothing", though that came later) on Decay, with just enough angular guitar to keep it moving. The Kershaw Sessions version, however, is both softer and a little cheesier than the earlier release. This is distinctly not an improvement; it sounds vaguely like a song writer's demo for some 60s soft rock group, say, Harper's Bizarre.

Despite my serious undersell, it is a good song. This is a good representative of the part of Hitchcock's catalog that often gets overlooked; everyone focuses on the eccentricities and misses the pure pop songs he always wrote and nestled in beside the crustaceans, death and anthropomorphic inanimate objects.

Halfway Gone

Though the official mid-year celebrations are a short ways off, here at C&P I'm jumping the gun so I can actually enjoy listening to all this crap I've got sitting around. Without further blathering, thoughts on some of this years releases:

Tori Amos - American Doll Posse
I still like the first few Tori albums, and love From The Choirgirl Hotel. Her latest has some great stuff, but has a good chunk of godawful crud that sounds like everything else she's done this decade. Give it a listen, and buy the good stuff from iTunes ("Big Wheel", "Body And Soul").

The Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound - Ekranoplan
From Teepee records, home of my beloved Witch (RIP) and Earthless, Assemble Head are described by their PR flacks as "Mudhoney in Haight-Ashbury". Though not as good as that, their heavy psychedelic blues-rock is good, and has just enough layers of noise and fuzz to compliment the groove.

Battles - Mirrored
I've been listening to this for a while and the shine has kind of worn off. Though I would say overall I am leaning positive, it doesn't excite and interest me as much as the first few listens when I was unsure of what to make of it. Grooving post-rock with manipulated vocals, I'm sure I'd like them live more than on record. I do like it more than the two EPs, which I was very "meh" about.

Bjork - Volta
I liked it better in the short, condensed version she released as Selmasongs seven years ago.

Clutch - From Beale Street To Oblivion
Has not fell out of my rotation since it's release in March. Further shedding their metal roots, Clutch comes across here as heavy, heavy southern blues - think ZZ Top on steroids. Muscular but not forceful, tuneful and fiery, I will be very surprised if this isn't near the top of my year-end list. "Electric Worry" is one of my favorite songs this year; watch the video here.

Earthless - Rhythms From A Cosmic Sky
I've only had this a week, but it makes a helluva first impression. Just big honking stoner grooves - two go for twenty minutes each, then they throw a Groundhogs cover in to wrap things up. I think I might not like it quite as much as their prior release, Sonic Prayer, but if you like wordless jams that combine Hendrix, Blue Cheer and Sabbath with nods to power metal you can't go wrong with either one.

Eluvium - Copa
I know nothing about this guy or anything else he's done, but this is beautiful, subdued instrumental music. It almost falls into new age twinkledom, but holds the line and comes out like a soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch movie where nothing exactly happens but you enjoy the whole experience. I enjoy listening to this, but I don't think it is a warm weather album so it'll probably have to be "rediscovered" this Fall.

Tim Fite - Over The Counterculture
Free album? Of course I'll listen! There are some great songs on this ("I've Been Shot" is a standout) and it only costs time. Won't probably be there come end of year, but it was worth a couple of spins for a few standout tracks.

Jesu - Conqueror & Sun Down/Sun Rise
Continuing the steady shift from noise purveyor to the most depressing shoegazer imaginable, Justin Broadrick mope-a-dopes his way through blissful sounding sheets and waves of guitar. Even poppier than last year's Silver, Jesu's latest is wonderful to listen to, but has failed to lodge even the smallest riff or bit in my head. I can't recall anything beyond a general sound and that I enjoy hearing it, but it may be too samey to make a distinct impression. Sun Down/Sun Rise is a bonus EP that was included with the Japanese release of Conqueror, and consists of two cuts, the first 17 and the second 15 minutes. Both songs are the equal to any of the shorter pieces included on the domestic album, particularly when played loud; you can really hear the songs build and develop when they envelope you.

Low - Drums And Guns
I freely admit I know nothing about this band, beyond a track here and there over their ten-plus year career. With Ian regularly singing their praises (and writing about them very well at Too Many Words x2), I decided to give this a listen when I got the chance. Without any history or context within which to place it, Drums And Guns is a somewhat off-putting and difficult listen. Their sound isn't harsh or dissonant, but the decision to hard pan the voices and forgo a traditional aural mix is a challenge from the start. I think it works, though it does teeter on novelty after a while. I don't like it as much as Ian, but I like it enough to want to hear more Low.

Mammatus - The Coast Explodes
I've got nothing to add to this review right now.

Minsk - The Ritual Fires Of Abandonment
Though I was disappointed with them live, the album is still pretty solid. Post-rock, drone, doom and Kahlil Gibran in an epic mash. Not most people's cuppa, but I keep playing it.

The National - Boxer
I mentioned it in passing before, but this is a very good indie-pop record. I would shorthand it by saying it sounds like the meeting point of Lambchop and the Psychedelic Furs.

Elvis Perkins - Ash Wednesday
Though there are a few misfires on this ("May Day" is like the worst round of Kumbaya ever), his debut lives up to the tracks that have been floating around for a few years. I have a weakness for singer/songwriter stuff, and Perkins has a just enough of a touch of Mangum and Buckley to be right up my alley and to cause others to run in terror.

Tinariwen - Aman Iman
Anything that combines North African/Arabic style drones with delta blues guitar and what may be 40 different singers makes me prick up my ears. Tinariwen do that and add hand percussion and a bass guitar playing kick drum lines. I haven't even bothered to read the translated lyrics; when it sounds this good I don't care whether their singing about love, war, or pedophilia.

Amy Winehouse - Back To Black
Completely unoriginal, with an on- and offstage persona that is deplorable at best, Winehouse and company (particularly the oft-maligned Mark Ronson) have crafted an album that is just fun. I like early sixties soul, so throw some more modern beat patterns and a trashy but competent singer on top and I'm good. Won't replace Carla Thomas or The Ronettes, and if it gets people to listen to them instead of Winehouse that's good too.

Their are a bunch of things I haven't heard, or haven't heard enough. On the radar: Devin The Dude, Bonde De Role, R. Kelly ("I'm A Flirt (remix)" is so good I'll try the rest), Crippled Black Phoenix, The Moonbabies. I gladly take recommendations.

Thursday, May 24

Who'll Save The Podlings?

Yeah, podcast 33 is ready for all y'all, aight?

Tracklist:

"The Unforgettable Fire" - U2 (from The Unforgettable Fire)
"Really, How'd It Get This Way?" - Crippled Black Phoenix (from The Love Of Shared Disasters)
"Award Tour" - A Tribe Called Quest (from Midnight Marauders)
"P's & Q's" - Kano (from Run The Road)
"Rebel Waltz" - The Clash (from Sandinista!)
"Another One Rides The Bus - Weird Al Yankovic (from Permanent Record)

Intro & Outro: "Easy Snappin" - Theophilus Beckford (from Trojan Battlefield)

Tuesday, May 22

Glass

Another elliptical/spiral guitar figure at the heart of "Glass". I've noticed before that this type of riff (for lack of a better word) is somewhat of a signature style, but I didn't quite realize how often he draws upon it. With this song, as with much of The Egyptians catalog, Robyn counters the calliope guitar work with a high, soft keyboard line of tinkling bells. This is in stark contrast to The Soft Boys, where he and Kimberly Rew would play off of and amplify the main guitar riff with more guitar, often in close harmonics.

Evoking a calliope, whether conscious or not, has certain connotations. Myself, I've always associated that sound - the falling and rising notes that repeat without connecting the circle - with the circus. Within the context of the Soft Boys, the dual guitar playing off the elliptical base invites madness; an aural equivalent to the frightening effect of clowns on many children. Here it isn't madness (the trebly bells soften that feeling) but it does keep the listener slightly off-kilter to the songs benefit. Hitchcock plays on it in the lyrics, evoking the edge, the slight danger, in the third verse:

Glass protects you but glass can shatter
Hear the sirens, hear the screams

Monday, May 21

Steve & Eydie & Chris & Kim & Ben & Matt

I missed this when it came out in 1997. Since the "blogosphere" was less than nascent in those halcyon days of AOL and the Well, we didn't get this on every two-bit space like the one you're reading. Praise be to bandwidth, and check out Steve & Eydie singing "Black Hole Sun". It is just slightly worse than you would imagine. Paul Anka and Peter Frampton both failed to eviscerate Soundgarden as completely and totally as Steve & Eydie, though Frampton certainly tried his best, soulless "talk box" and all.

A Poor Counter's Dozen

"Sledgehammer" - Peter Gabriel
I forget how funky this is. If you can separate it from the video and just listen, it is a very, very good song. I always like Peter Gabriel more than I remember, which makes it even more of a shame that I don't play his stuff more.

"One Man's Ceiling Is Another Man's Floor" - Paul Simon
Slightly eerie piano-led intro makes no sense when it morphs into a light, gospel-inflected track. The transition is seamless, but that intro is wasted on this sub-Nola stomp. With all that criticism, you'd think I didn't like it, but this song works despite all the things I dislike. Except for the piano on the intro & outro, which deserve a different, darker song.

"California Über Alles" - Dead Kennedys
Now here's an intro that perfectly matches the song - the menace is real, the song a true bottle to the head. I lean towards American hardcore & punk over its British counterpart, in part because I like my anger topical; I never knew of Thatcher or tenement flats, but Reagan, Jerry Brown and their ilk were my bugbears. I often forget the vocal kinship that Jello Biafra and Fred Schneider share, as clearly shown by this track and the Albini produced album Just Fred.

"Fa -La" - The Feelies
Jingle-pop with glorious wood block drumming has never equalled this song from the first Feelies album. Rumor is Crazy Rhythms might be coming back in print soon. Not soon enough. I bet this song makes Rivers Cuomo cry.

"Black Flute"- Leftfield
Wherein techno is abbreviated to listenable as opposed to danceable length, while still retaining all of the color-by-numbers aspects. In this case, instead of adding a new element - or "soloing" an existing element - every 30-60 seconds, it happens every 15-20 seconds. What makes dance music fun in a club or at a rave (do those still exist?) makes it awkward to listen to; the formula allows one to dance to the unfamiliar without the ear striving to understand. Novelty in sound tends to get one to stop and listen (as do vocals to some extent, which is why so much "vocal house" and club music is nothing more than a chorus or hook repeated ad nauseam) as opposed to move. By the way, I still like this song, and remember it being played as a "surprise" track to throw people off expectations but keep them dancing to a new variant on the same old same old.

"Mystery Dance" - Elvis Costello
Why this ode to awkward adolescent longing and furtive sexual frustration wasn't used in American Pie is beyond me. I guess since Costello didn't talk about hot "man on pie" action, the producers couldn't make the leap. It's not like ol' E.C. wouldn't have let them use it for the right money. By the way, his first three albums are unassailable as true classics.

"Biloxi (live)" - Ted Hawkins
That voice! One of those voices that just gets me, raising the hairs on the back of my neck. This live version beats the studio one from The Next Hundred Years for two reasons. One, he is absolutely at the breaking point before the song's end, tearing his voice as only Ted could. Two, by connecting it with "The Lost Ones" and "Missin' Mississippi", he paints a picture of his roots that is as complete and as heartbreaking as any I can recall.

"A Lover Sings (Peel session)" - Billy Bragg
I've yet to hear any other artist who's BBC radio recordings are as far and away beyond their studio work as Mr. Bragg's. There is a reason he toured those many years all alone (besides his reportedly being a twat); with just a guitar he has the edge and fire necessary to sell his somewhat overly-precious lyrical conceits. That this doesn't make me gag is a sign of a great performance. I mean, "You're the kind of girl who wants to open up the bottle of pop too early in the journey. Our love went flat just like that"? And yet it works this time.

"Everything I Own" - Boy George
Covering Bread via Ken Boothe is one thing; failing to add anything, or even to convince me of the sincerity of the pap, is quite another. Bread - softly, of course - shits all over this, while Ken Boothe drops his load from a much greater height. If I'd seen Boy George on the side of the road picking up trash I would have found something to throw at him, gone home, picked out something really nasty, and driven back to throw that at him, all because of this song.

"Always Crashing The Same Car" - David Bowie
Hearing anything from Low outside its original context is quite strange; the otherness of the sound is striking and unnerving. Though he may have used a still from The Man Who Fell To Earth as the cover of Station To Station, it is Low that has the alien sound. Not threatening, just weird. Like it should have been used on a segment of "Pigs In Space" on the Muppet Show.

Thursday, May 17

Row v. Wade

Come on in, the water's fine! Podcast 32 is ready.

Tracklist:
"Hospital" - The Lemonheads (from Car Button Cloth)
"Erica Kane" - Urge Overkill (from Saturation)
"S.T. Crooked I.D.E." - Ice Cube/DJ Pooh/E-Swift (from DJ Drank's Greatest Malt Liquor Hits)
"The Chocolate Maiden's Misty Summer Morning" - The Assemble Head In Sunburst Sound (from Ekranoplan)
"Be" - Slade (from Whatever Happened To Slade?)
"I Want You (She's So Heavy)" - Booker T. & The MGs (from McLemore Avenue)
"Prom Theme" - Fountains Of Wayne (from Utopia Parkway)

Intro & Outro: "Easy Snappin" - Theophilus Beckford (from Trojan Battlefield)

Wednesday, May 16

When Poptomists Attack

Pardon the misleading header (really, aren't poptomists too busy praising ephemera to really lay in wait for rockists and jazzbos so they can drop the hammer down?), but I found these questions from Tom Ewing (via M. Matos) kind of interesting.

1. What moment, or trend or era in music have you felt was most important while it was happening?

The rise of rap from the street to chart topping movement in the mid- to late 80s. It seemed to come out of left field, particularly for suburban America. I was pretty oblivious to hip-hop as culture, because I wasn't privy to it as a all-encompassing lifestyle. It was MTV and Rolling Stone and Top 40 radio shedding light on this "radical" new thing.

2. Have there been any moments you felt at the time were important, which don't seem as important with hindsight.

The mainstreaming of college/alternative rock. When Nirvana broke through in 91 (on the heels of the successful and much more outré Lollapalooza tour) I was a freshman in college. Suddenly, the weirdos and radio geeks were cool, and I rode that wave of popularity for all it was worth (it helped that I already looked the part with my 14" mohawk). It was such a feeling of "We won! We won!" Of course the music, once it shed the bargain basement production and poor distribution, really came to look a lot like the classic rock my friends and I bemoaned in high school. "Smells Like Teen Spirit" wasn't "More Than A Feeling" after all. It revitalized rock music after it had been both lipsticked and emasculated as the 80s ended, but it wasn't the "seismic shift" I thought.

3. When you first became aware of pop music as something which had a history, what seemed to you the most important things in the previous ten years?


It was the early 80s; I was familiar with much of the 60s music from my parents collection, but it didn't fit with what my sister liked in the late 70s (Leif Garrett and Shaun Cassidy are not poart of any continuum I acknowledge). But discovering Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin somehow made me realize that there were big, important artists that filled the gap between The Beatles, Stones and Simon & Garfunkel I knew from my parents and Michael Jackson and Van Halen. Not a continuum of sound, but of dominance, of "import". I didn't really hear punk for several years, though I remember hearing about it. It just didn't exist for me as a pre-teen. Much of my music history was imparted by my cousin Kevin, who was 3 or 4 years older; he played me my first Zep and Hendrix, the B-52s and Talking Heads.

Tuesday, May 15

Sinister But She Was Happy

Hitchcock often opens albums powerfully, almost grabbing you and pulling you into the new vision. Moss Elixir opens with this song, all violins and roughly vibrating metal guitar strings. The sound of the strings is more important than the notes; they add an ominous undertone to the sweet soaring violin line high above. It is that contrast that Hitchcock plays with in the lyrics, the happiness to be found in the shadows, the allure of the femme fatale.

It is a hard song for me to talk about because it is wrapped up in layers of memories and anecdotes close to my heart. Moss Elixir was the first Hitchcock album to be released after my wife and I began dating. At the time, she liked some Hitchcock but wasn't a big fan, and she humored my obsession more than she understood it. This song changed that. She really, really loved it from the first listen, and it opened up a door for her to appreciate Robyn, warts and all.

In 1999, she and I saw Hitchcock in Baltimore on the "Rock Armada" tour following the release of Jewels For Sophia. We had found a good spot, about fifteen feet back and off a little to the left of center. About halfway through his set, he played this song. It was a different arrangement (instead of Deni Bonet on violin, Kimberley Rew was playing the guitar with a hand held effects processor, an e-bow or something similar), but just as magical. My wife was quietly singing along, not even loud enough for me to hear. Midway through the song, Robyn looked our way and saw her singing. It may sound like a load of bull, but he watched her singing along with him until the end of the verse, and then smiled, big and broad, before turning away and moving on. Though I've seen better shows, that is far and away my favorite concert memory.

Monday, May 14

Vibrating

Thinking back, I believe this may be the first Hitchcock song I ever heard. It is the first I ever possessed; I may have heard "Balloon Man", but this was the song that connected artist and sound. A female friend put this on a mix she made me, placing it second on the tape, following the sorely unsung "Hammer Of Love" by Flesh For Lulu. At the time I wished these two songs were messages, not so subtle hints and thought; sadly, I knew they weren't because she and I spent many long, fruitless hours talking about her mad crush on my best friend. I was sixteen, and the idea of my female friends doing and thinking untoward things occupied most of my thoughts.

Strangely enough, "Vibrating" is a great introductory song. It has a typical Robyn Hitchcock guitar part, spiraling in on itself instead of quite being a circle. The lyrics combine the unseemly with the clever, including a nice aphoristic bit in "to slither is sublime". The beat is steady and strong, the backing vocals going ba bomp/ba bomp aaaaah during the last two verses charming and unnecessary, even though they do reinforce the closing line "she couldn't concentrate".

Thanks Nicole; wouldn't have had this obsession without you and that mixtape.

Monday Musings

I'm not exactly a fan of Nine Inch Nails (I like the first album and songs here and there), but I am a massive fan of Bauhaus and Peter Murphy's solo output. It is really no surprise then that I enjoyed hearing the radio sessions Trent & Peter recorded when on tour together last year. The four sets from four Eastern US cities range from covers of each other's material to covers of songs they both love (like a passel of Joy Division, a Pere Ubu track and Iggy's "Niteclubbing"). Lots of fun, nothing too revolutionary or revelatory, beyond the fact they sound like they're having fun. Though one thing dawned on me; Peter Murphy is turning into Neil Diamond, just wearing black instead of bangles. They have about the same vocal range and tone, have a penchant for really silly dramatic arm motions, and are both pretending they're not bald or balding. Diamond is a good fifteen years older, but they both rocked roughly the same do at fifty (of course, Neil has rocked the same 'do since about the fifties, so I'm not posting his pic).

Peter Murphy, fully emoting, with comb-forward and burns:

Friday, May 11

The Cars She Used To Drive

Those ghastly saxophones! Sadly, the first thing I think of with this song are the hideous pop sax licks that "vamp" in the verses, and then solo in the middle. Probably why I don't listen to the Groovy Decay/Groovy Decoy [both sets compiled in 1995 as Gravy Deco, which is how I will label it] material as much as it deserves. Hitchcock was admittedly in a songwriting slump, but he still managed to put some strong songs on tape only to have them buried under piles of steaming eighties crap in the studio.

This particular track is transitory, in both a topical and sonic sense; the evolutionary step between the agitated punk sounds of "I Watch The Cars" and the shimmering pop of "My Wife And My Dead Wife". Unlike some of the other songs from this ill-fated project, the two versions are not too dissimilar. The Decoy demo version melds Robyn's guitar sound on "Underwater Moonlight" with a minimalist backing not unlike something from Suicide's self-titled first album. But then ghastly sax shows up and smears it's fecal vibe on everything. Decay has a cleaner guitar tone, and Ms. Sara Lee getting downright funky on bass. I swear a stripped down (i.e., no sax) version of the finished Decay track would be a near classic.

To make my point, Robyn and his then recently convened Egyptians absolutely rip through this on the live Gotta Let This Hen Out! album. Without cutting anything but the short saxophone solo, they manage to trim nearly 30 seconds off the studio takes. Morris Windsor and Andy Metcalfe are in full tear/ Andy not as fluid as Sara Lee on bass, but much more aggressive; Morris skittering and bouncing like a waterbug, lots of rim hits and double-time passages (reminiscent of Stuart Copland, a comparison I don't use lightly or often). Even with some cheesy keyboard peaking occasionally through the mix, it is easily the definitive recorded version.

Thursday, May 10

Happy The Golden Prince

One of the first of the short story songs, I've never really warmed to it the same way I have to "The Can Opener" or the extended intro to "One Long Pair Of Eyes". It was added to the Black Snake Diamond Role album when that first appeared on cd in 85.

It appears to be a metaphorical tale of burgeoning adolescense; Happy is a purple-headed fellow with big pink feet, who oozes white tears from the slot in his neck. Pursuing a pale female he spies outside his father's castle, he finds her "Crouched in the corner of a clearing, her eyes bleeding light into his, wearing a leopard-skin leotard, clutching an antenna to her brow, and muttering "mm-gah" through a megaphone at him." The earth then opens, he falls into the hole head first, and then:

He quivered uncontrollably, aching with every inch of his soul to scratch something, but where he could not tell. His feet were ringing like telephone bells, and his head felt ready to burst. His cloak flapped open over his head like a bat's, and he became aware that the well was growing hotter and more muscular. It seemed strangely enough to be shrinking about him like a skin around a fine pork sausage, yet he didn't mind. His whole life at the castle lay behind him now, sterile and eventless.
He thought only how he would love to sneeze, and felt nothing but relief when the cool arms of the woman vigorously unscrewed his head, and the toothpaste flowed out, as if it were gushing from a broken dam, into the very womb of the earth.

Okay, its a sex dream.

I think that if the last minute was the core of the song, where Robyn sings the title over and over, gradually rising in volume, I'd like it more. Or maybe if it was a capella; the backing track, with crashing cymbals and the minor key guitar figures, makes it hard to focus on the words. Of course, that is the point, isn't it? It's not a recitation but a performance. Just not one I listen to often.

Air Of Menace

Menace, not Venice. It is that time again, when your friendly neighborhood podcaster delivers another care package for the intelligentsia.

I'm going back to "click the pic" technology, and I was asked for a list, like I used to post on Podomatic.













Tracklist:
"Move On" - David Bowie (from Lodger)
"One Step Ahead" - Split Enz (from History Never Repeats)
"Words Of Love" - Buddy Holly (from From The Original Master Tapes)
"I Heard It Through The Grapevine" - Marvin Gaye (from The Master)
"You You" - The Natives (from Trojan Rocksteady)
"I Walk On Guilded Splinters" - Dr. John, The Night Tripper (from Gris-Gris)

Intro & Outro: "Easy Snappin" - Theophilus Beckford (from Trojan Battlefield)

Wednesday, May 9

Mr. Deadly

I wrote the following on June 15, 2003:

"Mr. Deadly" is a track from Robyn Hitchcock's Invisible Hitchcock that just emerged from my computer speakers as I was tweaking the template for this weblog. I just put my 6800 mp3's on random and let my computer "entertain" me when I'm doing mundane tasks like updating links, and was blindsided by this song. I've probably heard it at least 100 times, and I've never really taken a shine to it. Hitchcock's greatest songs tend to be (understandably) guitar driven. "Mr. Deadly" is all keyboard - moody chords, flat early eighties drums (the sound to me was always a bongo with a sock on it) - complete with a vocal echo & multitrack chorus, and a Tones on Tail menacing atmospheric wash.

Randomly the radio that wanders through the stations like a train
Flickers on the dashboard as the melody dissolves into his brain

"Mr. Deadly" has surprised me. It's the case of a certain song finding a way to be heard, a way to connect to a listener at a specific time and place. Today is overcast outside, my mind is tired and sluggish, and a slow miasma of a knowing step-outside the lines of convention and expectation has invaded my cells through porous walls. I may hate it tomorrow, a trite and cheesy eighties mistake. But oh, "Mr. Deadly", you're comfort and succor keep me whole.

And all who hear him say you must be further gone then they
And all who hear him say he must be mad to be himself around today
Around today
Around today

Surgery

"Surgery" has a strange history. Robyn made a video, appending it to the Gotta Let This Hen Out home video released in 1985. It next surfaced on a flexi-disc (remember those? The ultimate in vinyl ephemera, the opposite of those 180 gram collector's editions - rip it out and watch the square rotate!) in Bob magazine in 1987, finally reaching a sort of permanence on the 1995 compilation You & Oblivion.

The video is where I first came across it, and the video itself is as weird as the song's history. It is Clutch Cargo without the drawings, uncomfortably focused on Robyn's mouth. He twitches, fighting the head-bobbing and sideways motions that color his live performances. The effect is hypnotic, in the same way the song is; extremely low key and subdued, but not passive. The doubling and tripling of his voice with each successive chorus is nearly unique in his catalog, and he almost cracks in the high register as the song ends. And it just ends. Strum and done.

Like many of Robyn's songs I have no idea what it's about. What is "it" that he refers to in each verse - you'll never have it out/wear it out/wash it out? What do the colors have to do with the aforementioned "it" -red/blue/pink/green, and their associations -writ in blood/never as dark/do more damage/lovely and obscene? I once tried to make it fit with MacBeth. Now I just sing along and tap my hand to the beat on the side of my car. It's a catchy little demented pop song, if nothing else. After all, Robyn said in an interview, "Maybe the documentary [Robyn Hitchcock: Sex, Food Death ... And Insects, shown recently on the Sundance channel] will help show that it's not simply about my lyrics. I'm glad people notice I have them, but if lyrics were that important, I'd just write poems."

The Robyn Hitchcock Song Project

By popular non-demand, I've decided to start another blog I can update haphazardly. It is my version of the latest thing - take an artist and write something about each and every song they've released. Since the first music blog I had was called The Devil's Radio, I almost had to share my obsession with Dr. Sticky himself. It was destiny.

So check out I Got A Message For You. I'll try to keep on top of it; just getting through 400-odd songs is gonna take a while, no matter how committed I am.

The Crashing Waves Of Proggy Metal

Hailing from Corralitos in the mountainous terrain of inland Santa Cruz county, Mammatus describe their sound as "the final war between amps and sea creatures". Judging by their latest album, The Coast Explodes, the sea creatures that inspire them aren't placid sponges or phytoplankton-gorging krill. These Californians mean the older, larger, stranger ocean-dwellers, the mythical beasts that surface on the Lenox Globe beneath a banner reading "Hic Sunt Dracones".

The Coast Explodes picks up directly from where their self-titled debut left off, with the third part of the epic "Dragon Of The Deep" (the word epic is not used lightly as the three pieces collectively top the 42-minute mark). Though a thematic continuation, the sound has changed slightly. "Dragon Of The Deep, Part Two" closed the first album with bristling, heavy, acid-soaked psychedelic doom. "Part Three" opens with the same high-pitched guitar feedback that closed "Part Two", but 20-odd seconds in a quick, very mid-seventies progressive rock figure is introduced, rapidly followed by a second quick figure of over-driven guitar which would not sound out of place on an Iron Maiden album. Mammatus, in one short year, has expanded their sound from circa-1972 to circa-1976; the space-rock has met prog and is touching at the beginnings of NWOBHM. This inspired amalgam lasts for the first six-minutes before giving way to the retro-psychedelia of the heavily reverbed vocals (Mammatus' singer, Zachary Patton, has a relatively high-pitched voice with a bit of softness to it, reminiscent at times of Perry Farrell without the whine). The pace slows, and the call to arms - "Take up your sword/Raise up your shield" - comes across as a softer version of the ceremonial chants at the heart of Sleep's Dopesmoker, only with a message akin to Shakespeare's Henry V before the battle of Agincourt.

The lyrical thrust of the album keeps with that martial (but hopeful) theme; rise with the sun's/Son's light to clear away the darkness. This duality is explicit in the lyrics to "Pierce The Darkness", but does not veer into preachiness. It is the view that nature and divinity are entwined; they come across not as dogmatic but more an awakening to the majesty of creation and the strength and salvation that may be drawn from it. To reinforce that point, the sound of the album is reflective of nature, with long, soaring passages evoking flight and the swirling winds, repetitive washes of feedback coupled with cymbals and toms to mirror the waves crashing on the shore.

This evocation of nature does lead to the one glaring misstep on The Coast Explodes; actual sea lion barks and squelches make an appearance on "The Changing Wind". This song, which serves as a break between the longer, heavier tracks leading into and out of it, pales in comparison to "The Outer Rim", a Pink Floyd homage that served the same purpose on the debut. Easily described (and dismissed) as "Man Man goes freak folk", complete with a weeble-wobble-wooble-weeble-weeble-wooble chant over sub-Vetiver acoustic noodling. Plus sea lions.

Luckily Mammatus redeem themselves with the album closing title track. The song is built around a guitar riff that sounds somewhat like Tony Iommi playing around with Led Zeppelin's "The Crunge" at half his usual attack. The loping gait over the steady drums is instantly intriguing, and builds nicely to a strong, full sound before cutting back to allow a slow spoken word interlude that again brings to mind Perry Farrell and Jane's Addiction, in particular "Summertime Rolls". The casual Iommi guitar returns, and Mammatus alternate passages and styles again. This song shows most clearly the strides they've made since their first album; where the longer tracks there were heavy, thick waves of feedback and haphazard grooves, "The Coast Explodes" is a 12-minute track where there is a practiced precision to each step, a surety and strength that is crafted instead of jammed. While furious riffing and "riding the groove" may make for a powerful stage performance (and a fun - if flawed - first effort), the refinement of ideas on The Coast Explodes indicate Mammatus is more than just a band to see, but to hear. Just lose the sea lions.

Thursday, May 3

Monday, April 30

Quick Hits

Things bringing joy to Mudville since Casey has struck out:

1. Super Furry Animals
Q: How have I completely missed the recorded output of these Welshmen? A: The Manic Street Preacher's The Holy Bible turned me off 90s rock from Wales entirely, it being overhyped, generic post-grunge guitar rock that made me long for Bush and Candlebox. Listening to Songbook Vol. 1 makes me think pop music could have been so much more interesting if SFA were huge in the place of other UK bands - namely Oasis, Blur & Radiohead. Though all of these band did some great stuff, "The Man Don't Give A Fuck" is just masterful.

2. The National
I thought their last album(Alligator) was boring, generic, and entirely wasteful of my time and attention. Their upcoming release Boxer is none of those things. Though my first impression was a little "meh", further listening has really opened it up for me. It is an understated grower, mellow but not sleepy, orchestral without being twee or precious.

3. Q-Tip
How many unreleased albums can one legend accumulate before his label puts something out? I've mentioned Kamaal The Abstract before; now I have a copy of Open which was supposed to be out in 2005. He was even giving interviews and making the press rounds before it was shelved. Not as experimental or as steeped in the 70s as Kamaal, it is instead a melding of the neo-soul sound that peaked around the centuries turn and classic hip-hop beats. Reportedly, Q-Tip is reworking some of this material for his yet untitled 2007 release. Expect it to be shelved once recording is completed.

4. The Rub
Brooklynradio.net hosts The Rub radio broadcasts as downloads. DJ Ayres, DJ Eleven and Cosmo Baker have been doing shows entitled "The History of Hip-Hop", and thus far have done eleven volumes covering 1979-1989, with one show dedicated to each year. Great way to either remember the songs of your youth or get a lesson in the roots (or a little of both, as has been the case for me).

5. Frank Zappa
I'm a Zappa fan but not a fanatic, and I greet each new release from the vaults with a bit of skepticism. The latest "new" Zappa release,
Buffalo (a show from the 1980 band, wherein the band rock the crap out of upstate New York), shows Frank and co. at their most powerful and technically adept. Whether tearing through an incredibly fast version of "Keep It Greasy" that highlights Arthur Barrow's bass-playing ability (imagine the speed of the solo from Rancid's "Maxwell Murder" as the backbone of an entire track) or nearing a metal version of Steely Dan with Steve Vai's guitar work on "City Of Tiny Lites", this latest bit of Barko-Swill is a keeper.

Friday, April 27

Cold Chillin'

I was out running errands, listening to disc 3 of VU's The Quine Tapes and found myself in a mall parking lot replaying "I'm Waiting For The Man". Again. And again. I had to have sat there, listening, for over half an hour. The entire experience was strange; I had listened to both the song and the album numerous times, but it was as if I had never heard it before. The version recorded on November 27, 1969 changed my perception of how the song could be interpreted.

Let me make the assumption that there is at least passing familiarity with the version of the track from The Velvet Underground & Nico. Aggressive accompaniment (Reed & Morrison's staccato fretwork, Cale's atonal Jerry Lee Lewis percussive piano), with jittery, anxious vocals by Reed in a first-person tale of an addict. This, in my listening experience, was also the model for the live performances, both before and after Cale's departure (see 1969: Live and disc 1 of The Quine Tapes, where the song's structure is essentially the same, though the band wanders a bit and lack some of the propulsion Cale's piano led to the proceedings).

Now to jump back to the recording from 11/27/69. From the start there is a difference. Where the early recordings had immediate motion, even if by 1969 they were somewhat unfocused, this is shambolic. There is no jitter, shudder or motion. The rhythm is lethargic, as if the band was laying down instead of laying it down. The drop in tempo turns the the lead guitar from pointillist dots and sharp punctuation to swirly, hazy ellipses (I hope people are used to my groan-inducing turns of phrase by now). Reed changes his vocal style from the crisp nervous diction, staccato shake and focused craving to one of relaxed ambivalence. He's adding verses – seemingly on the fly – riffing off of the circular motifs of the guitar to remember:

Ever since I was a little boy
Had the strangest dream
Everything that I saw
Didn't seem to be what it seemed

The whole performance is dreamlike. Milky. There is a floating feeling throughout; just the tiniest tether of Moe Tucker's solid beat, a pulse that makes it all real.

As the song drifts past the nine-minute mark, the singer finally scores:

Go on up to a Brownstone, up three flights of stairs
Everybody's pinned you, but nobody cares (oh no)
He's got the works, gives you sweet taste
Then he's gotta split because he's got no time to waste
I'm waiting for my man

This is a significant change; the original lyric is "Then you gotta split because you got no time to waste" (You can hear Doug Yule, Cale's replacement, is singing these original lines in the background). The change is indicative of the entire take – where once was a tale of craving, of needing the fix, feeling the fire ripping at the guts, desperately trying to keep it together just long enough – the need now switches to the seller, who has other mouths to fill, so to speak. There is now a reason for this wistful, strolling take on the song; the singer is already fixed, just picking up more before the hunger ever hits. By tweaking these few words there is a sea change of meaning (the several added verses are mainly color, though their mere addition is further indication of the lack of urgency on the part of the singer), and the last verse changes tone from "leave me alone, the future doesn't matter" to "Hey, I've got it under control, we're good for now":

Hey baby don't you holler - darling, don't you bawl and shout
You know that I'm feeling good, gonna work it on out
I'm feeling good, feeling so fine
Until tomorrow, but that's just some other time
I'm waiting for my man

"I'm Waiting For The Man" - The Velvet Underground, as performed 11/27/69

[Note: This is a piece that has gone through many incarnations. It was the first thing I wrote last spring when I was thinking of blogging again (in fact, it is on the web in the original incarnation, if people want to try to find it), and was revisited as a "test run" for a podcast idea last fall. I was unhappy with both attempts as they stood, so decided in the wake of the Guitar amps post to revisit and revise. It isn't quite there yet, but I think it is stronger than before. Makes me wish I had an editor, or had ever taken a comp or journalism class.]

Thursday, April 26

Is There Anybody Out There?

I believe I have two listeners. Prove me wrong and give a podcaster a break.

Get Podcast 29 for yourself!

Wednesday, April 25

What To Do When What You Do Won't Do

"She Sells Sanctuary" - The Cult
In the latest iteration of the ongoing Great Music Geek Survey, Alex made this his choice for "What song can make a shitty day seem less shitty?" He's right you know. It makes everything alright, even shitty eighties drums.

"Rain" - The Beatles
Speaking of drums, Ringo gets a great deal of crap for his drumming, which is injustice writ large. 1966 was Ringo's year. I love that the song was played faster and than slowed in the studio to get the somewhat woozy instrumental sound.

"Bron-Yr-Aur Stomp" - Led Zeppelin
The big cats at the birth of "heavy metal" sure could swing! Zep & Sabbath had stunningly good rhythm sections, though except for John Bonham they remain relatively unsung. John Paul Jones is all over this - bends and slides, supple and swinging. Robert Plant's casual power also duly noted.

"Cinnamon Girl" - Neil Young
As I near my eighth wedding anniversary, I still can be happy the rest of my life with my cinnamon girl. Though my exclamation's of joy aren't as tentative and shy as Neil's wondrous "woo" as the song nears it's end.

"Leaves That Are Green" - Simon and Garfunkel
Whatever is making that chukka-chukka backing sound (is it the autoharp with strings muted?) is my favorite rhythmic device of the moment. Quietly perfect, with Simon confidently singing right in the sweet spot of his vocal range.

"Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll" - Ian Dury
There is no American parallel to the one and only Dury. Swinging, sexy, punk with a piano solo. There is nothing tentative about Ian's yelping exclamations, or the fervency of his belief that "Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll are all my brain and body need".

Monday, April 23

What's the Amplitude, Lou?

A while back, when raving and drooling over the David Bowie & Stevie Ray Vaughan rehearsal bootleg, I mentioned a Velvet Underground bootleg entitled The Legendary Guitar Amp Tapes. Recorded at a club called The Boston Tea Party (in Boston, natch) on March 15, 1969, the Velvet Underground run through a set of songs from their first three albums, with a couple of oddities thrown in. I'm sure if you were there, the show was comparable to other sets from that year, captured on the official albums 1969: Live and Bootleg Series, Vol. 1: The Quine Tapes, as well as numerous boots. However, in Boston that early Spring we find either the most incompetent or ingenious taper of the day; instead of setting up his gear to get the sound of the P.A., we get a recording made from in front of Lou Reed's guitar amp.

So how does it sound? Pretty much how you would guess from the title. On the quieter tracks like "I'm Set Free" and "Jesus", the mix is just a little off, with vocals quite discernible if distant; both Sterling's guitar and Moe Tucker's full kit are relatively audible; Doug Yule on keys or bass comes across a bit muddled (in my experience, most bootlegs from this era lack any sort of clarity on the low end). Lou is crisp and loud on these tracks, but not overwhelming. On anything that has even a hint of rumble and drive, from mid-tempo tracks like "Beginning To See The Light" to more up-tempo songs like "What Goes On" and "Sister Ray", Lou's guitar sound is almost all you hear. Tucker's snare and tom come through just alright, often barely enough for the listener to keep the tempo in mind, while the vocals might as well be in another room and the rest of the band almost ceases to exist. "Sister Ray" has enough space here and there for the keyboard to come through with the expected vamping familiar from other live versions, but is regularly dunked deep below the surface of the oceans of squeals and feedback Lou is marshaling.

A good example of this "so in-your-face from the get-go as to be unbelievable" sound is the opener, "I Can't Stand It". It is joined in progress, though pretty close to the beginning. Lou is playing the riff cleanly, bending a note here or there for emphasis; Moe Tucker can be heard above, cymbals crashing, snare and tom just laying the barest groove, steady and simple; far, far, away you can hear Lou singing, and if you know the song you can follow along, filling the gaps where he drops below audibility, "If you just come back it'll be alright". It's moving along as you expect, and that groove is there, almost undeniable. But at 1:50, Lou let's go and everything drops out besides a quiet thump, an occasional snare snap. Wailing single notes bend and scream, to be replaced by jagged chords, to be supplanted again by bent notes and peels of noise. It isn't beautiful; there is no hint of Hendrix-style lyricism, or the fluid explorations of Clapton in Cream; it is a growl, an attack that goes on for the next 2:40 before a sharp ending, as Lou prepares for the next verse and chorus, and Sterling Morrison can be heard playing the main guitar figure across the stage. One verse, one chorus, then 30 seconds of vamp-into-noise to bring the song to it's end. Over half the song is blaring guitar, growling, vamping, moaning, howling, stark. Other songs touch this burning ember, but none reach the same incandescent glow.

In a lot of ways this recording is a novelty. There are good recordings of this same band just a few months later, where the mix is more even and the interplay and variation that made them such a reputable live act is readily apparent. Yet, I keep listening to this weird document, as often or more than the official recordings mentioned above or the highly recommended Live at End Cole Avenue bootleg (the full Dallas show that some of the 1969: Live recordings are pulled from, in better quality than the official release). There is something exciting about this album, such a harsh, bright spotlight on Reed's soloing, so in your face and astounding. It isn't the Velvet Underground as a band but Lou Reed, Noise Impresario.

It is such a singular thing that it has a webpage dedicated to it, complete with audio samples. Praise Ye The Lord, indeed.

Thursday, April 19

I'm Drowning Here!

Though the day be sunny, the waters are slow to recede. While you're waiting, you can listen to me prattle and hum.

Wednesday, April 18

The Majesty of Rock

Now that power is restored, no large trees are threatening to fall on my house and nearby dams are no longer near the breaking point, I'm able to share my most metal evening.

Saturday night I headed up the road to Portland to catch a show by Relapse labelmates Minsk and Rwake (Which I now know is pronounced "Wake". The well-known silent "R" rears its Rhead). For this one night they were joined by local metal mavens Conifer and Ocean, who bookended the show.

I was excited to hear Conifer as this was originally scheduled to be a release party for their first record in a couple of years. Unfortunately, they had no new product to unveil and were not forthcoming on the reason beyond a cryptic comment about mastering I got from the drummer after the show. The short set (they played about 20 minutes) was comprised of new material, which, to my ears, seemed to have more "swing". A weird statement when it comes to describing instrumental heavy post-rock, but the rhythm section came closer to a stoner groove than say, Pelican. It was definitely a good development and I look forward to hearing how this translates onto disc. As I said, the set was short, and felt like it was cut off as they were building momentum. Luckily, I should be able to catch them again soon as they've been playing around lately working the new material into shape.

Minsk followed after a quick equipment shuffle (with three band's amps piled on stage, Conifer's drummer actually played on the floor in front, facing his bandmates). I was hoping for a great performance as I've really grown to love their latest album, The Ritual Fires Of Abandonment. They did not disappoint as musicians; a very tight and powerful rhythm section where the bass really drove the propulsive elements, allowing the drummer the freedom to add lots of color and counterpoint, coupled with a guitarist whose tone varied from soft, almost classical sounds to full down-tuned sludge of ear-hurting intensity (I wisely wore earplugs). Sadly, the vocalist was not on the same level as the rest of the band. He was adding washes of noise and fuzz with a keyboard which limited his role as a front man, leaving the band without a visual focal point. This made their 15-minute dirges a little tough to swallow; the crowd had to just wait for the song to build and build till the eventual release, and there was little to capture them in the meantime. This would all be excusable if it was perfectly done (I've seen a band enrapture an audience by sheer precision and force of execution), but beyond his stationary stylings, the singer had issues. Several times he seemed to almost lose his place and then take too long singing the verses, and at one point the band had to audibly slow down to get back in sync. I don't want to speculate as to what might have been the cause, but it did detract from what was, musically, a very skillful and powerful performance. The set was again short; four bands made the night more a showcase than a typical concert. Minsk may have been better served by a different set list, as closer "White Wings" (a straight forward stoner-doom burner) had the crowd moving and the singer was on point.

Rwake took the stage next and my expectations were kind of low. I haven't warmed to their recent album Voices of Omens; I find the vocals way too forward (and guttural x2) for my taste. The music sounds great though, and I hoped live the balance would be more to my liking. I am glad to say it was all I could want and much, much more. I knew nothing about the band, so when a Peter Jackson lookalike (he wore a LOTR shirt to make it even more apparent) and a slight women with ass-length dreads came to the front and just ROARED I was surprised. When a dual guitar wave of brutal doom crested high overhead I just smiled and felt my filings rattle. They reclaimed the crowd from the near apathy of Minsk's set and got feet moving and head's banging. I have a soft spot for drummers who sing along though there is no mic in sight; it shows total commitment to the band. Their drummer was right there, flailing and wailing, even mouthing the samples the female singer was triggering to start the songs. Visually, they were perfectly balanced; stage right, the heavy-set male singer and the twin hirsute stick figures of the rhythm guitarist and bass player; center was the drummer; stage left, the small female singer and the lead guitarist, who looked like Kyle Gass impersonating Rick Neilsen. Rwake was both tight and loose, playing as one core but unafraid to let things shake about. The crowd was singing along to songs from all three of their albums, and the band was definitely feeding and feeling this devoted audience. At least three times the lead singer talked about how this was there first visit to Maine, how great Portland was, that they would be scheduling a stop here on their next tour this summer, and how much they loved us all. Of course, I talked to him after his set and he started the conversation by saying, "Thanks. I'm so fucked up now, man. You ever Robo?" and then looked past me into space. It is probably safe to assume a good portion of his stage banter was empty platitudes, but it worked to keep the crowd in the palm of his hand.

After a sweaty, pounding 40 minute set, the gear was switched again and local stalwarts Ocean took the stage. For those of you unfamiliar with Ocean, they are a reduction – a distillation, if you will – of doom to some sort of primal essence. Stoner sludge, like that of Rwake, has energy and motion, even at its slowest. Ocean is like the sludge that has settled to the floor of it's namesake and is just moments away from lithification; you may think there is motion, but you have not the ability to detect it. On record they are dark and heavy, a down-tuned note in place of a chord, another sounded just a beat past when the listener expects it, the slowest of slow builds to reach a dying pulse and then dropping back toward zero, all over a 20+ minute time frame. I realize, mere moments into their set, that the album doesn't do them justice. Partly it is because I don't have a soundsystem that can put out the necessary volume; they are so loud, so bass heavy, that my jeans ripple against my legs with every note. The sound is moving such a volume of air as to cause my bones to hum and after a few minutes I feel that I am vibrating in resonance with their music; I am hearing an internal harmonic they are not playing. It isn't painful (I've been at shows where the bass is so heavy I've felt nauseous and seen people throw up), but strangely uplifting. I've never felt as part of a show, if that makes sense. As in sync as the other three bands were (overall this was one of the most professional shows I've seen), Ocean's oneness was unique. It is very hard to play so slow and controlled, to keep adrenaline at bay; their sound is also so spartan as to highlight even the slightest variation in speed or attack. The four men moved and played in near perfect alignment, and though their sound was dark (and I assume their few lyrics were as well, but another case of guttural-itis made them completely unintelligible to these ears) the crowd was elated. The deep bending head-banging of both band and audience was something to behold, as they reared back and rocked onto their heels, only to plunge down to waist level with each cascading strum (sadly, my head-banging days are long gone, a victim of neck and back injuries a decade ago). Ocean played only one song, and nearly stole the show with it.

It was my first metal show in roughly fifteen years. It won't be fifteen until the next.

Thursday, April 12

Mo' Snowcasting

My podcasts are bringing 4-8" of snow each week. Perhaps there is a message being sent. If this continues into June I might pay attention.

Get it here, assuming you are so inclined.

Monday, April 9

Things Are What You Make Of Them

Strange playlist for today:

"MIA (Piracy Funds Terrorism version)" - M.I.A.
Diplo crafts a dark, miasmatic sound for Maya's darkest, deepest song. Shame it was just tacked onto the released album as a hidden bonus track,with a much weaker mix to boot.


"Co Pilot" - New Kingdom
Wrote all about these chaps a few weeks back, but damn does this sound good; all circular groove, psychedelic through repetition.

"Grooving On An Inner Plane (Black Snake Diamond Role version)" - Robyn Hitchcock
Synthesizer hand claps lead Robyn into a dark place, one that forms the inadvertent link between "Kings Of The Wild Frontier" and "True Men Don't Kill Coyotes". Except it's sorta good.

"Sonja" - Lyle Lovett
The long tall Texan digs deep in his vault and finds a pearl (mixed metaphors are my idiom). From lost love to pick-up tips in just a few lovely verses.

"Fish" - The Clean
What I wanted from Joy Division The Clean provided.

"Slow (live)" - My Bloody Valentine
I read Mike McGonigal's excellent 33 1/3 series book on Loveless this weekend, wherein Kevin Shields cites this song as the first step to the pivotal guitar sound that encompasses that recording. Still one of my favorite MBV tracks; it sounds like what I imagine a Codeine cough syrup high to be. Much more interesting than chopped & screwed.

Wednesday, April 4

Podcast Migration

Because I've been growing increasingly unhappy with the backend of the service I was using, I'm just going to post a link for people to download. If you haven't heard one of my podcasts before, don't start with this one. I was feeling extra mellow and it shows in my tracklist.

For those about to nod off, we salute you.

Tuesday, April 3

In Perpetuatuaty

Matthew Perpetua, well known for his Fluxblog and his poptastic sensibilities, has started an interesting project called Pop Songs 07. His goal is to write about every R.E.M. track from every album, as well as select non-album singles. I think this is interesting, in fact moreso than Fluxblog itself. So far he's mixed analysis with personal anecdotes, and even commented on current context in regards to "Radio Song". It's nice to see Matthew reflect a bit, as his general style comes across as somewhat "Hipster forecasting" – the next is now!, until tomorrow's next is now!, and so on and so forth. In truth, I still have the Fluxblog link more because Matthew was one of the people to involve himself with my writing at prior blogs (along with Thomas of Oh, Manchester and Paul, currently active again at Hallmonitor; all their links are in the sidebar) than for his current content. My tastes and his rarely intersect these days.

It is an interesting idea - obsessively commenting on one artist's oeuvre. I'll keep track of Matthew's progress, if only to learn a bit more about him and R.E.M.'s catalog, which is one I've only dipped my toes in now and again. Who knows - if people clamber for it, I could give it a shot with Robyn Hitchcock's vast spotty mess of recorded history.

Lost & Found

The internet can be a kind mistress. Because I love live shows and "in process" recordings, I scour here and there for that missing demo session or live radio broadcast that adds another angle to my favorite artists. Sometimes you get real gems like the Bowie/Stevie Ray Vaughan, sometimes you find interesting but not mind-blowing things like a radio broadcast of Randy Newman with the Amsterdam Orchestra. But the internet can also yield up recordings that are more important for what they represent than for what they are. I've recently gotten my hands on two legendary pieces of eighties ephemera and kind of wish I hadn't.

The first is Pussy Galore's Exile On Main Street. A cassette only release that is their version of the Stones classic, it contains plenty of Pussy Galore's patented noise and practiced ineptitude (Spencer was very exacting in the amount of incompetence exhibited in both their playing and recording, and that care comes across in spades here). Both an homage and a calculated piss-take, you get to hear them argue about trying to read a lyric sheet, sing and play along to the very audible original Stones' recordings, use tape manipulation and feedback overdubs to obscure songs, and generally screw about. As a concept, I think it is a great idea. Unfortunately, this is pretty much my opinion of Pussy Galore - I always liked the idea of what they did better than the execution. It ends up pretty much a one-trick pony, and by the end the band and this listener don't care. I think I would have been better off just hearing the few tracks off of Corpse Love, because that gave me the impression this was a lost gem, which it most surely is not.

The second cassette I now have MP3s of is by perhaps my favorite American band, The Replacements. In 1985, just prior to their first release on Sire records, former label Twin/Tone released The Shit Hits The Fans, a live show taken from a bootlegger at an Oklahoma gig in 84. It is an interesting document; The 'Mats had long had a reputation as a hit-or-miss live act, primarily based on their level of alcoholic intoxication. This shows the boys at their worst, attempting covers to songs they don't all know, murdering a number of their own songs with a missed chorus here and entirely wrong riffs there, and exhibit a general level of incompetence most people would walk out on. But the crowd here is game for it, shouting encouragement when they play the opening of "I Would Follow" and "Iron Man"; when they attempt "Radio Free Europe" you hear someone in the audience yell out a whoop of sorts, as Paul Westerberg out-mumbles Michael Stipe (which is hard to do, when you think about the incomprehensibility of most of the early R.E.M. recordings). It is just as big a mess as I'd always heard, and in some ways I find it endearing. It isn't "warts and all" - just warts. There is pretty much nothing they do here that redeems itself, which is something most bands would find trouble doing five years into their careers. I don't know if I'll listen to it much, mainly because I've come across some boots where they sound like the greatest band in the world, and that is how I like to think of them (which is also why I don't acknowledge Don't Tell A Soul - it never happened).

Wednesday, March 28

Run For Your Life, It's MechaJackzilla!

If anyone missed the news, Michael Jackson is in talks to unleash a 50-foot tall Jackobot on the Las Vegas desert, complete with laser beam eyes.

This might get me to Vegas - I would feel compelled to start a Six-String Samurai inspired quest to take down "The King of Pop".

Monday, March 26

Pretty Vacant

In comments to the last post, Alex called me out on my nomination of the Sex Pistols as the "Inaugural entry into the Academy of the Overrated". I wanted to craft a short pithy response, but I don't do pithy particularly well (snarky? rude? condescending? Oh, I can do that). So in my attempt to justify my choice, I ended up with something that seemed a bit much for a comment box.

First, some personal history. I'm too young to have any concurrent memories of the class of '77 (at 4 1/2 I was all about Batman). Add in the fact that I'm not British, and the very particular cultural and social references the Pistols make don't translate. As a topper, I grew up in a rural/suburban setting and the "disaffected urban youth" identifier doesn't carry any significance.

Bereft of this ancillary weight, I have only the music – Never Mind The Bollocks and a few scattered singles (I don't hold the continued desecration of the corpse of their short career against them). What to make of it; a few songs I really like, namely "Bodies" and "E.M.I."; a few I don't mind, say "Pretty Vacant" and their Stooge-lite version of "No Fun"; the might-have-been-revolutionary-now-not-so-much-fun-even of "God Save The Queen" and "Anarchy In The U.K." (both of which are innocuous), and stuff I can't remember because I didn't care enough to pay attention.

Culturally, I've read about their importance, and understand it as an historic truth. The two Julian Temple films, The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle and The Filth and the Fury, are both really interesting documents, and really hammer home the non-musical importance of the Pistols; but nothing I've seen, read or heard makes me understand the importance of their music. It really wasn't about the music, was it? How can it be, when the Stooges and Ramones did it better before, the Clash did it better at the same time, and soon thereafter the Dead Kennedys took it further than little Johnny Lydon and company (as did little Johnny with PiL, the much, much better band)? I understand that the Clash and the DKs wouldn't have existed without the Pistols, but that's further proof of their importance to the musical culture, not their music's worth on it's own.

I don't see how they can't be part of the Inaugural Class of the Academy of the Overrated based solely on the 40-odd minutes of mid-tempo mediocrity that they released in their short lifespan. Their historic import will always be there; an inarguably important band for what they did, not for what they put on tape.

Sunday, March 25

A Few Questions Answered

Phil (of Running The Voodoo Down) asked his reader's to answer a series of questions and post them in his comments. I thought they were interesting enough to share with my readers and to make the same request to fill up my comment box. What follows are Phil's questions and my answers:

1) What song or album did you have to listen to multiple times before deciding whether you liked or disliked it
Kinks - Muswell Hillbillies. Ended up being my favorite Kinks album, but it didn't sound like anything I liked about the Kinks.

2) Inaugural entry into the Academy of the Overrated
Sex Pistols. Wonderful product, horrible music.

3) Favorite sly or not-so-sly reference to another song within a song
AC/DC - "Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap". I still smile when he throws "TNT" and "High Voltage" as possible ways to ff the offending personage.

4) Favorite Stax/Volt song
Only one... today, it's "Able Mable". Tomorrow could be "Bootleg", or "You Don't Miss Your Water" or a dozen other tracks.

5) Your favorite music video
I haven't watched many videos since I was a kid, but I still like "Sledgehammer" and maybe "Sabotage".

6) Nas or Jay-Z?
Nas, but more by default than choice. I've always gritted my teeth at Jay-Z's habit of lazily falling off the beat. If the line you write is meant to fit the rhythm in a tight and meticulous fashion (as opposed to MCs who play off the beat like jazz soloists, working to accentuate their rhymes and flow), then hit the mark. Don't drift away on the fifth line, never to return.

7) Song or album that, despite being from a genre you don't typically follow, led you to appreciate that genre's possibilities
I'm not big on the ambient or post-rock genres, but the MONO/World's End Girlfriend album Palmless Prayer/Mass Murder Refrain is one of the best things I've heard in the last six months. Evocative and beautiful.

8) Favorite Rolling Stones song
"Little T&A", but I'm not much of a Stones fan.

9) The Clash or the Ramones?
The Clash, but the best of both are pretty unimpeachable.

10) What song can make a shitty day seem less shitty?
"Bring It On Home To Me" - Sam Cooke, from Live At The Harlem Square Club.

11) Conversely, what song can make you wish you were deaf, at least temporarily, whenever it comes on the radio/TV/grocery store PA?
"Paradise By The Dashboard Light" - Meatloaf fills me with thoughts of violence, pure white hot rage.

12) Favorite James Brown song
"Licking Stick-Licking Stick", from Say It Loud - I'm Black and I'm Proud.

13) Beck or Bjork?
Bjork by a landslide. Excepting Mutations, I could pretty much leave all of Beck's catalog alone.

14) What is the most inventive usage of a sample you've ever heard?
I'm unsure of what is really the heart of this question - I've been surprised (say, Timbaland sampling Area Code 615 for Bubba Sparxxx), I've been impressed (Paul's Boutique), but inventive? Maybe the Butthole Surfers with "22 Going On 23" - they took a radio call in help show and made the most disturbing, menacing and dark thing I've ever heard.

15) Robert Christgau once wrote that "All good rock and roll risks fascism simply by generating mass energy, and much of it flirts with sexism simply by exploring the music's traditional subject matter. Sometimes the risks are worth it, sometimes they aren't." What are your favorite examples of the former and the latter?
I don't see any truth in this statement.

16) Favorite Miles Davis song
Not really a fan, but I like some of the late 60s quintet recordings, say "Nefertiti".

17) Favorite song about comic book characters
"Alley Oop".

18) Betty Davis or Millie Jackson?
Death.

19) Your favorite, or most despised, lyrical cliché
People as food stuffs in a sexual way is rather tired.

20) Guns 'n' Roses' Appetite for Destruction -- yes or no?
Yes. Still a great hard rock album, big dirty riffs and Axl as sleaze vs. creep.

21) Favorite Wu-Tang verse
Haven't cared since 95.

22) Inaugural entry into the Academy of the Underrated
Slade. Nothing quite like them, and they were pretty much solid gold from 71-75.

23) Your favorite rock song to not use guitar (or favorite jazz song to not use piano, or favorite rap song to not use samples/scratching)
Rap song: Devin The Dude - "Brairpatch".

24) MF DOOM or Madlib?
Better together, like Peanut Butter & Jelly, but Operation: Doomsday is better than the Madlib I've heard.

25) Your favorite live album
Sam Cooke - Live At The Harlem Square Club.

26) What alternate take/demo version/remix do you like more than the original version?
Elvis Costello - "Green Shirt (demo)".

27) Favorite song on which Duane Allman plays guitar
Wilson Pickett - "Hey Jude".

28) Portishead or Massive Attack?
Portishead.

29) Your favorite Captain Beefheart song title
"I Wanna Find A Woman That'll Hold My Big Toe Till I Have To Go" from Lick My Decals Off, Baby.

30) As a music fan, what do you want from a music critic, or from music criticism? And where do you see music criticism in general headed?
I want less reviews and more thought. Prior to the last few years, reviews were critical because most music being reviewed the reader would never hear. Now you can sample almost anything, whether through online stores, band or label websites, myspace, etc. I would love to read more criticism that aimed less at telling me what something is (press releases are everywhere, too), but more on why I should listen, how does it succeed or fail, how should I listen to better understand. For example, I'm trying to familiarize myself with metal after a 15-year hiatus; what should I be listening for in the new Neurosis or in Ulver? What was necessary in the 200-word print review seems lazy in the modern world of online media; shorthands like "typical tech/death metal" don't tell anyone unfamiliar with a significant portion of that genre anything at all - what about it is typical, and what makes it tech/death metal?

This is where blogs and forums become so important. People who have the breadth of knowledge can share that with people who may not, and can do so with only the limitation of their own desire.