Thursday, May 31

Tommy's Loss

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

"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
"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?


"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


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.

"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


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.

"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" 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