Tuesday, November 28, 2006
am in the midst of a sort of ever-ripening honeymoon period as regards the band All. this began several months ago, as you can read here, but i just picked up "Allroy's Revenge"--at Generation Records, which always has copious SSTs in stock and is therefore probably the city's most vital record store--and thus it begins anew.
here's one for you: how many bands can you think of where every member shares equal songwriting duty? not like they write their parts, but they write entire songs, lyrics and everything. one of the reasons the Descendents had such a diverse sound is that everyone in that band--or at least in the final lineup that became the nucleus of All--was writing, and that method continued in All.
it's obvious from listening to All for five seconds that everyone in the band is a virtuoso player. "Check One," an insane 45-second orgasm of prog-thrash from "Allroy's Revenge," demonstrates this handily--i dare anyone to learn how to play this song on any instrument. but for some reason, the writing thing is really what gets me, the idea that everyone was pulling their weight to such an extent in this band and was so devoted to the concept.
in rock, it's guitarists who are usually doing most of the writing, but arguably the strongest writers in All were drummer Bill Stevenson and mid-period vocalist Scott Reynolds, to my ears easily the strongest singer the band ever had. on "Allroy Saves" and "Allroy's Revenge," it's like these two were trying to outdo each other for strongest, hookiest, most ambitious composition and it's just incredible to behold.
i spoke at length about "Saves" below, but it bears re-examination, simply to catalog its evidence of the genius of these two musicians. "Explorador," the final tune is by Stevenson, and it's simply one of the most wrenching rock songs i've ever heard. it's heavy and dark and dynamic and epic, and the lyrics are just devastating. it's basically Stevenson's farewell to his alcoholic dad: "If anyone ever died with a drink in his hand I know you did," he writes, and later, "If your life meant nothing to you, your death means nothing to me." whoa. the song is pretty vitriolic, but there's this amazing conflicted feeling; the refrain is "Dead hero, sleep." if this track doesn't choke you up, i don't get you.
[Editor's note, 5/18/13: The commenter below is absolutely right; "Explorador" is not about Stevenson's dad. I was misinformed at the time of this writing.]
and the amazing thing is that it's Reynolds singing these lyrics, just belting them out like it's his dad he's singing about! this shit is just so deep and raw and real. if you're looking for roots of emo, they're right here.
Reynolds's songs are very different. i almost want to say they're goofy, but they're sooo sophisticated at the same time, just incredible little prog-pop gems. "Crawdad" just has these speedy, twisty melodies that change up so fast, and the rhythms go right along with them. it just demonstrates such an imaginative melodic sense. but it's so catchy that you don't realize how complex it is. and it's one and a half minutes long! pure art.
"Prison," another Reynolds classic, is similar. it sounds like some sort of baroque Broadway number done in the style of SST punk. the melodies are just so eccentric and soaring and complex. hearing this, you realize that this band existed completely outside of the idea of genre; it was simply about rock-solid songwriting, just writing and playing exactly what they wanted to hear. the music advances this idea that rock is limitless and simultaneously debunks the lame notion that complexity and intricacy and ambition don't belong in punk. All is the *most* punk because they went against all that without sacrificing an iota of the energy of their hardcore background.
anyway, for more songwriting marvels, take "Just Living," which i gushed about below. the damn thing is a fucking THREE-WAY collaboration: lyrics by Stevenson and Reynolds, music by (sick, brilliant) guitarist Stephen Egerton. how many punk bands have a collaborative lyric-writing process?!? this shit is just taken so seriously and i love it. bassist Karl Alvarez, whose songs i'm not always wild about, shows up big time with "Educated Idiot," the weird fusion/pop-punk gem i discussed below.
another rad thing is that they do a song written by Milo Aukerman, the singer of the Descendents, whose departure from music had led to the end of phase one of that band and the inception of All. these guys have a whole history of this sort of thing. for example, there's an album credited to TonyALL, which is the "Allroy Saves" lineup, but with former Descendents bassist Tony Lombardo replacing Alvarez, and all the songs they're playing are by Lombardo. like did Black Flag ever reconvene with Chuck Dukowski to do an album of all Chuck's tunes? of course not, because... well, i don't know why, but i give the above example simply to indicate this amazing sense of community and brotherhood and music lifer-ness that the Descendents and All represent and demonstrated constantly. even when they stopped playing with people full-time, they still did songs by them and collaborated with them.
on "Allroy's Revenge" too, sure enough, there are two tracks written by Lombardo. one of these is the awesome instrumental opener, "Gnutheme," a musical relative of the classic Descendents tune "Theme."
overall, the album might be a hair weaker than "Saves," but i'm not ready to say that definitively b/c i haven't spent as much time w/ this one. two tracks in particular are standing out and those are "Scary Sad" and "Box," which are by Stevenson and Reynolds respectively and again handily encapsulate the awesomeness of these two talents.
"Scary Sad" could definitely be a Descendents song and it's definitely one of those ones where Reynolds is really nodding to Milo in his singing. but it's really, really poignant--the chords and melodies are so yearning and sad and autumnal. in general, if Stevenson wasn't writing about his dad, chances are he was writing about a girl he used to date and this is about one who was apparently suicidal. "Every girl I ever hated was just a monster that I created," he writes. Reynolds pushes so hard on the chorus. definitely one for crying into the pages of your high school diary.
"Box" is a beautiful slab of classic Reynolds quirk. hearing this, you feel that he must have been a choirboy or a fucking opera singer or something--the melodies are just so exacting and acrobatic. and the song has so many diverse parts that somehow come together and make sense. this band does in a minute what a '70s prog band would do in 15, especially when it's Reynolds's tune.
anyway, Lennon/McCartney, yadda yadda. i'm talking about fucking Bill Stevenson and Scott Reynolds. these are real American musician-composers needlessly marginalized b/c of genre prejudices. the sophistication and genius endure though; just buy the damn records.
(again, word up to Ben and Tony for the assist re: All.)
here are four rad tracks (scroll past the "Explorador" lyrics, which i felt it was important to include, to find the last one):
"Box" from "Allroy's Revenge" (1989)
(classic Reynolds. who the eff is this guy and where did he learn how to do this?)
"Scary Sad" from "Allroy's Revenge"
(listen to the chorus melody--are you fucking kidding me?!?)
"Explorador" from "Allroy Saves" (1990)
(lyrics follow. warning: do not read along if prone to compulsive weeping.
Beyond black shades
Seen him yet?
You'll never see his face
We used to joke about foggy mornings
When no one's around I start talking
I guess you wanted it to be this way
And I can't say I didn't see it coming
If anyone ever died with a drink in his hand I know you did.
If anyone ever died with a smile on his face I guess you did.
You always had the ends to my means.
I'd drive when you had too much drugs.
I guess life doesn't mean that much when you already know it all.
If anyone ever died with a smile on his face I know you did.
If anyone ever died with a drink in his hand I know you did.
But there was alcohol on your last breath,
And I don't need you anymore.
If your life meant nothing to you,
Your death means nothing to me.
Dead hero, sleep.
You were, but now you're not.
There's something romantic about the man who went down with his ship.
And I can tell all my friends about the hero who died at sea.
Everybody humors, everybody laughs when I tell about the things that you've done.
But there's nothing romantic about the empty shoreline where I wait.
If anyone ever died with a smile on his face I know you did.
If anyone ever died with a drink in his hand I know you did.
But there was poison in your frozen blood.
And I don't need you anymore.
If your life meant nothing to you,
Then your death means nothing to me.
Dead hero, sleep.
You were, but now you're not.
I go to the shore and wait.
I see the power of nature.
I understand the nature of power.
But I do not accept this loss of you.
Dead hero, sleep.
"Crawdad" from "Allroy Saves"
(i know, right? how does this minute-and-a-half-long song have so many amazing, eccentric hooks?)
Sunday, November 26, 2006
happy with my moviegoing frequency of late, but not all of 'em are good. saw Godard's "Two or Three Things I Know About Her" today and wasn't wild about it. i'm a really big fan of two of his movies, "Masculine Feminine" and "Weekend," and i guess i'd have to say that i felt this seemed like a less fun version of the former or a more preachy version of the latter.
there's not much of a story to speak of--basically it's like impressionistic scenes of this couple going about their lives, which for the woman includes a whole bunch of, uh, how you say, casual prostitution. those scenes are interspersed with these "title cards" with a man's voice whispering philosophical stuff about consumerism, numbness to world crises, city life, linguistic theory, etc. etc.
there are some lighthearted moments, such as when the couple's young child matter-of-factly interprets his dream as signifying the reunion of N. and S. Vietnam, and when these girls working in a chic clothing store turn to the camera one by one to state their name and tell what they're doing after work. so there's some of that nice Godard deadpan absurdity. but the theory is really tough to wade through sometimes and there's just no narrative thread.
"Masculine Feminine" is an extremely sad and deep film, but it's also really fun to watch and i can't say i enjoyed this one that way. the look was extremely memorable: tons of amazing colors; the scenes in the clothing store are just totally intense and beautiful to look at. also there was a really nice sequence in an auto garage that sort of just keeps replaying the same events over and over again with a different spin, plus these nice, wonderfully composed shots of urban landscapes. but overall, i guess it just felt kind of dated to me, like a kind of by-the-numbers Godard: it had all of the pretentiousness, which is usually kind of fun in Godard's hands, and not all that much of the charm that made you want to push through the difficult bits.
maybe it all comes down to the fact that the main characters were so stoic and unlikable. also, their dialogue is interspersed with theory-style narration, making them seem like Godard's mouthpieces rather than actual people.
anyway, i feel like these sorts of revivals are always worth seeing just b/c it's so rare to get to check something like this out in a theater. but i wasn't wild about the flick. if you haven't seen "Masculine Feminine," you've got to check that out--it's really one of the wittiest, weirdest, most beautiful movies i can think of.
--> actually, just remembered, there was one really, really funny scene in "2 or 3 Things" where the main woman and her friend are undressing for this weird photographer dude. he speaks in English and wears this shirt with an American flag on it and makes the women put these tote bags over their heads--this weird fetish thing. anyway, that's totally hilarious and offbeat. and there's also an awesomely absurd scene at a brothel where all the prostitutes leave their kids in daycare. now that i'm thinking about it, maybe i liked this more than i thought...
Friday, November 24, 2006
have Robert Altman on the brain for obvi reasons. "M*A*S*H" is a strange movie to watch on Thanksgiving, but hey...
one thing i'm thinking about is how this nothing even remotely resembling this movie could be made today. think about war-set comedies as we know them, and every last one of them takes a moralistic turn, from "Good Morning, Vietnam" to "Three Kings." "M*A*S*H" has no clear-cut message whatsoever, but there's definitely something disturbing about "the zany antics of our combat surgeons" being juxtaposed with extremely gory scenes of open-chest surgery.
aside from the backdrop of war, the movie is basically "Meatballs" or "Revenge of the Nerds or something"--complete with the classic broadcasting of sex sounds, shower barge-in and farcical football match. the absurdity never lets up, but you feel vaguely uneasy the whole time. "Suicide Is Painless," the incredibly disturbing glassy-eyed folk-pop theme song, sort of sets the tone: it's a blank song--melancholy, but also numb. when it takes on new meaning as the "funeral" song for the impotent dentist Painless, you just don't know what to think. basically the movie makes you uncomfortable both in your laughter and in your attempt to read any sort of message into it. A.O. Scott does a good job of expressing this ambiguity in his Times Altman tribute.
another thing that struck me was how it really seems to me as if the personas of Elliott Gould and Donald Sutherland in this film are the prototypes for what we now refer to as hipsters: rakish, witheringly sarcastic, dilletantish (check out the golf scene) and with this sort of studied absurdity about the way they dress and act. that sounds really lame and academic but if you watch the movie, you could totally see Hawkeye and Trapper John holding court in Williamsburg. Gould's moustache pretty much says it all.
anyway, it's dumb to make plans, but i'm going to try to watch a whole bunch of Altman. haven't seen "Nashville" in forever and i feel like i need to revisit that. just seeing Michael Murphy for five minutes in "M*A*S*H" gave me a serious appetite for more of that dude's inimitable mild drawl.
this is kind of major for a fkkking p.s.: did anyone else realize that Altman's (at the time) 14-year-old son, Mike, wrote the lyrics to "Suicide Is Painless"??!! that's kind of mindblowing. maybe Wikipedia is a taking me for a ride tho... see for yourself.
Thursday, November 23, 2006
finished that dang book i was yapping about and the end was sadder, subtler and more profound than i was expecting. some seriously heavy meditation on whole-life-scale compromise that i will not elaborate further on here for fear of spoilage. (ok, it's not exactly as if "Age of Innocence" is some hot bestseller right now that everyone's reading, and most folks who haven't read the book have probably seen the flick, but hey, maybe someone out there is just picking the thing up...)
as for the flick, i went out and rented it immediately upon finishing the book. it's very good, but not great and the main reason can be expressed in one (compound) word: voice-over. Scorsese obviously respects the text greatly and therefore he wants to have this old woman reading to you from it throughout the movie, but nearly every time the voice-over came in, i totally felt jarred out of the story. the acting is very, very strong and i wish Scorsese (who--duh!--shows up in an eccentric cameo: this time as a wedding photographer w/ no lines) hadn't felt the need to throw all that narration in there--it makes it seem like a movie based on a book instead of its own independent entity, which the performances and the production design would have very much added up to if left to their own devices.
as with the book, the epilogue affected me the most. Robert Sean Leonard--maybe you've seen a little movie called "Dead [Fucking] Poets Society"--is excellent in a cameo as Newland's son. i really can't express how amazing the end of this story is. as usual, it's better in the book.
ps-i'm just realizing that the voice-over wasn't the only thing about the movie that bothered me. truthfully, i'm not sure if i ever really believed that Michelle Pfeiffer loved Daniel Day-Lewis--she was like a hair too aloof. anyway, i guess that's a pretty focal thing...
pps-Winona Ryder did a dang good job. not sure if i've ever seen her seem so girlish, except maybe in Beetlejuice or something. she's perfect for the character of May.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
nearing the end of "The Age of Innocence" and i kinda don't want it to be over. as you prolly know, it's a love story set in NYC high society in the late 1800s. there's this upper class dude, Newland Archer, who's leading this very conventional life and he's all set to marry this very sweet but boring girl as he's expected to. but then his fiancee's cousin comes into the picture and he totally falls for her b/c she's worldy and sentient and intelligent and, well, i guess pretty sexy.
anyway so the whole book is about this torturous situation where he's going through with his marriage to May, the boring gal, and becoming more and more obsessed with Ellen, the exotic, smart one. i'm about 7/8 of the way through and it's getting pretty dire. at one point, Newland actual considers killing May off. but you just know that isn't going to happen. the book is basically about that horrible sense of compromise when you take the easy way out and know that you'll basically being driving on autopilot the rest of your life. Wharton does an amazing job of conveying how nauseating this feels.
anyway, but each time the two secret lovers meet, it gets more and more intense. at the point in the book i'm at, Newland has basically lost it. he meets her at the train station in Jersey City--and interestingly there's this weird tangent where he sort of scoffs at an idea that's being tossed around which is that trains might someday run directly into NYC--and they take a coach ride together and steal a kiss and he just starts gushing to her: "I mean: how shall I explain? I--it's always so. Each time you happen to me all over again.[this last part is in italics, so you know it's a big moment]"
anyway, but the most intense thing is that Wharton doesn't let him get away with his irrational passions. Ellen is pretty worldly and has seen men come and go and even though she loves him, she keeps her feet on the ground. he tells her he wants to move to some far off country with her and what she says is just so brilliantly cold and intense:
"Oh, my dear--where is that country? Have you ever been there?...I know so many who've tried to find it; and, believe me, they all got out by mistake at wayside stations: at places like Boulogne, or Pisa, or Monte Carlo--and it wasn't at all different from the old world they'd left, but only rather smaller and dingier and more promiscuous."
damn. i just love that. kind of reminds me of one of my favorite film scenes, the end of "The Graduate," where Benjamin has busted in and stopped Elaine's wedding and run off with her. they jump on this bus together and they're grinning and then their smiles suddenly fade and they have these completely dumbfounded looks on their faces, like, "What the fuck do we do now?" that, to me, is amazing: the idea of working so hard at running away from something that you forget to think about where you're headed.
anyway, hail Edith Wharton. this is really tragic, beautiful stuff. i'm not sure what's going to happen to Newland and Ellen, but it doesn't look too good...
Tuesday, November 21, 2006
one of the things that makes Skin Graft one the truly great American indie labels, instead of a label that just happens to have released a lot of great records over the years, is that it has shown intense loyalty to its artists. to pick one example, in the mid-to-late '90s, label honcho Mark Fischer was intensely generous toward a certain nexus of musicians that included Thymme Jones, drummer of and general mastermind behind Cheer-Accident; Darin Gray, bassist of Dazzling Killmen and later On Fillmore, Grand Ulena and tons more; and Jim O' Rourke, who everyone knows from Gastr del Sol, Sonic Youth and innumerable engineering/arrangement type projects.
in addition to issuing several records apiece by Cheer-Accident and the Killmen--which were, respectively, Jones and Gray's more straightforward and, one assumes, "marketable" projects--he put out, by my count, five tangential releases including this tandem: three by You Fantastic!, which also included Killmen guitarist Tim Garrigan; one by Brise-Glace (not counting a 7"), which teamed these two with O'Rourke and sundry other weirdos; and one by Yona-Kit, which was Jones, Gray, O'Rourke and Japanese madman K.K. Null on guitar and vox. quite honestly, this music is all pretty difficult, and in a certain sense, spotty. i would never recommend that anyone listen to these bands before hearing Cheer-Accident and the Killmen, both of whom are in my all-time-favorite pantheon.
i've been spending some time with these "secondary" projects over the last few days, though, and i'm remembering that they're all very much worthwhile, even if i find them most effective as supplements or corollarys or departures or what-have-you.
You Fantastic! seems to be largely Jones's baby. i say this because this band's music shares with Cheer-Accident a fundamental instability--the notion that anything resembling a conventional song structure is merely a kind of trap door that will probably open underneath you as soon as you start to get comfortable. listen to just about any Cheer-Accident record and you'll see what i mean; the albums are full of slow fades where one texture starts in the background and overwhelms another, abrupt jumpcuts and bizarre, frankly sometimes annoying juxtapositions.
this is all part of the perverse pleasure of listening to Cheer-Accident. you just have to get over the idea that they're going to push your pleasure buttons all the time and dig a sound mass like "Vacuum," wherein the wheezing of the titular item makes up the main instrumental texture, right alongside a eventful prog-pop tune like "Learning How to Fly."
anyway, so You Fantastic! is, if anything, more ornery and difficult and less pleasurable to listen to. i know this doesn't sound like much of a recommendation, but the music has a real humor and tension that makes it worth the trouble. i saw the band play live about a decade ago in K.C. and while i have very little recollection of the actual sound, i know for sure that there was little or no electronic or conceptual soundfuckery going on. in other words, the band was, as i recall, a trio playing most likely proggy instrumental music in the vein of "Not a Food"-era Cheer-Accident.
this style evidences itself on the records. on the band's sole full-length, "Homesickness," you can hear the band pounding it out on some very lo-fi live recordings, but these are more often than not overwhelmed by weird-ass conceptual material that, once you get over the frustration of not being able to just listen to this trio of badasses lay it down--which admittedly is a fairly big hurdle--is actually really entertaining. there's a great track that consists almost entirely of Gray's recorded instructions to the other band members as to how to play a particular song--they were geographically separated at the time. he talks about he's going to play "A" five times, into "B" and "C" and so forth, and at one point, he talks about going into a part he calls "The Groove Section." except every time he says he's going to start playing, all you hear is this sped-up and garbled mess of bass sound.
i interviewed Darin a while back for a Signal to Noise piece and according to him, this is all real. i.e., he sent Thymme a tape so he could learn some parts, but the tape turned out all fucked up. and instead of ditching it, Thymme just put the damn thing on the record. kind of crazy. Darin said he was wary of it going on "Homesickness" at first but that later he got into the idea; in fact, it illustrates this concept of "failure" that is sort of the overarching aesthetic behind his later band Grand Ulena.
aaaaanyway, so there's a lot of that weird collagey sort of stuff, alongside some of this sort of driving, menacing, minimal prog rock that fans of these musicians will recognize instantly from having heard their other stuff, plus some beautiful, soundtrackish trumpet-driven stuff. but the music always seems secondary to the concept.
the other two You Fantastic! discs are EPs, and they're quizzical as shit. appropriately, the first one is called "The Riddler." i rememember buying this one after the gig i saw in the '90s and being like, "What is this shit?" and selling it a few days later. i subsequently reacquired it while researching my piece on Darin, and though i don't take it out all that often, it's a cool thing to have around.
essentially, it's a sort of condensed version of what you hear on "Homesickness." a really cool section is the opening, which features a key Jones trick--a distorted, driving, odd-time (at least i think it's odd-time) drumbeat, looped really loud so that it sounds like an advancing robot army or some such. on the record, the beat cuts away to these weird discordant guitar and bass strums, which gradually become lower- and lower-fi. if you know You Fantastic!, this kind of jarring unpredictability is in itself predictable, but it's cool to listen to nonetheless.
if anyone out there is familiar with the other YF EP, "Pals," you probably have more recall of the artwork than the actual music. the CD features a crude collage of pics of Jones, Gray and Garrigan, uh, playing together outside: basketball, jungle gym, you name it. they're smiling and giving thumbs-ups and whatnot. it sounds, ridiculous, and it is, but it's also completely fucking hilarious.
anyway, musically, "Pals" might be the band's best, most cohesive release. it's one 17-minute track (about the same length as "Riddler," though that one is divided up into i think ten tracks, which have demarcations that feel random) and it has this really nice slow build to it. in addition to the three main dudes, it features viola from Julie Pomerleau, whose work i'm unfamiliar with otherwise.
so the main groove is this kind of swaying, queasy odd-time riff. any Killmen fan will recognize Gray and Garrigan's penchant for these kind of ominous, uneasy chords and note mixtures. except for unlike that band, the music isn't really building to any sort of kick-in. it's just sort of flowing along, with these strange string and trumpet masses that float over and mask the main groove and then recede. a real cool effect and for the most part, minus the brazen jarringness of other YF stuff. (ok, so there is a pretty hairy ball of noise near the end, but whatev...)
was checking out Brise-Glace's one full-length, "When in Vanitas," last night. have come back to this record a lot over the years, though i don't even really know how much i like it. the best way to describe it would probably be a darker You Fantastic! whereas Thymme Jones seems to always veer toward the wacky or the quasischmaltzy--that's not intended as a dis; i love his schmaltz more than anything!--O' Rourke, who helmed Brise-Glace, seems to gravitate toward darker and more abrasive textures. it's basically a cut-up noise-rock disc, which--as O' Rourke has confirmed--is in some ways a tribute to that sort of style as practiced by This Heat.
it's not too obvious an homage, though, and if you're in the mood for something dark, textural and, yes, a bit "difficult," this is a good one to check out. especially notable are Jones's insanely cool beats, which O' Rourke often loops and distorts. among his many other talents, Jones is a completely sick drummer, with a knack for constructing these very minimal, yet very confusing patterns, often with just hi-hat bass and snare. (check out "Even Has a Half-Life" from Cheer-Accident's "Not a Food" for a great non-Brise-Glace example of this.) coming away from "When in Vanitas," it's very likely that the drumming is what you'll remember. kudos to O' Rourke for recognizing and exploiting the awesomeness of Thymme Jones to the fullest. i can't remember where i read this, but someone once described him as a "furry ball of drumming," or something like that, and that's the closest i've heard to anyone capturing his appeal. you've got to see his manelike hair to really get that though...
anyway, the last record i mentioned is the one i know the least, and that's the self-titled disc by Yona-Kit. if You Fantastic! bears Jones's stamp most prominently and Brise-Glace is essentially O' Rourke's band, Yona-Kit is very much K.K. Null's thing. it's Chicago-style noise rock--think Shellac or Jesus Lizard, but admittedly, not as inspired as either--with an absurdist bent. if you've heard Null's Zeni Geva band, you'll kind of know what to expect, except the individual players are a lot more interesting to listen to.
one of the guitarists--i'm almost positive it's Null--is doing his best Steve Albini impression, and the band excels at that sort of cyclical noise-rock skank that is the quintessence of heavy Midwestern indie music from the '90s, adding a little bit of nearly fruity prog flavor. over top, Null either barks in that angry-samurai voice of his or speak-sings in this weird mumble. it's not a brilliant record by any means, but if you're a fan of these musicians, it's a lot of fun b/c their personalities are right out front--dig Gray's unmistakably sproingy bass tone, though it might make you reach for your copies of "Face of Collapse" and "Gateway to Dignity"!
anyway, so like i was saying, it's very cool that Skin Graft honcho Mark Fischer put out all this stuff (not to mention provided hilarious cartoon artwork, such as the above image from the Yona-Kit sleeve, for a lot of it). he can't have sold more than a few thousand of each of these, if that, but for enthusiasts of that time and place, they're indispensable documents. visit Mark and Skin Graft and buy these for yourself; i think most of 'em are still in print.
while you're there, by all means, stock up on stuff by Killmen, Cheer-Accident, Colossamite and others if you're unlucky enough not to own this indispensable material!
here's a couple tracks for yer trouble:
1) You Fantastic! - "Friendless" from "Homesickness" (1998)
a pretty, placid, trumpet and guitar thing that may not represent the fucked-uppedness of the band that well, but works great on its own.
2) Brise-Glace - "Host of Latecomers" from "When in Vanitas" (1994)
nice noise/collage thing culminating in a sick, savage punk loop from Jones.
3) Yona Kit - "Twa Corbies" from s/t (1995)
a good example of this band's loopy, lovable noise-rock.
Monday, November 20, 2006
have some reason to believe that links to mp3s posted below may be busted, inoperative, etc. if anyone has attempted to access the files and gotten a "File not found" or some similar shiz, could you please let me know? the email is up at the top there...
found this Onion interview with Chuck Klosterman pretty interesting. i'm sure i'm like many you in that i've basically written this dude off without having barely read anything by him. (i've done this for any number of--stupid?--reasons, the foremost of which is that i have a kneejerk reaction of nausea toward anyone who exploits their sort of postironic enjoyment of metal as cultural currency, which this dude seems to do big time.) the interesting thing is that he actually talks about that phenomenon in the piece. i really liked the following two tidbits:
a) "The people who review my books, generally, are kind of youngish culture writers who aspire to write books, or write opinion pieces about what they think of Neil Young, or why they quit watching ER or whatever. And because of that, I think there's a lot of people who write about my books with the premise of, 'Why this guy? Why not me?'"
I think that's absolutely spot-on, i.e., that when you write about anything pop-cultural or "entertainment-oriented" or fun, many people will assume that since everyone spends a lot of time *thinking* about those sorts of things, it must be extremely easy to write about them and that everyone who does so is a completely run-of-the-mill talent. granted, again, i've barely read Klosterman and couldn't tell you if i think he is that or not--though, again, i will cop to having probably subconsciously dismissed him on grounds of frivolity at some point. i just think it's wise of him to point out this trend in how his work is interpreted.
b) "I can tell when I've met a bad journalist when they say, 'I've met Madonna,' or 'I know Marilyn Manson.' Because I haven't met anyone I've ever interviewed. I've sat down in the position of an interviewer, and they've sat down in the position of an artist trying to promote a product. We have no relationship. I'm able to ask them questions I'd never be allowed to ask them if we were casual friends. It's a completely constructed kind of situation. I just try to ask questions that I'd be legitimately interested in if I were reading this article. What's the only thing in this day and age that people in the media can offer the average person? Access, essentially. We can say, 'This is how it feels to be in the room with Taye Diggs.'"
this is just an excellent summation of the weird singularity of the journalist/subject relationship. i haven't interviewed too many really famous people, but i know what he's talking about. for example, i did a phone interview with God--oops, i mean Donald Fagen, once, and i felt like i had sort of a rapport going with him and was eliciting some special stuff and then i picked up the Times a few days later and saw that he had basically given the exact same answers to their interviewer. kind of shattered that illusion. anyway, i love the clear-eyedness of what Klosterman says above. maybe not enough that i'll ever actually read one of his books, but hey... ;)
Sunday, November 19, 2006
new turbo web capability enables illustrative content downlink potential.
some of my loyal longtime readers of the past, uh, three days, might harbor tender memories of my "Prime cuts of Beef" post--which, funnily enough, won the Nobel Peace Prize last week... anyhoo, i have just enhanced said post with mp3 examples of several of the tracks discussed.
i didn't link "Carrot" and "Blue Gene" b/c those appeared in the little fun-pak mix in my last post. and i didn't throw up all the "Doc" tracks b/c i feel like i want to respect the general internet ettiquette that i've noticed of not uploading more than two tracks from any one album. so these are appetizers, y'all.
Friday, November 17, 2006
ok, hey, what's up.
so i don't know anything about the internet. i can only deal with automated mechanisms such as this blogger thing. but i wanted to put up some mp3s on this site, so i did a little "legwork," and found out some things and want to put them to use.
i was assisted in these matters by a few kind folk, one of whom is John Atkinson, an excellent musician and seriously pro blogger with whom i have previously rocked in Aa. John's blog, Chiasm, is a trove of great sociopolitical thought--i get smarter just skimming this damn thing--and insight on all kinds of good music that i don't know shit about. i spent hours listening to this dude's masterful mixes during long road trips, and i can assure you that the mf knows all there is to know about the hardest and most cutting-edgest grooves. so listen up fo' sho'.
the second helper man was Jonathan Harnish, who maintains the excellent site Built on a Weak Spot, which is sort of like the "Destination Out" site mentioned below, only devoted to awesome heavy and/or weird and/or just really good indie stuff from the '90s and on, with a real Midwest bias, which works just fine for me. also, dig that the title of the blog is lifted from a Quicksand song. (now THAT is a fucking band...)
anyway, these links are now enshrined over to your right and i very much encourage you to tap into the power.
aaaaaaanyway, so thanks to the help of these goodly dudes, i'm going to try to get some actual music up here for you to listen to. for starters, we will do a sampler of the music that has been exciting me to the greatest degree in recent weeks/months. this is not a difficult list to make, b/c it basically consists of four esteemed organizations, those being Beefheart and his superfuckingawesome '80s Magic Band, D.C. mathdrama legends Shudder to Think, veteran Chicago TOTALMUSIC practitioners Cheer-Accident and teen-style-angst-turned-high-pop-art geniuses Xiu Xiu. you've heard me yap about this shit, now experience it and weep. here are five tracks to start with:
1) Cheer-Accident - "Failure" from "Enduring the American Dream" (1997)
one of the saddest and most sophisticated songs i know. you will think you have died and are listening to an angel. like a Broadway musical performed by your favorite prog band.
2) Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band - "Dirty Blue Gene" from "Doc at the Radar Station" (1980)
this is that scary-as-shit turbocharged '80s Beefheart shit i was telling you about before. jagged guitars draw blood and drums throttle with new-wave death-pulse.
3) Xiu Xiu - "Boy Soprano" from "The Air Force" (2006)
dark, sad, orchestral bedroom goth-pop drama. this is like if you could actually still listen to Nine Inch Nails and get the same chill you got in eighth grade.
4) Shudder to Think - "Earthquakes Come Home" (1994)
all the glory of the '90s is here. mindblowing melody and alt-rock crunch that will embarrass you. it will remind you of what you listened to on "120 Minutes," but you'll like it more than you ever liked that shit. Craig Wedren's voice has true wings.
5) Captain Beefheart and the Magic Band - "A Carrot Is as Close as a Rabbit Gets to a Diamond" from "Doc at the Radar Station" (1980)
gem of sunlit beauty and optimism. Beefheart piano-and-guitar enigma, delivered to you with pomp and circumstance on a gilded platter.
that would be to this blog right here. it's called Destination Out and they post amazing out-leaning (and usually non-CD-findable) jazz mp3s with alarming regularity. there's a weird sort of humor to the presentation that flies right over my bald spot, but that's really neither here nor there. right now, they've got some nice Steve Lacy and Mal Waldron up there near the top. i never have time to check out all the stuff they post, but i'm just psyched that such a trove exists and that people still care about this music.
maybe the coolest thing though is the discussions sparked by what's posted. i think people who get into obscure jazz--especially stuff from the "dark ages," the '70s and '80s, when there was so much great stuff happening that never gets talked about--are kind of starved for conversation about it and these nerdy websites are the perfect hubs. anyway, go listen to some of that stuff. link will be enshrined to the right there.
also, go view the blog of this composer named Darcy James Argue. he wrote a really nice account of a recent Julius Hemphill tribute concert that i previewed for Time Out but couldn't attend b/c i was at the office late. (that's kind of one of the ridiculous ironies of my job.) anyway, he makes me really jealous when he describes Pheeroan AkLaff tearing into the badass 11-beat lick from "Dogon A.D." clearly one of the best uses of odd-time vamping ever, and i can imagine it was pure sickness live. hail Phil Wilson, who laid that shit down hard on the original. dude smokes always! ok, anyway... thx, Darcy, for the account.
also, look at this fucking thing. it is a cartoon lizard talking in a kind of "Jerky Boys" voice and sort of dissing random objects that appear on the screen. Dan Deacon, the dance-pop maniac from Baltimore, had a hand in it--i believe he did the narration. anyway, describing this is pointless. all i can say is that Tony and i rewound the damn thing like 45 times the other day. look out for the sudden intrusions of nonsense syllables. "What does this guy think he's an Indian? What is he, a goddamn asshole?" damn, son.
note, if you will, how the lizard's arms are crossed. yes, i said it's a cartoon lizard with its arms crossed.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
The only thing more lame than a disclaimer within a record review is one written after the fact. but i guess that's what this is...
see a while ago, i reviewed the record "Map, Monitor, Surge" by the Cleveland band Craw for the All Music Guide (link is here). actually, all of the Craw reviews on AMG are by me except the one of the self-titled record. i had mixed feelings about writing these pieces--as i do about reviewing records in general, but this is kind of an extreme case. on one hand, these records had no AMG reviews posted at the time--this was probably '02 or so--and i felt that it was important that people be able to find out about them if they wanted to. and i certainly felt like i was qualified to do it given that i had been listening to Craw obsessively for several years.
but i knew that saying all i wanted to say about this band in a series of AMG reviews was impossible. even sitting down to write a blog post on Craw tonight was daunting, because i knew that what is happening right now would happen, which is that i can't seem to tell just part of their story. i have to tell it all. and telling their story really means telling all this stuff about my teenage self and how this music touched me so deeply at that time that it basically determined the course of my life. even though a lot of the stuff i listen to sounds nothing like Craw, i feel like i'm always looking for that intensity in whatever i'm checking out and looking to put it forth whenever i'm playing.
all that digression aside, though, what i really meant to discuss here was how i felt like i had perhaps shortchanged Craw's last two records in my AMG reviews and how that was probably due to some weird feeling of personal betrayal.
ok, so i have to tell you about when i was in high school. i discovered Craw during my junior year after reading a review of their self-titled debut in a Kansas City metal zine called "Feh." the review said something like "i can't possibly describe this music but it's totally scary and amazing and the record is 69 minutes long and you should hide all sharp objects when you play it." i was totally intrigued and i tracked down the record--at fucking Best Buy of all places, which used to stock great indie-label stuff--and i was very confused by it at first.
but i kept spinning it and spinning it and very quickly i became completely obsessed with it. i was a metal and punk kid then, always looking for the next most intense thing i could find. can't remember if i was on to death metal at that point, but probably. anyway, the thing that fucked me up so bad re: Craw was that here was music that was as searingly intense as any metal has ever been but it was not dumb or cheesy or caricatured in any way. on the contrary, it was scarily intelligent--not just in the lyrics, which were awesomely poetic and evocative and creepy, but in the compositions. the music was so odd, jarring, unexpected, but also completely gorgeous. it was simply the most enveloping thing i'd ever heard.
i quickly bought up their second record, "Lost Nation Road," which had been released in the interim between when i read the review and bought the first CD. this one was even scarier. the songs had become so manic and so dynamic. there were saxophones and insanely proggy structures and terrifying whispery parts and just this overall sense of extreme cinematic drama but in such a subtle way. this is not like Tool or something, where it's like a sci-fi movie, like heightened; this is just gut-level strangeness. you're just as baffled as you are affected.
anyway, so one day i was in Recycled Sounds, my go-to KC indie store where i had found "Lost Nation," and i saw a flyer for an upcoming Craw show. i was completely freaked out. probably have never been as excited since. the flyer said that there would be an art opening at RS before the show for this artist named Derek Hess, who used to book Craw at this Cleveland club called the Euclid Tavern and did all of their flyers and T-shirts and some album art back then. [weirdly, he's become sort of famous for his metal flyers and album art. i think he did some art for Shadows Fall and he has this yearly tour called the StrHess Tour that he sponsors.]
so i took the flyer home and marked the date on the calendar and all that. but i was a bit disconcerted by the fact that it was a 21+ show. my friends and i had been shut out of a ton of shows b/c of age, but we'd always go anyway and try to meet the band and see if they could sneak us in. this rarely worked but led to a lot of fun stories (e.g., smoking weed with Clutch on their bus and then watching their show through the door of the venue). anyway, but i was determined not to get shut out of the Craw show, so i decided to try to call them in advance and see if there was anything they could do.
there was a number for their label, Choke Inc., on the inside of the "Lost Nation Road" CD, so i called it and explained to the label dude that i was this 17-year-old kid from Kansas City and that Craw was my favorite band, etc., and could he possibly help me gain admittance into this upcoming show. the guy was totally bowled over by this and said the best he could do was give me the number of one of the guys in the band.
so he gave me the number for Dave, one of the guitarists, and i called him and i was like, "Uh, hi. i'm Hank Shteamer and i'm this 17-year-old kid from Kansas City and i'm a huge fan of your band and your show in KC is 21+ and is there anything you can do to help get me in?" and of course he was laughing, but i could tell he sincerely wanted to help. so he told me that i should come to the art opening and then my friends and i could go with the band to the venue and the Craw guys would tell the people at the club that we were their roadies.
so me and my two buddies Chris and Jason, who were the only ones among my friends who i'd been able to convert into Craw fans at this point, show up at Recycled Sounds for the opening as directed by Dave. and i'm of course wearing my Craw shirt, and there's this group of scruffy dudes hanging out in the back of the store and i immediately recognize one of them b/c i had this promo pic of the band. this guy had been standing out in front in the pic, so i assumed he was the singer. and i said to him, "Are you McTighe?" the albums only listed the players' last names, so that was the best i could do. and the guy just started laughing, and he was like, "No, I'm Rockie, the guitarist."
and i was like, "Which one of these guys is Dave?" so Rockie waved Dave and the singer--it turned out his first name was Joe--over and he was like, "This is Hank." and they're both like, "Whoa, you're Hank Shteamer!" and they started laughing in disbelief. Dave had told them about my call and it had become sort of a band joke that this kid from KC had called like two months in advance about getting into their show. but they were totally nice and appreciative.
of course my friends and i were starstruck, but the drummer, Neil, was really cool to us and i think sort of related to how it was to be hanging out with your favorite band and trying not to look like idiots. i was just firing all these questions at him, like verifying lyrics and aksing who wrote what songs and all that sort of stuff and he was completely cool about it. he introduced me to Derek Hess, who had done the art for the Craw shirt i had on, and i got him to autograph it. still got that shirt at home...
anyway, so as planned, my friends and i drove over to the venue early, met the band and helped them carry their equipment in. Rockie just told the door guys that we were with them and that we wouldn't be drinking and so we got our hands X'd and just went on in.
it is unlikely that i will ever forget that show. it so completely lived up to and surpassed my ridiculously high teenage expectations. the band just utterly slayed, and the club was TINY and we were right there in front and we were literally the only people in there who had ever heard this band before and we were just completely freaking out.
the thing about Craw live that sent me over the edge was watching Joe McTighe perform. i have to tried to describe and re-enact his stage manner for years and have never felt like i've done it justice. he was a tall, weirdly handsome guy who had this chipped tooth and would always smile sort of smugly. and he he'd always wear this sort of Robin Hood cap, sometimes with a feather. when he sang, he'd hold the cap tight to his head with one hand and wrap the mike cord around the other and do these weird stabbing contortions with his upper body that never seemed to have any rhythmic relation to the music. often his movements were slow, almost tai chi-like. he'd just sort of crouch down and have these convulsions.
it was one of the most frightening and riveting things i've ever seen. i feel like so many performers go out of their way to convince you that they're "crazy" or "extreme" and he just *was* those things: completely natural and completely intense.
anyway, the band killed that night and they killed every other time i saw them, which was about seven other times. but the thing that i've been meaning to talk about this whole time was that when they came back the second time, Neil Chastain, the drummer who had been so cool to us, wasn't with them; he'd left and was replaced by this guy Will Scharf. when all the guys got out of the van at that second show and Neil wasn't with them, we were pretty bummed out b/c Neil was the only one we'd felt really comfortable hanging out with. [the Hess poster you see up top there was for this Craw tour, the first one with Will. it was with the KC band Glazed Baby and was known as the "You Guys Play Like a Bunch of Girls Tour." fun fact re: Glazed Baby is that one of their members, Joel Hamilton, now runs this studio in Wmsburg where my old band, Today (still operating under its latter-day name Bat Eats Plastic), recorded our first E.P. Joel also produced and drummed on the new Battle of Mice record, which a lot of people are pretty psyched on. also, not so coincidentally, my bandmate in Today was none other than Dave from Craw, the dude i had called up all those years ago about getting into the 21+ show. but that's another story...]
also, we weren't so psyched on Will's drumming when we first saw him. he didn't have Neil's awesome precision and he just didn't seem as connected to the material. granted, he'd just joined the band, but this was our favorite band and we didn't want any compromise.
over the years, Will really came into his own, both with Craw and with his other band Keelhaul, and turned into a ridiculously powerful and sophisticated math-metal demon. when he first recorded with Craw though, on a few singles and the way-aforementioned album "Map, Monitor, Surge," he was playing in this kind of jazzy, chaotic style that really changed Craw's sound. i guess to my ears, they sounded sloppier with Will.
so that record always sort of had this symbolic meaning for me, as the one where Neil left, and maybe that's the underlying reason why i gave it only three stars. there i said it; hope no one from AMG hunts me down now. [though people have issued record ratings for far pettier, lamer reasons; did you hear about the dude who dissed the Black Keys in the Voice only to have a bunch of people write in saying that he was an ex-friend of theirs who had it out for them? crazy shit...] of course, this is a hyperbolic conection to make: i obviously did feel that the music on "M, M, S" was inferior to the first two records. i guess i'm just trying to prove a point re: a) how totally, totally biased i was/am re: this band and b) how hard it is to be impartial/critical toward a band you truly love and probably 800 other points.
having said all that, i've been listening to "Map" recently, and i realize how wonderful it is. i always loved it, but you expect so much from your favorite band; you don't want anything to change. i wanted everything to stay how it was when i was 17 and being snuck into a Craw show pretending to be their roadie. that's way beyond a musical thing obviously; it was an amazingly formative time.
what's the point of all this blabbing? i guess i just proved my own point, that i can't talk about Craw without gushing, without telling the whole damn stupid story of how i bought their record because of a review in a KC metal zine, called them, met them at an art opening, had Derek Hess sign my T-shirt, got snuck into their show, had my life changed by said show, etc. etc. but it is such a perfect teenage story.
that's of that time, but the music is here and i love it. hail Craw and thank you so much. don't know what else to say, but this certainly won't be the last you'll hear of them here.
please, please, if you have even the slightest interest in aggressive and/or prog-oriented music, or really just anything really intense, emotional and intelligent, go listen to Craw. you'll find a link to MP3s of their ENTIRE CATALOG on their website. here's a five song primer:
1) "Sound of Every Promise" from "Lost Nation Road"
2) "Strongest Human Bond" from ditto
3) "Elliot" from "Craw"
4) "Rip and Read" from "Map, Monitor, Surge"
5) "Caught My Tell" from "Bodies for Strontium 90"
my fellow Craw die-hards, Ben and Tony, seem to prefer the later material, so they'd probably tell you to reverse the order of that list. but i still feel like the early stuff is superior. anyway, again, i implore you. my favorite band ever, straight up.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
more food--deal with it.
i bought some "groceries" the other day, which for me consists of granola, vanilla Silk soymilk, saltines and maybe peanut butter, and i was going to forgo the usual Ben and Jerry's pint out of a slight pang of healthfulness. i had already paid, but then i made the mistake of looking into the freezer beneath me. immediately i saw it: Haagen-Dazs Sticky Toffee Pudding ice cream. and limited edition no less.
i rationalized the purchase by saying that since it was limited, i may never have another chance to try the flavor. and then i promptly went home and consumed half the pint. this shit is DELECTABLE, like even better than you'd think. vanilla base, some toffee swirl action and then the kicker, which is (are?) moist chunks of cake--yeah, cake. which adds the most awesome spongy texture. you probably don't need me to spell this out, but this is like eating cake and ice cream, a time-tested combo if there ever was one.
this flavor took me back to a long-discontinued Ben and Jerry's frozen yogurt flavor called Gooey Gooey Cake, which was built on a similar concept. putting chunks of anything in ice cream rules, but cake may be the best add-in of all.
another thing this flavor made me realize is that Haagen-Dazs is straight better than Ben and Jerry's. it's far, far creamier and richer. Ben and Jerry's is somewhat vulgar and indelicate, whereas Haagen is supple and luxurious. maybe i'm simply buying into the respective package designs, but my taste buds have not been known to deceive me. anyway, trust me, sweets people: Sticky. Toffee. Pudding.
[note: this flavor was devised by a civilian who won a Haagen-Dazs design-a-flavor contest. her name is Judiaann, and get this, she is from Brooklyn! hellz yeah. and btw, flavor is officially only available till January, so get to it.]
Monday, November 13, 2006
some specific non-"Trout Mask" Beefheart tracks i wanted to discuss as an addendum to my post below...
"Cardboard Cutout Sundown" (on "Ice Cream for Crow")
an awesome declamatory piece. listen to a) how mad the Cap sounds when he says "chapped ass" near the beginning and b) how the music is just bonkers, the guitars buzzing and tweedling and whatnot. fans of Colossamite and/or Gorge Trio will recognize the blueprint for those guitarists' (John Dieterich and Ed Rodriguez) entire careers in this track. there are these awesome heavy unison accents that kick in about 1:30 in that will delight any math-rock fan. this shit KILLS.
"Dirty Blue Gene" (from "Doc at the Radar Station")
ridiculous hyperspeed new/no-wave glee/deconstruction. contains some totally fucking vomit-level amazing drumming from Robert Arthur Williams. sick deconstructed funk/disco that reminds me of Devo's Alan Myers in its sparseness but taken way, way up in terms of fracturedness and disjunction. again, you will hear John Dieterich here in those crazy firework fanfare guitars--Deerhoof fans, it is all presaged here. and there is a multitracked Beefheart outburst at 3:02 that sounds EXACTLY like David Yow. this is my favorite Beefheart track.
"Brickbats" (also from "Doc")
starts off as a pretty conventional beatnik Beefheart freakout. but then all hell breaks loose in the form of these insane off-kilter hits that remind me a lot of Zs. totally crazy and through composed and nonrepeating. you will not believe how advanced the band sounds on this track.
"A Carrot Is as Close as a Rabbit Gets to a Diamond" ("Doc" too)
magical miniature, like some sort of alternate-universe Beatles outtake. strange chords that move from haunting to sort of jaunty, stately, what have you. just piano and guitar. this track is why the word "enigmatic" exists. you could listen to this thing a thousand times and it would never lose it's sense of just being an utter CURIOSITY, not to mention delight. you would never know this was Beefheart in a blindfold test unless you, you know, knew already. or would you?
"Sheriff of Hong Kong" (ok, fine, most of these are from "Doc")
another incredible performance. band constructs this ominous, relentless groove that sounds like a building falling down and then perpetually being reconstructed. Eric Drew Feldman's piano and the guitars are just doing this amazing chail-tasing tango and there's all these great clanging gong noises going on in the background. this track just kills you over and over; it's impossible to imagine how something like this would have been conceived, let alone rehearsed. it never repeats!!!!
"Lick My Decals Off, Baby" (from album of same name)
first track off follow up to "Trout Mask" shows you that that shit was no fluke whatsover. band interplay is similar to that disc, but structure has more variety--manic and uptempo and clattering to slow sleazy crawl. extra percussion--woodblocks and such--adds an amazing density to the sound; overall effect sounds a lot like Tony Oxley. band swings and slides wonderfully together during the slow part. also track is very short and concise, a great strength of a lot of the best post-"Trout" Cap'n.
"Doctor Dark" (same)
god, how can you listen to this and not hear Colossamite, U.S. Maple, all of that, just right here three decades before? all those guys owe Cap'n royalties. (not that they haven't made wondrous advances on this sound though.) this is a really soulful track; Beefheart sings over the chaos as if his band was just laying down the stone blues underneath. but really they're playing this insane counterpoint madness that coheres seemingly out of thin air. band going into those nice swingy, jazzy accents that are all over "Trout Mask" and remind me of that perverted little breakdown in the Jesus Lizard's "50 [cent]" off "Down."
"Apes-Ma" ("Shiny Beast")
hilarious weird one-minute spoken-word piece notable for how CALM Van Vliet sounds. he's not declaiming here like usual; he's just sort of gently reasoning with you and it's SO funny. best part is when he says to "Apes-Ma"--"Apes-Ma, you're eating too much, and you're going to the bathroom too much...." he just sounds like this sort of mildly exasperated parent. priceless.
"Observatory Crest" ("Bluejeans and Moonbeams")
great cruising tune. real Beefheart slow jam with most, if not all of the weirdness filtered out. but his voice is totally recognizable. total spacey slow-jam crooning. the band is just grooving along as if "Trout Mask" never happened. you only need to hear a minute of this to get the point, but it's worth it if you've never heard Van Vliet play it totally straight.
"Autumn's Child" ("Safe as Milk")
what in the sam hell is this? starts off as this weird sci-fi chanting thing that almost reminds me of Magma as played by the Byrds. then there are these weird fake-Oriental guitar lines and then Beefheart just starts belting--just really serious, amazing soul singing with swooning slow-Stones-style backing, except he's saying things like "hello, razor head." then comes this weird uptempo '60s-pop part and then this quiet psychedelic section and back to the belting, which is just so beautiful and desperate. then back to the Magma chanting thing. it's like some weird mini-suite. jesus, who IS this guy? anyone who heard this at the time would've had to realize that this guy was capable of doing some truly groundbreaking shit with rock.
"Suction Prints" ("Shiny Beast")
starts off as kind of this goofy, celebrational instrumental-Beefheart anthem. but what get me are these supersharp stabbing accents that come in 30 seconds in--they're just so manic and relentless. Beefheart isn't singing, but you can feel his presence. he just wants the band to play in a totally mad way. the music is at once so goofy and so incredibly precise, a real challenge to those who don't believe in serious fun. this makes me think someone should compile an album of Beefheart's instrumentals just so he could get his due as one of the greatest composers of the 20th century and not just a dada hollerer, though he is great at that too obviously. check out the great weird series of Chinese-sounding syncopated hits at about 3:05. trombone really gets funky at about 3:30, totally meshing with the band. and the crazy stabs come back at the end.
this one was a long time coming. it is, simply, the Hungarian Pancake at Krowlewskie Jadlo ("King's Feast," a.k.a. the place with those rad suits of armor out front) in Greenpoint, on Manhattan Ave at Norman. basically what this is is a really huge potato latke (mmmmm...) folded over and stuffed with a hearty beef stew. uh, excuse me, but: fuck yeah. you also get a nice "salad" of pickled cabbage. this is a huge meal (you'll have enough left over for lunch) and cheap too: only $7.50. order the Ukranian Borscht, which is this awesome light pink color, and the Pancake and a nice ginger ale and you'll be in heaven. the beef in the stew is almost like brisket--kind of stringy and chewy, and the latke is like the best you've ever had. this is basically the official meal of Stay Fucked.
ps-above is a generalized pic of the Hungarian Pancake, not necessarily Krowlewskie's version.
pps-if you go to this place, make sure to check the awning of the deli called Lite Bites across Norman Ave. it contains the official motto of Stay Fucked, which is "We compete. We listen. We achieve." in other words, wtf x 1,000,000.
just saw "Rules of the Game" at Film Forum. it sounds stupid to say, but i'm proud of myself for going. i'd been meaning to see the damn thing for weeks. sometimes it's so hard to actually get your ass in gear to go see a movie in the theater, let alone an OLD, FRENCH one.
but no, actually it was pretty light and enjoyable all the way through. i feel like it belongs to this lineage of books, movies, plays, etc. about urban rich people isolated in a country house. obviously "Gosford Park" comes to mind, but even something like "The Big Chill" seems to qualify. maybe parts of "Gatsby" as well? i know there are better examples, but they aren't coming to me at the moment.
anyway, the thing about focusing on aristocratic folks like Renoir does is that you get that amazing dichotomy of the masters and the servants, where there's all this intrigue going on in the "upper chambers" and parallel stuff going on down below. and then all the servants are obviously always gossiping about what their masters are up to. "Gosford" park handled that whole thing really well, and if i'm remembering correctly, there was even some hanky-panky going on between the upper and lower sectors that didn't really happen in this movie. the people pretty much stuck to their own caste.
the best thing about "Rules" to me was how Renoir captured the whole vibe of the idle rich, just their extremely weary and indulged viewpoint. like the famous pilot in the movie just can't fit in b/c he's too much of a dreamer; he takes his emotions too seriously. the characters who succeed are the ones, like the servant Lisette and for the most part Octave, who care the least, who have the least at stake. i guess the main rule of the game is that you really can't try at all.
my favorite parts of the movie--as i'm sure is the case with most modern viewers--were these long farcical set pieces in the middle, where everyone is sneaking around with their respective lover and hiding away and not doing a very good job of it. there's just a real sense of aburdity as two of the characters are fist-fighting over one woman and then two others are having an indoor gunfight over another. the line that sums it all up is when the man of the house says to the head butler, "Do something about this farce!" and the butler's like, "Which one?"
the ending was a little much, but all the intrigue is a whole lot of fun. it makes me wish i knew more about American screwball comedies, b/c i feel like those would offer all that farcical mayhem without any pretense of heaviness. anyone have any recommendations?
ps-the characters pictured above are maybe my favorite: Lisette, the adorable maidservant, and Marceau, the poacher-turned-housedude who becomes her lover. they partake of some cutesy flirtation that's a joy to watch.
Sunday, November 12, 2006
Captain Beefheart is attacking my mind. i'm sort of just now having a revelation that a lot of Beefheart fans have probably had long ago, which is that this man is a lot more versatile and profound an artist than even his considerable reputation would have you believe.
basically, having really only listened in-depth to "Trout Mask Replica," i sort of took him as a one-trick pony. don't get me wrong, the trick he advances on that album is an awesome one, but i guess it just seemed limited or hermetic to me. i had no idea that he could take that concept and update it with the times, the way you hear on "Doc at the Radar Station" and "Shiny Beast."
and his band on "Doc" is just gross, just at a totally sick level. it's like some sort of supersonic postpunk version of "Trout Mask"--whereas on "Trout" it's like these monologues over faint backing tracks, on "Doc," you can really hear everything that's going on. the instrumental interplay is just incredible; i get completely mesmerized by how independent the guitars and bass are from one another. and the drumming, by Richard Arthur Williams, is scarily proficient--so tight yet so fragmented and peculiar.
i just didn't realize how important it was to check out this guy's entire oeuvre. "Trout Mask" in no way suffices. listen to the gorgeous, stately, gemlike instrumental "A Carrot Is As Close As a Rabbit Gets to a Diamond" off "Doc" and you'll see what i mean. a truly monstrous talent. the vocals and lyrics are what you notice first, but first and foremost this guy was a composer and he had whittled his concept to a deadly point by the end of his recording career. it's amazing to see how his musical voice remained so strong even with so much personnel change.
[forgot to add that i'd recommend this new DVD, "Captain Beefheart: Under Review," to any Van Vliet fan. it's got a lot of tedious windbag British critics rattling on, but the interviews w/ Magic Band members are fascinating. the coolest parts are where Drumbo (John French) guides you through the construction of some of the drum parts. amazing to find out how much influence Van Vliet had over what he played; he shows how he brought in an original part and was asked to strip away certain layers to arrive at the final structure. Beefheart himself apparently deserves a lot of credit for the inimitable Drumbo style.]
Friday, November 10, 2006
i discovered a lot of my all-time-favorite music in high school. i also listened to a lot of stuff i thought was great then but that doesn't hold up so well now. (i know there's a good example of that type of band, but i can't really think of any right now.) one thing that holds up really well is a band from Lawrence, KS called Kill Creek.
in a way, i think Kill Creek was my first exposure to any sort of independent music. my best friends (there were four or five of us in middle school and high school who went to shows, bought CDs, and discussed, listened to and played music obsessively) and i went to this festival called "Day on the Hill" in 1993, which by my calculations means that it was the summer before my freshman year of high school. this was an all-day indie-music concert at Kansas University, which is in Lawrence, about 45 minutes from where i grew up in Kansas City. anyway, i'm not sure who the draw was for us; i know the Gin Blossoms played that year, so it could have been them.
but the two bands that really struck us were MU330, who were this goofy, fun ska band, and Kill Creek, who were this kind of passionate, punkish indie-pop band. to be completely honest, i don't even remember their set. what i do remember is meeting the guys in the band in this sort of side area near the stage. my friends and i bought their tape (called "Cthonic") and some T-shirts and just sort of hung out with them.
we thought it was so cool that we had met them and that was really our main interest in the band. but then we started playing the tape and realizing that their music was actually really awesome. throughout high school, they played a lot in Kansas City--once or twice with my friends' band the Crackbabies--and we always went to see them and hung out with them and whatnot.
their music kept getting better and better. at one point, they were signed to Mammoth Records, which i think had a distribution deal with Atlantic. anyway, they put out this album called "St. Valentine's Garage," which is still one of my very favorite albums of all time. i reviewed it for AllMusic.com (click here) and there i called it power-pop, which i'm not sure is accurate b/c i know that that term has a very specific meaning to some people. at any rate, i stand by my description in general: it's a very dark, cynical album, with a lot of dissonance and heaviness. but it's also classic pop in many ways, with gorgeous, soaring hooks. the vocals especially have a very desperate, frustrated quality that i associate with the Midwest b/c i heard that in a lot of Kansas bands.
Scott Born, the singer and lyricist, has a very unique voice that can sound sort of childlike but can also build to a massive roar. his singing has this wonderful grit to it that reminds me a little of Milo from the Descendents, who might be the greatest punk singer of all time. anyway, "St. Valentine's Garage" is probably Kill Creek's finest moment--it's a sprawling and dire yet hopeful album, crammed full with passion and incredible songwriting.
KC's next album, "Proving Winter Cruel" didn't come out for a while. it's a very solid release, but more controlled and with an almost crazily solipsistic aspect. the entire thing is about Born's breakup with his girlfriend of eight years and he examines the split from all sides, sometimes getting creepily personal. a great record, but a bit hard to take sometimes.
that record sort of had the quality of going to see Kill Creek live. Born was notoriously shy and awkward onstage and would always apologize and stare at his shoes and seem totally mortified about being in front of people. he'd forget lyrics and chords and whatnot; one time, during an instore to celebrate the release of "Proving Winter Cruel," he forgot a bunch of the songs and my friend Adam, a ridiculously talented guitar whiz, had to show him how they went.
anyway, that was the last KC record that came out while my friends and i were in high school. i kept in touch w/ Scott though and made sure i knew about what was up with the band. they put out some nice limited-edition rarities CDRs (one of which had "Cthonic" on it) and then a final full-length disc, "Colors of Home," in 2001. i took a while to warm up to that one, but i now think it's a masterpiece.
it's generally slower, poppier and more stoic than the Kill Creek of old, but Born is still Born. there's a great line where he says, "Entertaining kids shooting up in clubs was no way to spend the night I turned 29." that sort of gives you an idea of his morbid sense of humor. his lyrics were always amazingly literate, yet really sad and poignant too. (another one of my favorite lines is "You can't dominate my scenario; I'll be your impresario..." from "Kelly's Dead" off "St. Valentines.")
the last i heard Scott had met another woman and gotten married and i think had a kid. i think he still lives in Lawrence and works with disabled children. the Kill Creek website hasn't been updated in like three years, but it's got a lot of useful info. in 2004, the band put out this handy comp that has the entirety of "St. Valentine's Garage" and "Proving Winter Cruel," plus all or most of "Cthonic" and some great rarities from other early tape releases. info on that set, called "The Will to Strike," can be found here; this stuff is SO worth your time.
it's impossible to know how i'd react hearing it now for the first time b/c it was so intertwined with my teenage life. the fact that they were local, that i knew them, all that stuff obviously affected how i heard the music. but i just listened to a whole bunch of Kill Creek today and i still felt that chill. i think there's something about fall that makes me want to listen to them. it's angry, tearful music, but as sweet as anything, with little country tinges. RIP to one of the best bands ever.
Monday, November 06, 2006
this one was kind of a no-brainer. so as is probably clear from the materials discussed here previously, i generally spend a lot of time listening to, writing about and playing nonpop music of all kinds of weird stripes. as far as the playing part goes, that's just sort of what i like to do; with the writing, though, i guess a lot of times i feel as if i should cover the esoteric stuff that interests me b/c if i don't, who will?
at the same time, though, i have absolutely no problem with the popular stuff; it's just that i don't really have a habit of staying on top of it. i've been learning a lot by taking cues from friends and collegues lately, though, and i feel like i'm getting a more complete picture of what's out there. for one, my friend Jesse made me a mix last week with, among other things, some songs from the new TV on the Radio, which i think is really creative and classy and nice to listen to. and i'm always rummaging through the iTunes folder of my fellow Time Out scribe Cristina Black, who has a really great and well-rounded grasp of what is going on in terms of music that has some form of mass popularity (this isn't a dis on CB's tastes at all; she knows about and enjoys way more than just pop, but she does also make it her business to stay on top of what's making waves).
aside from the Joanna Newsom CD, which i'm somewhat obsessed with at the moment, CB also recently led me to check out the Raconteurs, which as you probably know is Jack White's new band. i loved their single, "Steady as She Goes," the first time i heard it and i'm still playing it all the time and am thus bestowing upon in DFSBP nod #2.
it's a pretty simple, snappy rock song, but it is played with extreme class. the lyrics--"Your friends have shown a kink in the single life / You've had too much to think, now you need a wife"--are awesomely wicked, and the vocal performance is just badass, combining the best parts of Bowie and Plant and whoever else with maximum sass. [note: "You've had to much to think" is a pretty obvious pun, but i was just listening to a Beefheart song, "Ashtray Heart," with the exact same lyric. carry on...]
in the back of my mind, i've known that Jack White was a songwriting genius (i really loved "Seven Nation Army"), but i never really let myself admit it till this one. the thing that i think is so awesome about him is that he seems to be totally happy working within the three-minute pop idiom; he can follow all of the conventions of the form and still come across as subversive. (a lot of this has to with his image, of course) i love how in "Steady," the first verse consists of just one little couplet and then we're right into the sunny chorus; it's just so decadent--with so many other songs, this rush to the hook feels obligatory, but with this one, it just feels fun and right. i heard it on the radio today and it sounded so at home, yet so much better and more savvy than everything else that came on.
the video is honestly hilarious too, esp. how White just starts singing when the reporter asks him a question at the beginning. doesn't White, with the pale face and black mane, kind of look like Edward Scissorhands or some sort of Tim Burton creation? anyway, this is really a hell of a song and i want to go somewhere where i can hear it really really loud and dance to it.
yes, the Joanna Newsom album is completely enchanting. what is striking me at the moment is the HUGE amount of information presented--the words and musical ideas just keep flowing forth in a gush. even if not every image she chooses sticks, her vocabulary is somewhat astounding. i'm not sure i've never heard nine- and twelve-minute songs that are this gripping (at least the first three tracks; the burned copy i have has skips on numbers four and five). the first song is especially beautiful; it's got this sad, slow melody that seems like it could have been written in the Middle Ages. the vocal affection is definitely strange, but you sort of come to crave it if you listen long enough. listen for this crazy squeaking sound that she makes every so often (like right at the beginning of track four)--i can't imagine how she controls that.
so yeah, this one is probably going to end up on my top ten for the year (i know, i know... how illustrious!!!)
band plus Maya had a nice Polish dinner and viewing of "The Player" yesterday, which is easily one of my favorite movies. informal DFSBP nod to Dean Stockwell's performance, e.g., "Griffin, you move in mysterious ways [zigzags index fingers to indicate a state of bafflement], but I like it!"
Sunday, November 05, 2006
maybe this will be a semiregular feature of this webspace, a bite-sized tribute to a morsel of culture that might be a song, a paragraph, a scene in a movie, a dessert item, etc.
would like now to acknowledge the scene in "The Royal Tenenbaums" that replays Richie's on-court meltdown as one of the funniest and most poignant movie-parts i can think of. basically, it's got the look of an old ESPN tape and we see him deliberately mis-hitting, serving underhand, sitting down on the court and just generally tanking as the announcers say incredibly announcer-like stuff such as "I've never seen anything like this before: He's taken off both shoes and one of his socks...," etc. and we find out it's because his adopted sister, who he's in love with, has just gotten married. anyway, most of you probably know this scene well, so i'll spare you the further analysis and simply bestow upon the scene the inaugural DFSBP nod.
key album of the moment for me is still "Pony Express Record" by Shudder to Think. it contains countless examples of the amazing phenomenon of the incredibly strange hook, i.e., a melody that's at once remarkably twisted and impossible to get out of your head. please, please dig this album and especially the weird, winding chorus of "Gang of $," the sexy main hook of "Chakka," and the "holding up for high scores" refrain in "Earthquakes Come Home." the ambition displayed by this music is hella life-affirming. hail!
Friday, November 03, 2006
tech glitches--actually some of them were more like fiascos--all but ruined Craig Wedren's CMJ set for me (and, i would venture, for him). i ranted about it on Time Out's new blog, so you can read that if you want to.
was, though, happy to hear two classic Shudder to Think songs in the set: "Hit Liquor" and the fucking incredible "X-French T-Shirt," both from "Pony Express Record." i had heard this record in high school and had a vague sense that i needed to revisit it later in life, but it was only earlier this year that i realized it was one of the most glorious records of the '90s--a kind of weird avant-garde offshoot of alt-rock and also a harbinger, or at least a prime example, of dissonant math-prog in parts (perhaps?). or maybe the mainstream alt-rock bands were just watered-down offshoots of Shudder to Think.
Wedren didn't play "Till the Night Is Over," which is this gorgeous song from his solo disc, "Lapland." in my opinion, that one isn't quite up to the Shudder standard, but it's worth hearing.
got shut out of the Khlyst show b/c i forgot my goddamn driver's license. anyone see it?
early reaction to the new Cat Stevens (now recording simply at Yusuf) disc: it's nice, but nothing special. he just sounds too damn contented, which i guess makes sense since he's been living a devout religious life for the past two decades. But still...
Thursday, November 02, 2006
one of the radder compact discs i've enjoyed recently is by a band called Khlyst. i wrote about their new debut for Time Out recently, and you can read that here, but i had some more stuff i wanted to say re: it, so i'm gonna say it.
the band is just two folks, James Plotkin and Runhild Gammelsaeter. Plotkin is one of these sort of post-metal heroes of which there are a few around these days, the other most prominent such figure being Stephen O'Malley, who not-incidentally worked with Plotkin in Khanate (until very recently; Plotkin just announced his resignation) and earlier in a band called Thorr's Hammer. unlike Khanate, which did an awesome sort of ambient deconstruction of doom, TH played (at least from what i've heard) a pretty conventional brand of said metal subgenre. the main thing that got them attention--besides the later fame of Khanate and O'Malley's group Sunn 0)))--was that their vocalist was the aforementioned Gammelsaeter, a very young and beautiful Norwegian woman who excelled at both deep vomit-style death-metal growling and gothy chanting-style singing. again, though, i'm not too into what i've heard of Thorr's Hammer.
but this Khlyst record, Chaos Is My Name, is different. it's definitely not conventional metal in any way, nor is it like a Sunn 0)))- or Khanate-style abstraction thereof. in fact, i think this music actually shares a lot of features with free jazz, namely in that it's extremely cathartic and--at least as far as i can tell--largely improvised.
there are seven untitled pieces on the record, but they all flow into one another and a lot of textures resurface so the tracks blend together. the most compelling parts are the grittiest parts, like what you hear on the first and seventh tracks. listening to these pieces, you feel like you've just opened to door to the duo's practice space and they're just in there freaking out. the first thing you hear is Plotkin's awesomely distorted bass---imagine someone using that Brian Gibson (Lightning Bolt) rusty-laser tone but not knowing how to play at all. it sounds like Plotkin is wrestling with the instrument, just sort of smearing all over it and plugging and unplugging it and messing around with amp settings. it's just like this snarling, overdriven texture writhing around.
the vocals complement this squall perfectly. basically Gammelsaeter growls and shrieks like a demon being exorcised. i'm pretty sure she's not forming words, but if she is, they're probably not English. she sounds incredibly wicked and possessed--these are really some of the most furious, unhinged metal-style vocals i've ever heard. she really does sound satanic, and the freeformness of the music makes it seem as if she's just snarling in tongues rather than fronting a band.
the best parts of the record are when that insane bass sound and the vocals are just sort of grappling with each other. it's a naked, raw and uncomfortably chaotic sound. during these parts Plotkin often adds subtle effects, like an echo on the vocals or a weird drone or digitally fucked-up drums in the background, and that stuff all works. but there are some pieces that are less immediate and more these long dronescape things where Plotkin takes more liberty with "remixing" the voice and instruments. these don't work as well, because they seem fussier and more self-consciously trying to sound spooky and weird.
i appreciate the variation in texture, though, b/c a whole record of the bass and vocals in combat might have gotten old. but those raw parts are just so intense. on the other hand, there's enough that keeps my attention during the more "produced" parts that i don't feel like skipping them--i especially like how Plotkin subtly fucks with the tracks, inserting these weird jumpcuts and fading instruments in and out.
that manipulation is definitely an echo of what Plotkin did in Phantomsmasher, which is this insane sort of electro-grindcore project where he recorded himself and Dave Witte (drums) and then just chopped and reassembled the tracks into these awesome quasi-drill & bass-style pieces. the Ipecac record by Phantomsmasher--can't remember what it's called--must be checked out if you ain't heard it.
anyway, though, i think this Khlyst thing is really impressive. even though not all of it works for me, i don't find any of it boring. which is saying a lot considering it's a completely freeform record. it's really just a feast of texture, and it's great to hear those grit-filled bass and vocal timbres so unhinged from any genre.
i'm hearing the band at Sin-e tomorrow (Thursday, 11/2) at 8pm as part of the Hydra Head CMJ thing. curious as hell to see how this shit will play live. Khanate drummer Tim Wyskida is helping the duo out at the show.
[weird coincidence: the Khlyst record has artwork by this awesome painter Stephen Kasner, who did the cover of the very obscure first record by Craw, my very favorite band ever. the piece above isn't Kasner's, but you can see all the CD artwork on Plotkin's site here.]