Friday, July 27, 2007

Am I Born to Preach the Gospel?

While eating breakfast this morning at a trendy nook in Brooklyn, I heard "I Had a Good Mother and Father". It was, thankfully, Washington Phillips's original, and his music was playing the entire time I was there. I really should own his work on some reissue or another, I need more dulceola in my life.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

And Then I See. . . A Hard Life

Past posts have me thinking about covers. I’ve probably got about 6 or 7 thoughts on the subject, but here are my top three.

I keep coming back to the 2003 album Master And Everyone by Will Oldham. It took years to fully sink in, but I think it’s a near perfect record, and I love so many things about it – beginning with the lyrics and their delivery, but also the recording and the instrumentation, and even the cover art. It’s a mature piece. I used to think he was pretty hit or miss, but I find that with enough time to digest, I can see the intelligence and artfulness and complexity in most of his released.

There’s a number of near perfect songs on that record, not the least of which is titled “Hard Life”. Johnny Cash is dead, and it’s doubtful there’s an unreleased cover of this sitting on a reel somewhere, but lord, he could’ve delivered the lyrics well. Of that I’m certain.

And it's a hard life
For a man with no wife
Babe, it's a hard life
God makes you live

But without it,
Don't doubt it
You don't even have
Your tears to give

I wake up and I'm fine
With my dreaming still on my mind
But it doesn't take long, you see
For the demons to come and visit me
And I've got my problems
Sometimes love doesn't solve them
And I end each day in a song

And it's a hard life
For a man with no wife
Lord, it's a hard life
God makes you live

But without it,
Baby don't doubt it
You don't even have
Your tears to give

I know I'm a hard man
To live with sometimes
Maybe it ain't in me
To make you a happy wife of mine

And maybe you'll kill me
Honey I don't blame you
If I were in your place,
Maybe that's what I would do…

The Bauhaus treatment.

Bauhaus is one of the bands that led me to play music. That’s no secret. Maybe there’s a little shame in having a goth-y past, but really, I still think the world of Bauhaus, and always have. I retain a lifelong affection for them, and each era in my life I’ve seen them as having sustained value, whether or not they were in vogue at the moment.

Their approach to covers seems unique to me. Maybe not so much their approach, but their relationship to them. First off, they nailed them. They’re uniformly wonderful to me. Specifically, T Rex’s Telegram Sam, Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust, Eno’s Third Uncle, and Cale’s Rosegarden Funeral of Sores. They weren’t digging deep into their LP collection and turning new people onto some rare strenturengt artist. They went at the songs with their own energy, but didn’t reinvent them, like say, M Ward’s version of Let’s Dance that I mentioned earlier. Just from listening to them, and the uniform energy they have, I feel in the center of them a great enthusiasm. Raw, genuine enthusiasm. I imagine them loving playing them in practice, the way I loved playing Moonage Daydream or Gary Numan songs or Sonic Youth songs with Chris Fuller, and then deciding there was nothing wring in sharing that enthusiasm with their fans. There’s a sincerity there I really like. And while they didn’t reinvent these songs, they didn’t just duplicate them, echo them. The way I’d phrase it, they gave them their own unique treatment.

The iPod changes everything. One thing is does is releases the gems from sketchy un-uniform compilations, including comps themed on covering an individual artist.

I remember the first of these I heard – the Heaven and Hell VU comp with Wedding Present coving She’s My Best Friend (a great song for a wedding by the way) and Nirvana doing Here She Comes Now’ the Bridge Neil Young comp with Winterlong performed by the Pixies.

Then came a landslide of them. And of dubious quality. There were often some standout tracks among the trash, though. And some releases had some really priceless takes, like the Beck and M Ward songs on the Daniel Johnston comp, most of the Grievous Angel Graham Parsons comp (surprisingly, Sheryl Crow doing Juanita with Emmylou Harris is amazing), and a lot of the Townes Van Zandt comp (Lucinda Williams doing Nothing there is unbelievably haunting).

Anyway, in the iPod age, these cover songs I like to listen to are so much more accessible and easy to blend into my listening habits. They’re liberated from their original, uneven, often poor context.

currently listening to The Slits, Vindictive

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Various, Sundry

I saw my friend Matt Hohmann’s band Bully Pulpit play over the weekend at a crazy, ancient Czech restaurant in Cicero on Saturday at a show my friend Mark put together. Man, they were incredible. Once again, complete left turn for them. Three guitars + bass + soft & somewhat jazzy drums. Intricate fingerpicking on one lefthanded guitar upside down and Hohmann arpeggiating oddness and playing weird, sometimes atonal yet fitting chords, little distortion involved, so you could really hear the intervals. Kinda Californian sounding to me (someone, I’m not saying who, likes Slovenly). Mostly instrumental at first, then some softly sung vocals, then some shouted ones. Lots of personality, lots of originality. Me likes.

Poster Children also played. Rick and Rose are such interesting people. I saw Rick’s art since then, as I check up on everyone I meet on the Internet, to prove they have not suddenly become criminals. See this.

The new Lucinda Williams release, West, is incredible in my book. Her immediately previous effort didn’t ring so true to me. Lyrics and vocals and arrangements on West are all clearly superior. Come On and Wrap My Head Around That are my favorite tracks so far.

She also did an outstanding cover of Nothing on a Townes tribute record. Man. Crushing. Go find it. It’ll break your heart & spirit in two, and singularly pull together your attention and not let it go for a few minutes.

Slint plays Spiderland and Sonic Youth Daydream Nation and that’s a neat idea and all, but too bad you can’t buy the final final performance’s guitar on eBay, (I say sarcastically). Great piece on it in the SF Weekly by Michael Goldberg. They would’ve been better off without 2005 happening, what with the $55 hoodies and the eBay auctions and all. Reuniting to play Spiderland all the way through, once, and that’s it would’ve been a smarter move, but then, what do I know. I haven’t ripped them off in a couple of years, so I’m clearly out of the loop.

I’ve not watched TV much for the last few years, but coming back from Chicago two weeks ago I saw the drummer from Trenchmouth Fred on the TV at the rest stop on the gas pump TV monitor. That’s crazy and kinda cool. Trill has a DVD of Christopher Walken that has him on it, too. For the record, I never listened to Trenchmouth because I thought the name was stupid. That’s just how it works sometimes. I saw him later on in a salsa band, though, and he was a great drummer.

I wish I could find Fred’s SxSW video on the web. Poo. I can’t.

Ray LaMontagne has a CD at the Milwaukee Public Library called Till the Sun Turns Black and between the cover art and CD and song titles I decoded to give it a shot. Man, great stuff. Country meets Tim Buckley. Good lyrics and orchestration. But it all may be a matter of expectations. I was expecting crap, but it was a free listen and I was in a good mood. Funny how that works, eh?

Currently listening to Joy Division, Transmission

Saturday, July 21, 2007

The Mix is So Bizarre

I still lived in Chicago when the Eternals first started, and I was initially a skeptic. I always liked Trenchmouth, but only somewhat enthusiastically. They were a weird, interesting Gang of Four-tinged punk band at a time when the style was out of vogue (c.f. 2002). When the Eternals rose out of the ashes of Trenchmouth, I was pretty neutral--they seemed mostly like a quieter and less energetic Trenchmouth with a bit of Tortoise thrown in, and this shift didn't seem to flatter them to my ears.

With each year, the Eternals have impressed me more, and I've gone back and reinvestigated. Where the early 12"s segregated the "weird parts" and the "rock songs", they've slowly integrated the two sides of the band to far better effect. I bought Out of Proportion when it came out (the Eternals have made me excited to buy their records because they consistently do release records, on vinyl, the way they were meant to be). Out of Proportion emphasizes the band's most chaotic side and can feel impenetrable, but it features some strong songs too. By the time I bought Rawar Style, I was hooked, and that record has rewarded repeated listens.

Heavy International finishes the union of chaos and rock songs, with drummer Tim Mulvenna's jazz background providing an anchor not unlike Jaki Leibzeit's jazz pull in Can (I'm aware that those are strong words). They're pretty overwhelming live at this point with such a spectacular rhythm section, and Heavy International equals the live show. The crazy noises and effects finally blend seamlessly into the songs, and the compositional ideas really leave room for this freedom. It's an impressive summary of so many years of development into a refined, bizarre whole that's both accessible and offputting at the same time. Count me a fan.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

the artifact is officially dead, Arum says so

This week I downloaded a new release in its entirety for the first time. It was Spoon's new work, in fact.

That's a milestone.

I've recently migrated all my CDs to iTunes, and I've subscribed to eMusic, and scanned it for things I've lost or forgotten, and found some gems, but never before did I substitute buying the tracks for buying the artifact.

Some thoughts about the consequences of this.

CD artwork never mattered a ton to me, not like LP artwork. So I don't mourn that loss.

Words trump numbers once again. "Listen to track 8, it's great" won't be in the lingo anymore. Once again I know song titles. And I forgot how great Trumans Water song titles were. "Yakboy=Nurterer".

Emusic trumps iTunes. Thanks to Jet Aspirin for that. I feel like I'm at the Gap or at the mall when I'm in the iTunes store. The eMusic selection isn't perfect, but it's a hell of a lot more fun to peruse. And no DRM.

How the hell does the artist know how many times someone really downloaded their song from a third party distributor like eMusic? I bet that one has kept Cory Rusk up at night.

"I just got the new record/album/CD by XYZ" is now "I just got the new release by XYZ".

We're all librarians now. Catalogers. And some of us poor ones. I mean, who the hell submitted all the Richard Hell albums to the track listing storage database with "(Album Version)" after the song title? People like that should be shot on sight in the new world order.

Questions for you. What was the first track you downloaded? The first entire release? The first artist you discovered browsing through a web music store like iTunes?


listening to some Mission of Burma track

Friday, July 13, 2007

Tricky Zingers

Mid 70s Milwaukee band Creme Soda had completely eluded my radar. I still have not heard them but I'm eager to. Any wisdom in Bay View?

Saturday, July 7, 2007

A Tom Waits MP3 I like

THEY'RE JUST GIVING THIS SHIT AWAY: Tom Waits and Kronos Quartet, 'Way Down in the Hole' Mp3

When Grandma Plays the Banjo

I learned about Roy Wood's first solo album, Boulders, when I interviewed Chris Knox a lot of years ago. It's a weird one. Lots of pitched vocals (probably tape sped up and slowed down, no digital pitch shifting in 1973), and he amazingly plays every instrument on the record except harmonium on 2 songs. It ranges from some really beautiful pop songs, like "Nancy, Sing Me a Song", to some really absurd sections, like "When Grandma Plays the Banjo". Unlike comparable records from around the same time (1st McCartney, 1st Emitt Rhodes), he did it all in studios and none at home. Alan Parsons was one of the engineers, at about the same time he was recording Pilot ("Oh oh oh it's magic") and Dark Side of the Moon. The jumps in character and personality (though really not so much in style) make for a confusing listen, but it's still a rewarding one, especially for fans of early-70s pop songs.

Michael Dahlquist memorial tale: I listened to Libertine a bit ago, and it's my favorite Silkworm album. The song "A Tunnel" has this completely insane kick drum pattern. What drew my attention to the part's utter complexity and how comically hard it is to play, is the fact that somewhere along the way, Michael is recognizably a tiny bit off on one beat. It reminded me of the fact that he hit the rest of the part so perfectly, which is pretty amazing.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Yen + Janet Forever

One hot summer several years ago (is it six now? or seven?) Arum gave my a burned CD of Silkworm's Libertine. Prior to that, I didn't really know Silkworm. But after a few spins of that record, I was quickly converted to their sprawling, sloppy sound.

That CD eventually became scratched and unplayable, but just 2 days ago I got a replacement, and it's been too long since I listened to this record. What a treasure. Thanks Arum!!

So many great tracks, but Joel Phelps's YEN + JANET FOREVER might be my favorite. At six minutes, it's the longest track on the record, but I think it has the fewest lyrics:

I'm sorry that I left you there
Your pretty hands were picking sand out of your hair
And i'm sorry that they went so far
Didn't end up coming back

I'm sorry about the way that i ran
I'm sorry that i ended up the way that i am
And i'm sorry about the way that i lied
Didn't end up coming back

I'm sorry that it rained all night
Letters that your sisters wore were strung too tight
And i'm sorry that your world went grey
Didn't end up coming back

A loping, lazy beat and meandering guitars open the song, running through the chords, ebbing and flowing in intensity and then falling away to just Phelps's voice and Dahlquists's snare and Phelps intones his litany of regrets over a eerily sparse arrangement which builds up again for an instrumental interlude before the second verse begins.

The second verse has the same sparse arrangement, making Phelps's vocals the center of the song. Again the verse ends, adn the instruments build up, but this time more emphatically, the intensity ratcheting up and Andy Cohen's guitar notes scribble higher and higher and higher and higher and higher and then....Phelps's voice sneaks in among the din: "I'm sorry that it RAINED all night...."

When he sings "Rained" it's a blistering scream that manages to best the intensity that the instruments had created. It's also the crystal center of the song: a scream full of rage, regret and self-recrimination and cathartic release. Goosebumps.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

I follow where my mind goes

Last night a friend mentioned that he was going to drive out to Naperville to see the Psychedelic Furs at the Naperville Ribfest. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Nevertheless, this brief conversation sent me directly to my old Psych Furs records, and god-motherfucking-damn are they good.

Their eponymous 1980 debut is amazing, with songs like "Sister Europe" and "Imitation of Christ" (with one of my favorite lyrics: "Jesus is a woman too") and deep cuts like "Wedding Song" and "We Love You."

In 1981, Talk Talk Talk gave us "Dumb Waiters," the original (and best) version of "Pretty In Pink," "She is Mine" and one of my all time favorite Psych Furs tracks, "All of This and Nothing."

In 1982, Forever Now yielded "President Gas," "Love My Way," and "No Easy Street."

1984's Mirror Moves opened with the fantastic "Ghost In You," scored a hit with "Heaven" and closed with "Highwire Days."

After that I kind of stopped listening, I guess, though in 1991, I did buy World Outside and vividly recall listening to it on the way to work at a job I hated on the day after I'd learned that my grandfather (in perfect health) had been killed in a car accident (not his fault). I sang along:

why wait?
there's a world outside
why wait?
for the reasons why
it ain't always what i want
it ain't always mine
why wait?
there's a world outside
you can't win
coming from the state you're in
you don't see
my reflections and my scenes

At 16, these were fucking potent lyrics. When I arrived at work at the job I hated (a ride operator at Kiddieland) I found my manager first thing and quit, telling him boldly (and in retrospect, somewhat absurdly) that there's a world outside, and I couldn't waste my time running rides and cleaning up puke.

I don't have that record anymore, but it will always occupy a special place in my heart.

So say I, so say us all: God Bless The Psychedelic Furs.

Monday, July 2, 2007

two recurring themes

are female songwriter-y records and recent listening.

Tying both together is a record that I unfortunately would not recommend, Milenasong's Can't Tape Forever. I bought this one first because it's on vinyl the hyped new one Seven Sisters I could only find on CD. I really don't have much to say about it, which probably says enough. It's tastefully understated but a bit short on character.