Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Strange News from the Angels

I'm listening to the 3Ds Dust EP. I always forget how great a band they were--I didn't fully appreciate it when I got the chance to see them. They sort of sound like indie rock, but the songs aren't obviously catchy. At the time, I was just confused. It almost seemed like it might be a mistake? Now I get it--the melodies are strange on purpose. I was stupid when I was young. This EP is great. The acoustic song fits nicely, the recording while a bit lo-fi is very tasteful, and it has aged fantastically well. The other day I listened to the M's and I noticed similarities that I'd never thought about between the two.

This morning's less impressive listening was the Boats fairly recent CD, Tomorrow Time, on Moteer. The instrumental songs have a nice mix of weird glitchy electronic noises and acoustic instruments, but about half of the songs have vocals and these are pretty badly thought out. They're on the generic indietronic side of things, but not very well recorded or conceived. I wasn't sold on this one, unfortunately.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Ah, the Speedfreaks. And Cleveland Bound Death Sentence (or CBDS, because initials are cool, and as easy to poke pun of as colorful Bob Dylan shirts). And Dr Shrinker ("Shinker, Doctor Shrinker, they're a bad band overamplified"). And Krangkorr.

That post brings back fond memories of Bad Brains cassettes through homemade PAs & pretty girls with Kool Aid hair and endless youthful energy-- even though I don't have any memories of Speedfreeks, per se. Never saw them. When I was learning to play bass they were an active band in the basement punk scene and all ages scene. I never saw them, and don't know a single song of theirs, and honestly, even at that time was looking more to the ideas that naturally follow punk than to punk itself, but still…. what an amazing time of open eyes and wide learning. I intend to play music again someday, perhaps next year or so starting up again, and it's that energy I want to harken back to.

Swan, didn't you have a buddhistic term for that? The 'curse of knowledge' or something like that?

I have a friend named Steve in my neighborhood and he's a creative and smart and enjoyable person to be around in everyday life. For a while I started playing in a band with him, and he tried to play guitar even though he really didn't know how to play guitar. It was as exciting as high school practices in a garage on old 14th street. He had great instinct and injected personality in what he did, and had a natural ear and original vision of where guitar should fit in a composition.

RIYL [insert three bands]. It's so easy for me to describe even the bands or songwriters I really like these days in terms of two or three influences. Maybe it's a naïve looking back, but it didn't seem so much like that when I first fell in love with records. I remember hearing that some Dangerhouse band in LA ordered a pizza and the guy who delivered the pizza quit his job and became their drummer because they got him high and he thought they were awesome to hang out with. Had no idea what punk rock was, but had a blast with them, and could play drums. Maybe that's apocryphal, but I don't care, I like the idea of throwing people who like different musics and have different distinct personalities into a situation and seeing what happens… not playing together because their shared vision is that they like both Bedhead and Sonic Youth.

When I mentioned the Effigies Sound Opinions show in a prior post, I put it there in part because of them talking about the environment they came of age in, and how exciting it was, but how they were forced to be original because there was no worn path to follow in term of how to sound, how to put out records, how to book a tour, etc. I believe it's truly hard to get back to that energy because of the curse of the ease of that worn path now, but I also believe it's always possible to get in touch with true creative energy, and that there's always a frontier.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Subhumans and Speedfreaks

Subhumans on Friday night at the Miramar in Milwaukee did not move me. Speedfreaks at the VFW in Bayview on Saturday did. They are both bands that originated quite awhile back (Subhumans in late seventies/early eighties? Speedreaks about fifteen years ago I was told?). I found it interesting that I was totally bored at one show, but completely taken in at the other. The vastly different venues and the slightly different crowds may have accounted for it. It's so strange, though. On Friday I felt I was just way too old and that I was just reveling in forgone nostalgia, and that I should just stop going to these shows and just continue rocking out at home, where I most enjoy a lot of this stuff, or in the fucking car on my too-long commute, but on Saturday I felt revitalized and that I should maybe try to pay attention to some of the local bands. Maybe all is not lost for old folks?

Dukakis '88

I grew up in Boston in a neighborhood with a large Greek community. In addition to knowing the correct pronunciation of Gyros before all my friends, I was also always fascinated by the CDs and Cassettes I'd see in Greek owned stores--albums by local Greek performers who suffered from the bad fashion sense that seemed to me to be endemic to all Greeks, which was compounded by the prevailing fashion woes of the 1980s.

In 1988, when Michael Dukakis, the Greek-American Governor of Massachusetts, won the Democratic nomiation for President, all those badly dressed Bostonian Greek would-be pop stars started writing and recording campaign songs. One such CD, "Dukakis for President" by City Boy (not the 70s Brit rockers), found its way into the novelty collection of my friend Alex.

We would play it over and over, lip-synch to it, and just generally enjoy the badness. Last night I got an email from Alex, who just made a silly video and posted it to YouTube. Now you, too, can enjoy City Boy's "Dukakis for President."

Monday, August 20, 2007

Amy Winehouse--Why the hype?

Last month in Vogue, or Elle, I read an article about punk music and fashion, something like that. The author excitedly wrote that Amy Winehouse is one of the few modern artists who pulls off a punk fashion sense, and that her voice is very tremendous and unique. I'm very loosely paraphrasing here, but the point is that I was persuaded to go online and download a track by her. I don't normally pay attention to musicians/bands who are getting a lot of hype in the mainstream media because they usually disappoint. Winehouse was no exception. I listened to her hit, "You Know I Am No Good," and was a little shocked at how derivative it was. Curious about the rest of the album, I "sampled" the tracks via "Me % Mr. Jones" has a really fifties soul feel too, and it's catchy, but I'd rather listen to a BLACK soul artist from my Mojo Soul Comp. The more I think about all of the white musicians who knock off what was created by blacks and who sometimes if not often earn a lot more money for it, the madder I get. Elvis didn't invent rock and roll, and neither did the fucking Stones. Both contributed to music significantly, of course, but neither 'invented' anything. They simply built upon a sound that already existed.

Winehouse and her success is a total sham. She sounds like another white vocalist knocking off black vocalists. What's there to hype about that? And the way she looks--well, she makes me shudder. I guess I should be embarrassed for trolling, occasionally, but man, eat woman, eat!

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Make a Record

Just in, from a friend in Minneapolis:
The Suicide Commandos will be opening for Fountains Of Wayne at the Minnesota State Fair Grandstand on Sunday August 26th at 8pm

The Suicide Commandos' album Make a Record was the second release on Blank, just after Pere Ubu's The Modern Dance. Vague comparisons to early Cheap Trick and early Ramones don't quite do it justice. I'm not sure what does.

If you ever run into Craig Finn from the Hold Steady, ask him about taking guitar lessons from ex-Suicide Commando Chris Osgood. It's a really funny story.

I'm usually a skeptic about reunion shows, but I wish I could make it to this one!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Will the Real Bob Dylan Please Stand Up

I've heard bits and pieces about the new Todd Haynes picture, I'm Not There, and being a huge Dylan fan, I've been intrigued and excited. On Pitchfork today comes news of more musical contributors to the soundtrack, which looks to be shaping up pretty well.

For those who don't know Haynes's work, he's the director behind Superstar: The Karen Carpenter Story, which used Barbie dolls for all the parts, instead of actors. Another of his excellent films is SAFE, an underrated and really disturbing movie which is as much a tour-de-force for Julianne Moore as it is for Haynes's creepy antiseptic, almost Kubrickean direction. Haynes was also the guy behind the ersatz glam rock movie Velvet Goldmine, and the Oscar nominated Far From Heaven.

For the Dylan biopic, he's recruited several actors to play the part of His Bobness, including Cate Blanchett!! And this is really what's prompted this post today. I saw this clip of Blanchett (whom I absolutely adore, adore, adore) as Dylan, with David Cross as Allen Ginsberg, and I got incredibly excited about this movie. Blanchett is amazing in recreating Dylan's mannerisms. Even her voice is pretty good as Dylan (she is, after all, a woman).

Watch this clip of Dylan circa 1965, and compare it with this clip from Haynes's film. There's also this clip of Dylan and Lennon in a cab in London, drunk off their asses.

Ms. Blanchett has been doing her homework.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

fake industrial detritus

Greenpoint seems to have a reputation as a trendy neighborhood, but there are still plenty of old industrial spaces that haven't been converted into trendy residential lofts. In walking past them, if their doors are open, it's not surprising to see actual industrial detritus. It was far stranger when walking past one this morning (the weather is nice here and opening doors is logical) to see fake industrial detritus. I immediately recognized the work of Richard Serra and did a double-take. It made more sense in the industrial space (which is obviously now used for shipping valuable art) than in a museum or gallery and looked beautiful.

Vaguely related recent reading that was quite good: Harold Rosenberg, The Anxious Object.

Obligatory music comment: now playing, Rolan Vega, documentary.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Live for Each Moment

Listened earlier today to Polyphonic Size Vivre Pour Chaque Instant. They were from Belgium in the early-80s, and this one is their sole full-length album (my copy is on the very obscure Lark label, though the Internet tells me that the bigger New Rose has also been involved along the way). It's strange to me that an album produced by Stranglers bassist JJ Burnel is so raw, as the Stranglers albums tended to be very slick new wave affairs. It's a primitive, vaguely dark, synth-heavy record (though the closing "Je T'ai Toujours Aimee" brings an uplifting if tonally awkward end) with textures that sound rough and aged. Not rough to the industrial extremity of Cabaret Voltaire, just not polished as was the English/European style at the time. In some ways it sounds more like a classic rock record despite the style of the music. They sing almost entirely in French. It's an odd, pretty, and engaging record that I'd definitely recommend. This Website is in English and French.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Effigies interview

The interview with the Effigies on this week's Sound Opinions show was a really good listen. The way they describe the energy of those early 80's days inspires me still.

currently listening to Townes Van Zandt

The Secret History of Songs

Anyone who's heard Bob Dylan play live (or heard live recordings) knows that he can be pretty mercurial in his reinterpretations of his own work (could that be what he meant when he spoke of "that wild mercury sound" in that famous Playboy interview with Ron Rosenbaum?)

A perfect example of this is "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," which he recorded so starkly with just voice, guitar, and a little mouth harp for color on "The Times They Are A-Changin'" in 1964, and then transformed it into a groovy rock number with the Rolling Thunder Review in 1975. Both are remarkable versions, with unique powers all their own.

Download '64 Hattie Carroll
Download '75 Hattie Carroll

I always get the sense that when Dylan is reinterpreting his work, he essentially re-writing it, as if his songs are never quite finished. (George Lucas, who thinks far too much of himself, says in a DVD special feature that "a great filmmaker once said that films are never finished, only abandoned." As far as I can tell, the only filmmaker to have said this is George Lucas. But I digress. The point is, I think it's actually an interesting idea: A work of art is never completed, only abandoned.)

As an artist, I think it's pretty humbling and instructive to think about this. It's easy to get wrapped up in your creative choices to the point where they seem like the only possible choices. You can spend so much time finessing details that you get attached to things that may or may not be worth holding onto. In The Writing Life, Annie Dillard puts it this way:

"The line of words is a hammer. You hammer against the walls of your house. You tap the walls, lightly, everywhere. After giving many years of attention to these things you know what to listen for. Some of the walls are bearing walls. They have to stay, or everything else falls down. Other walls can go with impunity; you can hear the difference. Unfortunately, it is often a bearing wall that has to go. It cannot be helped. There is only one solution, which appalls you, but there it is. Knock it down. Duck. Courage utterly opposes the bold hope that this is such fine stuff the work needs it, or the world. Courage, exhausted, stands on bare reality: this writing weakens the work. You must demolish the work. AND START OVER. You can save some sentences, like bricks. It will be a miracle if you can save some paragraphs, no matter how excellent in themselves, or hard won. You can waste a year worrying about it, or you can get it over with now. (The Writing Life, 73)…"

I've been thinking about all this today because on the way to work I was listening to the All Songs Considered podcast (Arum: consider this a sidebar link endorsement) and they played a track from the 'new' Stephen Stills release, "Just Roll Tape." The story is this: Stephen Stills and Judy Collins were a hot item in 1968. Stephen was hanging around the studio while Judy was recording. When she finished the session, Stills slides the engineer a couple hundred bucks to stick around, and he picks up a guitar, sits down in the studio, and says "Just roll tape." The tapes were left at the studio, forgotten, and only recently did they find their way back to Stills, who's released them, apparently after much cajoling form Graham Nash.

The recordings include early versions of CSN classics, such as "Wooden Ships" and "Suite: Judy Blue Eyes" but it was the recording of "Know You've Got To Run" that caught my attention this morning. It's an early version of the closing track on CSNY's Deja Vu, "Everybody I Love You."

Both versions have much to recommend them (if you're into Dirty Hippy Music), and certainly the early version is as good or better than a lot of Stills work, or CSN work. But between the '68 version and the 1970 version that CSNY recorded, much changed, and it's fascinating to get a glimpse of a song's evolution, it's secret history.

Download Stephen Stills "Know You've Got to Run"

Download CSNY "Everybody I Love You"

Monday, August 6, 2007

Weeds, Chick Singers, Saunas

I don't get cable, so when it comes to the hot cable produced TV shows, I rely on DVD, which I actually quite like. It's a pretty enjoyable way to watch television...marathon style.

This weekend I finshed watching the second season of Weeds which is a pretty great show. One of the things that I really love about the show is their use of music. Whoever is responsible for the song selection is really on top of it; the music is consistently great. Here's a complete list, with listening opportunities.

In theory, I am suspicious of the trend towards the 'synergy' of television and music as a means to promote music in the waning days of radio. In theory, I'm opposed to someone else establishing my emotional and visual associations for a piece of music, but in practice, when it's done well, it can be a remarkably effective way to bolster a scene, as well as to expose the music to a wider listenership. At least twice while watching Weeds, I've heard a song I liked, by an artist I didn't know, and I've gone directly to iTunes and bought their album. In both cases, I've found that I like the artist. And the songs, re-contextualized on their albums, have been strong enough to break free the shackles of their television associations.

For the record, Dan Reeder's "Work Song" totally blew me away with it's directness, it's mixture of irony and resignation. And Regina Spektor's version of Malvina Reynolds "Little Boxes" was my favorite of Season 2. Despite the fact that I love Chick Singers, I'd never managed to give Regina Spektor a listen. Weeds changed that, and I've not been disappointed.

Speaking of chick singers, and Dan Reeder.... Dan Reeder reminds me a little of the kind of irreverent humor sometimes found in the work of Dan Bern, one of my favorite songwriters. Interestingly, both dudes are named "Dan" and both are painters with a kind of childlike style. Dan Bern wrote a great song in homage to chick singers, which he titled, appropriately enough, Chick Singers.

Finally, for no reason other than I like this band-- a great live act--I want to share a little Drakkar Sauna with y'all. When I've seen them live, it's been 2 guys, one on guitar, and the other surrounded by an assortment of instruments like chord organs, shakers, guitars, melodicas. They sing in constant harmony, and create this eerie old-timey sound. The multi-instrumentalist aslo plays the "Tambourine Shoe" which is a tambourine affixed to his show, so his foot tapping keeps the beat. They wrote a song about it!

Download Dan Bern's Chick Singers.

Download Drakkar Sauna's The Debut of the Tambourine Shoe

Sunday, August 5, 2007

Terrible as an Army with Banners

A bit ago, when I wrote about the Dead C's Clyma Est Mort, I was impressed with its obvious influence on so much outside/avant rock of recent years. This morning, I listened to a comparably beautiful record with little to no recognizable impact on anything being made today, Henry Cow's In Praise of Learning. It's a remarkable, unusual record that bears no relationship to anything remotely fashionable these days. It crosses boundaries of rock, classical, and (rarely) jazz traditions in most unexpected ways. There's a driving rock drum kit, lots of close mics, and obvious use of compression. Vocal songs sometimes rely on an emotional palette that obviously relates to rock. There are also classical instruments (bassoon, oboe, clarinet), through composition, and an epic/stately sweep that are usually associated with a classical idiom. Some of the strange textures live outside of any of these obvious referents. The boundary-crossing is strange and memorable, but it hardly explains the real majesty and beauty of this record. It does help explain how offputting it feels by any notion of music in 2007--there isn't a logical micro-genre in which it can reside anywhere in today's litany of subcategorization. 1975 was a long time ago indeed.

I did see the Fred Frith/Chris Cutler/Tim Hodgkinson show at the Stone in Manhattan in December and it was special (it didn't sound much like In Praise of Learning either). The show clearly manifested how each of their playing styles owes a debt to their years of collaboration and interplay.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Tim Fite's Gone Ain't Gone

I recently bought Tim Fite's Gone Ain't Gone recording. Weirdness, Acousticness, Intelligence. I like it.

I suggest checking him out.

Go figure, he has a website.

A pretty cool one, too.

currently listening to Tim Fite's I Hope Yer There

My flag boy is gonna set your flag on fire

Speaking of covers, I had "Iko Iko" stuck in my head all last night - the version from Cyndi Lauper's 2nd album, which yeah, ok, I did buy. I was about 14: sue me, PeeWee Herman is on there, and I think that LP long gone or at least 2500 miles away now. "Dude," you're thinking, "are you saying your introduction to the music of greater New Orleans was Cyndi Lauper?" No, absolutely not. I am pretty sure I had seen the James Bond movie Live And Let Die by then.
More recently, as in this year, I've been playing this mix of hiphop/funk brass bands. It's hot. PeeWee does not appear.