12.18.2008

BEEFHEART ON LETTERMAN

A pair of interviews circa 1982.



12.15.2008

BARNEY BUBBLES: REASONS TO BE CHEERFUL







Colin Fulcher- AKA Barney Bubbles- created some of the most iconic imagery of the late-1970s London underground. After working closely with Hawkwind in the first half of the decade (he designed album covers, created song titles, and conceptualized their stage shows), he eventually concentrated his efforts on the emerging Stiff Records.

Characterized by its playful nature, Fultcher's work expanded the ambit of music-related graphic design. His work for Elvis Costello alone displays many of his favorite techniques: the cover of This Year's Model features a deliberately poor cropping job, and the first 1000 copies of My Aim is True came with postcards beseeching consumers to "Help Us Hype Elvis!"

Fulcher committed suicide in 1983, but his work lives on in the newly published "Reasons to be Cheerful: The Life and Work of Barney Bubbles."

Via Selectism.

12.11.2008

OLD GREY WHISTLE TEST

Airing from 1971 through 1987, The Old Grey Whistle Test provided a necessary contrast to the cheese ball lip-synching of Top of the Pops. Original host "Whispering" Bob Harris- still jockeying for BBC Radio today- introduced acts as disparate as the Buzzcocks, Billy Joel and Kris Kristofferson with equal enthusiasm, his goofy awe-shucks mannerisms a bit at odds with the progressive nature of the show. The BBC issued the show on DVD a while back, but managed to leave off some great performances.

The Rezillos: Destination Venus/Getting Me Down



Phil Lynott (w/ Huey Lewis on harmonica!): Ode to a Black Man



This last one is available on DVD, but is so transfixing it had to be included.

Talking Heads: Psycho Killer




EDDY CURRENT SUPPRESSION RING

Now that winter has officially dug in its claws, I'm on the prowl for any distraction from the sub-freezing temperatures and howling winds. Skimboarding and volleyball aren't typically the stuff of garage-punk dreams, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't jealous of the boys in Eddy Current Suppression Ring. Knocking around the outback since 2003, ECSR made a name for themselves this year when the legendary Goner Records issued the band's second LP, Primary Colours. The album was subsequently nominated for an ARIA Award- Australia's version of the Grammys.

ECSR's brand of clipped phrasing and tight, muscular riffs are the perfect antidote to winter in Chicago, and the video for "Witch Way To Go" has been getting heavy play on the old laptop. It's got everything we haven't- sun, sand, and groovy little kids- and every time I watch it I'm reminded that music videos can actually be pretty great.

12.10.2008

AND IT STONED ME

In my quest to track down old footage of Them, I stumbled across a seemingly bottomless well of amateur covers of "And It Stoned Me," the lead off track on 1970's "Moondance."

Highlights:










12.09.2008

SLACK MOTHERFUCKER

In an attempt to warm up between classes today, I ducked into the bookstore to kill some time. The recently-published Pitchfork 500 was boldly displayed on the first table; curious if there would be anything beyond P-fork's usual over-baked (but somehow always luke-warm) musings, I grabbed a copy.

The page I opened to reminded me of a song I haven't listened to in probably 10 years: Superchunk's "Slack Motherfucker." I think maybe the reviewer prattled off some nonsense about how much of an anti-anthem this song was/is, but I only skimmed the thing. Anyway:




Man, indierock sure has taken a nose-dive since 1989; can you imagine The Shins getting a crowed that riled up? Or doing windmills?



Snooze city.



12.06.2008

LINKS, ETC.

Starlee Kine talks with Phil Collins about break ups on This American Life. A surprisingly charming and candid Collins discusses the dissolution of his first marriage and its influence on his musical transformation from fusion rock drummer to ultimate cheese-ball. link (originally aired 8/24/2007, so ancient news in internet)

While researching an upcoming feature on the jazz beard, I came across this guide to jazz etiquette. An excerpt--
     "When it comes to hats the rule is that there are no rules. However, nothing works with a cravat save for a beret - and a flat cap can really only be worn as an accompaniment to a waistcoat, and then only if the piano is out of tune. If the rim of your hat exceeds twice the width of your head, people will assume you're either a singer, a pimp or a harmonica player." link

MTV's music video archives are available online. Mostly not as cool as you remembered. link

I spent yesterday evening giving the newly mac compatible Netflix Instant a trial run with K Records: The Shield Around the K. While parts of it drag, and had me rolling my eyes through long sequences of Mecca Normal and Tiger Trap, there are some great moments like an incredible clip of Fugazi's performance (regrettably non-youtube-able) during the now legendary International Pop Underground back in '91.

Beat Happening - Bewitched

12.05.2008

DREAM BABY DREAM







I was recently reminded of Blast First (Petite)'s ongoing tribute to early electronic music pioneers Suicide. Earlier this year (to commemorate Alan Vega's 70th birthday) the UK label began releasing a limited 10" every month or so chronicling Suicide's rare and unreleased output. Besides showcasing some newly unearthed rare grooves, the records also feature two covers, one by an established musical force, and one by a relative up-and-comer. Among those slated to appear on these records: Primal Scream, Grinderman, Sunn 0))), Lydia Lunch and Bruce Springsteen.



12.04.2008

I DON'T FEEL AT HOME IN THIS WORLD ANYMORE





















One more from Mississippi.

We're in the process of digitizing Mississippi's hard-to-find early releases. Stay tuned.



Download it here.

LIPA KODI YA CITY COUNCIL






















For your listening pleasure:



Download it here.

12.03.2008

INTERVIEW WITH STEPHEN KIJAK, DIRECTOR OF "30TH CENTURY MAN"


As fellow Big States contributor J. Everett Dixon pointed out, the "aggressively singular" Scott Walker is set to have a new documentary on him released stateside in January, Stephen Kijak's 30th Century Man. As a somewhat obssessive devotee of Walker's works, I am quite excited to see the man create, as well as what promise to be some very interesting interviews with Brian Eno, David Bowie, Radiohead, and the man himself. The film has dates in New York at the IFC Center on December 17th and 18th, and at Landmark Cinemas in SF/Berkeley on January 23rd, 2009. I reached Mr. Kijak by email on Dec. 3, 2008.

CORRECTION: Mr. Kijak just let me know that the dates posted are the beginnings of week-long runs. Even more opportunity to catch the film!

BIG STATES: What exactly was it that drew you to Scott Walker's music when you first heard it?

STEPHEN KIJAK: I heard everything I loved in it (all the dark and gloomy crooners, the dark and dramatic, the strange and surreal) and had no idea where it was coming from. Was it the past, the present? It seemed to exist in its own world, beamed in from some other universe. The first song I heard was "The Old Man's Back Again" and I was hooked.

I read somewhere that you intend for this to be a "film of discovery." Do you find it difficult to introduce his rather complex oeuvre to new listeners?

Not if it's done in the right order. The journey from the pop dramatics of 1967's "Montague Terrace" to the dense, abstract soundscapes of 2006's The Drift is a thrilling ride and there's generally something for everyone along the way (especially the middle period new-waveisms of Nite Flights and Climate of Hunter)

Biographical documentaries on musicians often seem to have trouble both weaving a compelling narrative and showcasing the work of the artist. How did you approach this problem in your film?

By cutting out all the extraneous 'personal' biographical bullshit and telling the story of the work, which has its own dramatic trajectory, which then illuminates the journey of the man, through his work.

Was he reluctant to be filmed?

Let's just say it took me 2 and a half years to get the first hint of a "yes" out of him.

Did you eventually establish a relationship with him beyond business acquaintance?

With his wonderful managers, yes. With him, no.

What part of Scott Walker, in your opinion, drives him to be so reclusive, shunning live shows and most media exposure?

He's just private. It seems to me he is still suffering in some way from the commercial failures of the 60's but has found a way back in creatively, so that the WORK feeds him and he doesn't need the adulation of an audience or heaps of press. The personal success of having done a thing to his own standards seems validation enough, which is extraordinary when you consider the amount of ego rumbling around in the music business!

Does Walker seem to be keenly aware of the influence his music has had?

He actually doesn't. He still thinks nobody knows who he is anymore.

Did he reveal to you any of the newer artists he admires besides the obvious (Pulp/Hawley)?

He loves Radiohead and a band called Acoustic Ladyland.

Did you find that Walker buys into his own "reclusive genius" mythology in any way?

No. It may serve him in that it lets him stay out of the public eye but I have never met a more genuine, egoless man in my life.

Where does he sit on the spectrum of humble to pretentious?

I think people throwing the claim of "pretension" at him have to examine their own sense of themselves and their insecurities with their own intelligence.

For someone born and raised on the West Coast (or anywhere in the US), it's pretty difficult to get an idea of just how influential and popular Scott Walker is in the UK. During your interviews with Bowie, Cocker, Eno, et al, was there ever a moment of realization as to just how important Walker is to UK rock culture?

He is enormously important. You have to understand, in the UK, from 1965-67, nearly every day in the pop papers, it was Beatles, Stones, Walkers. They were THAT huge, and he remained so until 1969 as a solo star. He was a giant. His music reverberated deep into the psyche of the British. Those songs are eternal. And here in his home couuntry, he's a footnote. Well, not for long!!

THE HOSPITALS - HAIRDRYER PEACE

Here's all I know: The Hospitals are a three-piece from SF with members of Portland band Eat Skull. Released April 4, Hairdryer Peace (which sounds like your typical two-noun nonsense title until you consider the noisy implications) is probably my album of 2008. What the Hospitals seem to understand is that at this point, demolishing pop forms has been done. Here is a noise record with songs, not a pop record with noise leanings, and not a straight up noise excursion. "Getting Out of Bed" is the obvious jam of the record, with some of the best use of the currently-in-vogue nasally, flippant vocals I've heard thus far.

The production, though stuck in the "bedroom noise-psych" aesthetic, is constantly surprising--large swaths of compressed, moaning distortion tend to empty the brain cavity. The record breathes. Nowhere to be found are the two dynamic settings of a band like No Age (which basically boils down to: is the drummer on the ride cymbal, or isn't he?) or the incessant churn of novice noisemakers. Whoever is drumming is pretty incredible. Rhythm does not dominate this record, but it enhances the overall hugeness--the closest sonic equivalent I can think of is Phil Elvrum's drumming on the Glow Pt. II, which has long been one of my touchstones for a gigantic, over-compressed drum sound.

The motherfuckers only pressed 500 of these, sold out, so you're sort of out of luck for now. However, if you live in SF, they're playing at the LiPo Lounge in Chinatown, this Friday, Dec. 5 (with "the Bridez," fuck a "z" in a bandname), and they'd better have LPs there or I'll be upset. The show is free, at least.

SONGZ:


11.23.2008

11.22.2008

JODY REYNOLDS 1932-2008

Just in via the Goner Board: pioneering rockabilly weirdo Jody Reynolds has passed away.

Known primarily for his 1958 hit "Endless Sleep," a creepy, slithering slab of romance doom and gloom, and "Fire of Love," a rumbling bit static menace, Reynolds was widely influential. "Endless Sleep" was covered by the MC5, "Fire of Love" by Gun Club, and other songs by artists as disparate as Nick Lowe, Marc Bolan and John Fogerty. A true visionary- RIP indeed.

The LA Weekly has more on their blog.

"Endless Sleep" by Jody Reynolds:



The haunting duet "Stranger in the Mirror" with Bobbie Gentry:



The Gun Club performing "Fire of Love" live in Madrid:



Marc Bolan's glam version of "Endless Sleep":

11.21.2008

SCOTT WALKER: 30 CENTURY MAN

Stumbled across something interesting just now: the UK trailer for a documentary on one of the most aggressively singular personalities in rock'n'roll history, Scott Walker.



Apparently the film premiered in London way back in 2006 and has been playing festivals and limited engagements around the world ever since. A quick perusal of the film's MySpace page suggests that the film will be opening stateside in limited release: NYC on December 17th and San Francisco and Berkeley on January 23rd. Additionally, in a blog posting on the site the director is asking for help to further promote the film in the hopes that it will be shown on more screens in more cities, including Portland, Seattle, Chicago, Austin, and Philadelphia.

If you're a Scott Walker fan with some free time and want to bring the movie to your city, you can contact the direct via email: plasticpalace_llc@yahoo.com

11.17.2008

ON BULL RIDING

The other night at the little hole in the wall bar across the street from my apartment, one of the TVs was turned to professional bull riding, opposite Will Smith chatting with Oprah. After I ordered my drink I found myself standing in the middle of the place gawking up at the television. Bulls are so ferocious and otherworldly looking and really handsome (if terrifying) animals. But what really captured me was the jarring contrast between the crazy drama of the bulls as they violently thrashed and the jaunty cartoonishness of the riders. Their costumes are a wacky synthesis of modern branded sport paraphernalia and the classic western costume. They wear what look like bullet proof vests over western shirts, and enormous tasseled chaps. Somewhere between Lefty Frizzell and Starship Troopers.

+
=

The whole event is so heavily aestheticized, I can imagine gay subculture really taking the look in new and exciting places (the SS leather daddy thing is pretty tired).


Weirdest of all are the rodeo clowns, scurrying around dressed like some hold overs from the days of minstrelsy and medicine shows. Albeit, there's a strange nobility in putting oneself in serious danger while looking like a total douche.

I think you have to grow up in Real America for any of it to make sense. But as bar spectacle it was all pretty wonderful.

Lefty Frizzell - Look What Thoughts Will Do
Lefty Frizzell - I Love You a Thousand Ways
Lefty Frizzell - If You've Got the Money (I've Got the Time)

11.09.2008

TITUS ANDRONICUS 10/23/08 @ EMPTY BOTTLE, CHICAGO

A couple of weeks ago I went with fellow Big States blogoscribe Joe Dixon to see Titus Andronicus at the Empty Bottle. Bird Talk opened playing spunky punk pop that could have fit comfortably among Lookout's roster c. '95. After that was another holdover, the band Shopping, fronted by a singer sounding very much like PeeChees' frontman Chris Applegren. Maybe this is representative of the rising stock of 90s bay area punk? The openers perfectly illustrated the ambition-less loyalty to style that Titus Andronicus fully transcend. Right away they owned all the sloppy stage craft and antics of any good punk band, but didn't stop at spirit and posture. They clearly know how to write a song which is always a big advantage. But they also aren't afraid of drawing from several musical histories, even those that might seem best avoided. They displayed a kind of "I love Rock n' Roll" shamelessness, but buoyed by smart lyrics and unflaggingly catchy songs. Midway through their set they covered Weezer's Sweater Song, which might give the best idea of how their sound balances the big and dumb with the small and felt. Best of all, there was none of the guilty cuteness that might suggest they didn't mean it for real.

There's an easy comparison to Springsteen (they're from New Jersey), which isn't to say they sound like him, because they don't really. But their music doesn't avoid Springsteen level hugeness and the unfashionable belief that rock can be righteous, or is at least more fun when it feels that way. By the end of the night I felt something like faith, both in the band and in the belief that fun and smart really don't have to be mutually exclusive.





On Myspace

YOU GOT TO DIE



For several months now I've been enthralled by the Blind Willie McTell song "You Got to Die" from the Atlanta Twelve String album. It's difficult for me to write much about it without succumbing to breathless praise. That being said, I'm pretty sure it's perfect.




Among the song's many charms is a great example of the 'talking guitar' blues convention in which the instrument finishes the singer's phrase. Take for instance the last chorus -- "You got to die/ You got to..." the final chord rings out, followed by the sound of knocking wood (fingers tapping on the body?) The twelve string guitar has an unnatural beauty even in the most prosaic player's hands, but this here is some next level business. The irregular rhythm-- leaning heavily on the chorus before speeding up on the verses-- and a vocal performance that goes from whisper to preacher's trill, give an idea of McTell's singularities and general greatness.

The song is related, thematically and structurally, to "You're Gonna Need Somebody When You Die" by Charley Patton



and more explicitly to "You're Gonna Need Somebody On Your Bond" by McTell's friend Blind Willie Johnson.


(**the divshare flash player has been acting up. if the embedded player isn't showing up, you can scroll down to the mp3 links at the end of the post**)

On Blind Willie McTell's 1940 session with John Lomax, nine years prior to the Atlanta Twelve String recording, Mctell briefly talks about Johnson.

Lomax: "what do you consider his best music?"
Mctell: "Well, sacred music. He have a heavy voice. Most sound like a preacher."

While Johnson & Mctell's recordings share the irrepressible prettiness of the melody (supported by Johnson's female accompaniment), Johnson's crazy false-bass growl makes for a very different impression. Initially Johnson seems to have replaced Mctell's lyricism for a fire and brimstone warning of damnation. But a minute in, Johnson begins singing in the first person.

I heard the voice of Jesus saying
He told me he had risen
Now in the waning midnight hour
I don't hold my breath

Johnson addresses the basic fear of dying alone while McTell sings of the imminence of death. And of course, that Christ provides an out --

"Death is not extinguishing the light from the Christian; it is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come."

Blind Willie Johnson's song "John the Revelator" was included on Harry Smith's seminal American Folk Music and "You're Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond" on Sam Charters' The Country Blues, giving Johnson a continued visibility and influence. The song was heavily covered and adapted in the sixties by Donovan, Taj Mahal, Buffy Sainte Marie and Captain Beefheart, among others. There's a very unfortunate youtube clip of Donovan performing the song. I considered including it, but thought wiser. It's out there if you're curious.

Captain Beefheart - You're Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond


Blind Willie McTell - You Got to Die
Blind Willie McTell - Just As Well Get Ready, You Got to Die an earlier version from the aforementioned 1940 session with Lomax.
Charley Patton - You're Gonna Need Somebody When You Die
Blind Willie Johnson - You're Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond
Captain Beefheart - You're Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond
Mississippi John Hurt - You Got to Die
Elder Roma Wilson - Better Get Ready A version turning up the celebratory attitude. "Ain't it grand to be a Christian!"


10.12.2008

ALTON ELLIS 1940-2008
























We were sad to hear that one of rocksteady's founding fathers passed away Friday October 10. Possessed with one of Jamaica's sweetest voices, Ellis rose to prominence in the early 1960's after recording "Muriel" with Coxone Dodd at Studio One. He went on to work with everyone who mattered in the ska and rocksteady scenes, from Duke Reid to Phillis Dillon to the Heptones. He was inducted to the International Reggae and World Music Awards Hall of Fame in 2006. He died in London, England; the cause was cancer of the lymph nodes.

Here is the track that gave a genre its name, "Get Ready- Rock Steady":

10.09.2008

DIRT DRESS


AT MR. T'S BOWL

Los Angeles is a tough city, and Highland Park is even tougher. This was one of those nights when the venue itself (the venerable dive bar Mr. T’s Bowl) felt like a dreary signifier of LA’s gradual return to charred sand and chaparral. Mistreated by the over-zealous bouncer (“What you got in that bag?” “…A guitar”) and vibed out by a blonde bartender who looked straight out of Day of the Locust and sold water for $2.50 a bottle, the bands played to each other. “This is our last Sunday for shows,” the graying booker of the club remarked.

A good band plays to the room. Dirt Dress is quite capable of hypnotizing a willing crowd, but they are also able to provide the soundtrack to a night that feels like the end of world. Woozy, stumbling guitars give way to squalls of feedback; the rhythm section feels satisfyingly (and purposefully) sloppy. Live, “Go To Sleep” has an otherworldly, almost terrifying quality to it. Noah, singer, chants the line with a sort of detached fervor. Over and over he repeats the words, as if he were trying to coax a lover to sleep, though the whole town’s ablaze.

If you happen to live down south, check them out at Echo Curio, November 8, or at the nebulous “GUERRILLA FEST,” proudly displayed on their myspace and supposedly happening at “different locations throughout LA” this Saturday, Oct. 11. Should be good, if you can find it.

Dirt Dress has several releases: a tape you can get at their shows or probably from their label, papermade (http://www.papermadeorg.org/readlisten), and a sort of digital mini-LP available at cokemachineglow (http://www.cokemachineglow.com/record_review/3564/dirtdress-themesongs-2008). Both are excellent. They also have a bunch of stuff on their myspace: http://www.myspace.com/dirtdress

9.21.2008

GONERFEST V

We will be heading down Memphis way next weekend to bear witness to the mayhem and glory of Goner Records' fifth annual Gonerfest, four days of garage-rocking, fried chicken-eating, beer-swilling madness. We'll do our best to post daily re-caps; what we saw, where we ate, and who we listened to. Until then, a video testament to the charms of the Bluff City's only rock and roll festival, courtesy of Live From Memphis.

9.08.2008

VOICES THIS SWEET MUST GARGLE WITH SALT OF THE EARTH WATER --!--



The Fleet Foxes are a band inspiring endless reference- The Beach Boys, Crosby Stills and Nash, Band of Horses, or "16th Century monks singing at high mass" (?). They aren't without singularity-- sincerity and misery are uniquely collapsed. They are colder, more thankless, and less fanciful than the warm pastoral sounds of the freak folk they forage from, and more glib than their Sub Pop label mates. The result is spiritless spirtuals, more contained than trippy, sharing psych folk's anachronisms and indeterminacy, but ever dismal, evoking (when managing) a fiction in which lives are spent in a perpetual winter, without sex or joy, shape note singing Band of Horses in drafty barns, or carving wooden shoes, contemplating the Mountain, the Tree, or the ever poignant River.

I can't argue with their taste in Flemish painters though. Brueghel is In.

8.03.2008

TIMES NEW VIKING



There is a popular idea, with a shade of democratic idealism, that recording technology has progressed to the point that every would be musician has the means to make a nice professional sounding recording. This is mostly off base if the proof is the effects laden, fragmented and over tracked recordings that I hear so frequently*. The feat is that these recordings manage to sound both arid and congested. So it's with some excitement that I welcome bands like Times New Viking who do away with polish and the veneer of the current indie rock M.O. I've read a number of writers who regard this as gimmickry, likely the same dupes that heralded The Greatest as Cat Power's arrival (I'll take all her drunken half starts and uneven records over that MOR stillborn) or regard Nigel Godrich as anything but the Michael Bay of record producers. Polemics aside, the lo-fi sound is an aesthetic choice, just as recording "clean", and it happens to be in sympathy with every other component of the group's sound. Their affection for noise and hiss means a limited audience, and admittedly, I give points to any band still waving the flag of opposition.

While, initially, they seem to merely hearken to the salad days of lo-fi (they do sometimes share Guided by Voices' annoying affected accent), there is an urgency that's the band's own. Mostly, it's nice to hear the pendulum swing back towards less fussy bands unencumbered by laptops and mountains of pedals, performing songs crafted for live performance. They arrive along with a shift away from (I hope?) nondescript formalism and hyper-stylization. Best of all, it seems that emotions might regain some currency. Neo-hippie folk or the new no-wave, despite the impressive attention to costume, were never very good substitutes for feeling.

Times New Viking - Drop Out
Times New Viking - Love Your Daughters

Myspace
Daytrotter
Pitchfork Festival

*The Shins' last record was the first album I remember thinking truly representative of the perils of digital home recording. Overwrought, careful, incongruous. But then, no one seemed to mind.

7.31.2008

NO AGE + CO. AT LOBOT GALLERY, OAKLAND JUL 29

Tuesday, July 29 was Club Sandwich's two year anniversary--they're a local all-ages/"diy" show promotions group. Anyway, they pulled off somewhat of a booking coup with this sold out show at West Oakland's Lobot Gallery: No Age, Mika Miko, Abe Vigoda, and Oakland's KIT all played after a stint at SF's Great American Music Hall the evening before.



I missed KIT, but Abe Vigoda ended up being the highlight of this show--their set was tight and their verbed-out ADD punk has a hypnotic quality to it. My complaint with all these LA bands is a dearth of respect for the human voice (vocals are often buried deep in the mix, and are usually completely inaudible at shows like these), but Abe Vigoda's guitar work tends to make up for it. It's a novel punk band that plays with tremolo and reverb knobs cranked to 10, and it makes for a sound that is cavernous and beautiful. Beautiful, even in a stark-white gallery with no sound system, crushed against the wall by a surging mass of sixteen year olds. Very inspiring.

Mika Miko is a different story. These girls have a sound that is pure throwback: the Misfits, Bad Brains, thrash, whatever. Relentless powerchords, simple drum beats, and unintelligible (but cute) screeching into a telephone rigged up as a microphone are the hallmarks of this group. The first time I saw them (at SF's Noise Pop festival) their energy was sufficient to make it a worthwhile spectacle, but I was rubbed the wrong way this time. Their songs have precious little by way of substance. I've never heard any of their recorded material and I don't particularly feel the need to.

I enjoyed No Age's set. I think a lot of folks end up at No Age shows expecting some level of MTV polish on the songs, and what they get is a sloppy two piece rock band. That's what No Age is. A fun, sloppy, youthful LA punk band who like to throw in some noisy stuff every once in a while, and who place more value on the energy of the performance than on, say, the vocals. Their artier leanings (as evidenced by the video for their empty-sounding single, Eraser) tend to go right out the windows at shows like these, thankfully. They finished up with a cover of the Gun Club's "Sex Beat" which actually made my night. It all made for a fine showcase of L.A.'s biggest indie exports of the moment. Hopefully it was an inspiring one for the music makers and venue owners of the Bay Area, an area sorely lacking in the sort of upbeat energy these three bands bring in spades.

7.27.2008

GOTTA MAKE IT


The Superlatives - I Don't Know How
The song opens with a single uncertain cymbal before the tempo sets in. The moment the snare locks and the vibes chime in something deep within me is like "YES". The content is mostly perfunctory, as their tight harmonies sound like the best way they could've said "i really, really need you" even as they emphatically claim they "don't know how." The drums are played with such snap and groove and the whole affair sounds so crisp and taut that goddamn if she has the nerve to walk away. At the 2 minute mark- Wait for it... "HEY GIRRL!"

Little Richard - I Don't Know What you Got pt. 1 & 2
Little Richard's foray into Southern soul after his r&b/rock n roll hits on Specialty and subsequent gospel recordings on Mercury and Atlantic. The song was released on Vee-Jay shortly before the label went under. Written by Don Covay, a young Jimi Hendrix plays on the recording. This period of Richard's career is deemed a footnote to the "Tutti Frutti" days, but this is perfectly executed Southern soul.

Tammy Montgomery - I Cried & If You Don't Think
Before she performed her monster hits with Marvin Gaye as Tammi Terrell, she recorded for James Brown's Try Me label. Both of these songs were authored by Brown (they were briefly romantically involved) and showcase a diversity and grit not apparent on Montgomery's Motown sides . On "I Cried" she's wounded and pleading. On the flip she moves between tenderness and exasperation and, in the process, crafts the perfect answer to the Godfather's signature scream - her sharp, little *ow!* - endearing and furious. At Motown she'd perfect youthful sweetness, but would never again growl and yelp quite like this.

Renaldo Domino - I'm Not Too Cool to Cry
At age 12 I got my head slammed against a wall by the school bully. I remember, between breathless sobs, looking down at my paper boy hat flung to the ground and my plaid Mossimo vest, baffled by the poverty of appearances. Then I looked up and saw that my ex (who called it off abruptly after a month of furtive hand holding) was laughing at me. Anyway, this song is great.

Sam & Kitty - Love is the Greatest
In a lot of ways this song is a pretty conventional blues based number, the b-side to a sought after northern soul cut. But there's something deeply captivating here. It's really important that you listen to this song really loud. At a certain volume the seemingly routine guitar becomes crucial and the voices get appropriately large. The song steadily goes and somewhere along the way the whole thing becomes momentous. Love is the greatest.

Allen Gauff - I Don't Want to be Alone
This is a gospel number but it works just as well as an apocalyptic love song. "Right now the world is coming to an end/ And I just a-wanna, wanna be close to you."

7.23.2008

EVERYONE IS IN A BAND




As former Portland residents (one of us is a native) we're always confronted with a mix of excitement and apprehension when we see national coverage of our City of Roses, be it music-related or otherwise, and it was with this heady blend of dread and elation that we approached MTV News' recent Portland "Scene Report." Apparently, MTV's producers are more in the know than the channel's round-the-clock "reality" programming would suggest, and they happen to get a lot of things right (the interviews with Colin Meloy and Stephen Malkmus notwithstanding).

While there is plenty of utopian hyperbole (references to "the rain," Portland as "organic," "the greatest city ever," and a "commune" full of "micro-scenes" abound), MTV ventures further outside the mainstream than one might expect. There are interviews with and footage from an Eat Skull/Meth Teeth house show (that we happened to be at), as well as interviews with numerous others, from indie royalty (YACHT, The Thermals, M. Ward) to the legitimately underground (Starfucker, Southern Belle, Fist Fite).

MTV did manage to ignore whole swathes of Portland music (for starters, Dead Moon/Pierced Arrows and the Lifesavas are conspicuously absent), and certainly plays up the myth of the NW as an idyll nest of creativity, but ultimately they present a pretty realistic portrait of the city's indie-rock community. Listening to Colin Meloy wax poetic about paying his dues for three whole years at a pizza shop was sort of unbearable though.



7.22.2008

TRY ME



I'm pretty impressed by this cover, probably out of a latent affinity for Doug Martsch's voice after a youth of Built to Spill devotion. He manages to avoid the stock blunders of the reggae cover-- the treachery of the contrived patois or the hashed skank rhythm. Instead he reworks the song into straight grunge, while maintaining something of the Wailers' original warm and plaintive vocals. And of the many things Bob Marley would come to represent (ambassador of Jamaican music, spiritual leader, fashion icon, killer dorm room poster) one of the few certainties is that the man could most definitely sing. It's a tall order and, while the cover isn't any revelation, it's encouraging to hear a potentially awkward marriage working this well.

Bob Marley & the Wailers - Try Me

7.21.2008

REVEREND CHARLIE JACKSON

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This blog's inaugural post detailed our reverence for Portland's Mississippi Records, and their collection of sanctified blues called "Life Is A Problem." In keeping with the spirit of that excellent anthology, we'd like to turn your attention to the music of Reverend Charlie Jackson.

Born in 1932 in McComb, Mississippi, Rev. Jackson took up the guitar at age ten, only to be chastised by his mother for playing suggestive blues tunes. He gave up the blues temporarily, but after becoming a preacher and settling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in the 1960s, he was possessed to start playing again. Accompanying himself on guitar (a wildly raw Fender Mustang), Rev. Jackson bellowed out electrified sermons from the pulpit, detailing his desires for Jesus to hook him like a fish. Recording for the Booker and Jackson labels, Rev. Jackson sounds like the unnatural spawn of Leadbelly and Howlin' Wolf, his compositions ranging from the hypnotically inspirational ("My Eternal Home") to blissfully unhinged (the afore-mentioned "Wrapped Up and Tangled Up In Jesus").

The CaseQuarter label compiled and issued every one of Jackson's singles in 2003, the first time ever any of this music became available on CD. Crypt Records issued the LP in 2004, and Rev. Jackson died February 13th, 2006.

Digging around the internet unearthed this gem, Rev. Jackson's only known TV appearance. The host is bit condescending, but Rev. Jackson responds with sincere affability, regaling the Irish audience with tales of cowboying in Texas and trimming hair to make ends meet. A wonderful performance by a genuine and captivating talent.

PART 1
and
PART 2



NAS + DJ GREEN LATERN

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The ever-audacious Nas has released the album that his record company shelved. Done in classic mix-tape fashion (i.e. full of uncleared samples) with DJ Green Lantern, "The Nigger Tape" is crass, uneven, and exhilarating. For the first time in years, Nas sounds hungry; he ranges around the beats like some half-crazed stalker trying to get a bead on his prey. He succeeds for the most part, thanks in no small part to Green Lantern's glitchy, ecstatic production, but there are certainly some missteps. The bizarre ode to Mike Tyson calls into question whether or not Nas has his finger on the pulse of relevancy, and the nearly 9-minute "Nas Timeline" feels like the desperate boasting of a rapper who knows he made his best album 14 years ago.

Still, there is something charming about the utter brashness of this project, and though it's nowhere near the quality of "Illmatic" (or even "Stillmatic" for that matter), it's nice to know that Nasir Jones is still angry. What "The Nigger Tape" lacks in musical and lyrical prowess it makes up for in Nas' continued exploration of thematic elements mostly left alone by today's flossed-and-glossed radio rappers.

Download "The Nigger Tape" here.

7.18.2008

THE KILLER WHALES AT THE EMPTY BOTTLE, CHICAGO JUL 17



Since moving to Chicago I've heard steady buzz of the Killer Whales and last night at the Empty Bottle I finally got around to seeing them. The group is fronted by two singers on bass and guitar with dual drummers, one on trap kit, the other playing bongos and floor toms. They played together effortlessly, sounding both ferociously tight and artlessly playful. The staccato guitar and interlocking rhythms had echoes of post-punk, but stripped of cold English dread in favor of warm irreverence. Without all the ennui running interference one could better focus on getting down. Between songs, and as the small audience slowly loosened, we were told to imagine a hypothetical vampire kept at bay only by channeling all our most positive vibes into furious dancing.

Their CD doesn't quite do them justice, sounding small and careful where their live show felt sizable and unrestrained. On record their impish falsetto can be cloying, but last night it simply Was, matching the percolating groove and needling guitar.

The Killer Whales - Only for Money

Killer Whales on myspace.

7.16.2008

AT THE FEAST



Released in 1977, the Congos' Heart of the Congos is generally considered one of the best and under heard albums of the roots era, and more arguably the finest and most sympathetic Lee Perry produced effort. Despite its dub wise sound and biblical themes the album is, in many ways, a throwback to rocksteady's Impressions-styled trios. Roy Johnson's tenor, Watty Burnett's baritone and Cedric Myton's lilting falsetto make up a classic Jamaican harmony trio. However, the singers are given a musicality and democracy within Perry's quietly audacious production, sharing the swirling dynamics of Perry's finest dubs minus some of his more abrupt tendencies. Perry's radicalism never overwhelms the musical whole. For instance, in "Children Crying" listen to the groaning sounds behind the lyrics, Jah Jah/the children crying in the wilderness, sounding out like some soulful beast of burden. Allegedly due to Perry's conflicts with Island Records the album failed to receive international release, thus robbing us of many a regrettable Joe Strummer cover.

Download here

7.11.2008

THE HUMBLE, THE ROUGH



Apollonia 6 - Sex Shooter (demo)
Prince - I Spend My Time Loving You (1976 demo)
Van Morrison - Lorna (demo)
Eddie Ray - You Got Me (demo)
Rolling Stones - Hamburger To Go
The Majestic Arrows - I'll Never Cry for Another Boy (rehearsal)
Robbie Robertson - You Don't Come Through (demo)
Bob Dylan - I'm Guilty of Loving You
The Band - Will the Circle Be Unbroken (outtake)
Modern Lovers - A Plea for Tenderness

THE HIP-HOP FILES

A look at the early photographic work of Martha Cooper. Cooper is responsible for documenting much of the emerging b-boy culture of late-1970's New York, specifically graffiti and breakdancing. This is an interesting little video.



TAKE ME AWAY FAST

Another preview, this time for DJ Soulpusher's documentary chronicling his travels through West Africa. Soulpusher's search for the rarest Afrobeat records takes him from Sierra Leone to Benin, where Voodoo is recognized as the state religion and the hypnotic Sato ceremony forms the rhythmic basis for much of the popular music made there during the mid-to-late 1960's and early 1970's.


7.05.2008

FOOL'S GOLD

Fool's Gold is from Los Angeles and make infectious indie-afro-pop with sweet little melodies in Hebrew. I don't think there's much to know about this band at this point except they've made a rather wonderful sounding song in "Surprise Hotel," and they've just released a record which I have not heard. It also makes sense that their singer would name drop this blog in an interview, and I am grateful to him for doing so.

6.30.2008

TONY SCHWARTZ



Yesterday NPR aired a good feature on Tony Schwartz. While every obituary spotlights the daisy ad he created for the 1964 LBJ campaign, the music he compiled and self recorded ought to be the real legacy.

Listen

MY NAME IS ALBERT AYLER

Last but not least in today's trio of music documentaries I'm looking forward to is Kasper Collin's somewhat mysterious film about Albert Ayler. While the film has played in numerous cities across the US and in Europe, I always seem to miss it, whether I'm out of town or working or just a little too late to the party. Which is why I'm excited that Mr. Collin has announced that "My Name Is Albert Ayler" will be available on DVD this fall.






THE TRANSATLANTIC FEEDBACK

While The Monks can hardly be considered truly obscure, they are indeed overlooked and neglected by the music-buying-public at large. Over a year ago, Play Loud! Films announced they were working on a documentary about everyone's favorite tonsured servicemen, but despite having its world-wide theatrical debut in Germany in late '07, the film has yet to show up stateside. Play Loud! also recently announced that due to filming of a new, undisclosed project, they are pushing back the DVD release, which is sort of a drag. I thought I'd post the trailer, just remind folks to keeps their eyes and ears open for news on the film's US debut.

For more info, head over to the Play Loud! website.


RAYMOND SCOTT: ON TO SOMETHING


I just came across the trailer for the upcoming Raymond Scott documentary. Directed by his son, Stan Warnow, the work in progress will examine the life and work of an innovator whose career spanned from the big band era to early electronic music, with a detour to the Looney Tunes studio in between. Scott never actually composed for cartoons, but his loopy, outer-world compositions were licensed and adapted by Carl Stalling for dozens (if not hundreds) of classic 'toons featuring Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig, among others. Check out the trailer below.

For more information about Scott and the film, go here.




Documentary Trailer for RAYMOND SCOTT: ON TO SOMETHING from Stan Warnow on Vimeo.

6.27.2008

BEAUTIFULLY ENGRAVED HISTORIC AMERICAN SHEET MUSIC


link


MISSISSIPPI RECORDS



Mississippi Records opened right around the time I first moved to Portland. During those watershed years (moved away from home, went to school, dropped out, etc.) the store functioned as a gentle reeducation. I took some of my first tentative steps into reggae, jazz, blues, without any of the easy distractions of lavish but clumsy CD reissues or the momentary indie rock fĂȘted. There was never any antagonism for the hours I spent browsing and listening, often without purchasing anything, nor any of the requisite snobbery or weirdly aggressive indie rock promotion-- Sleater Kinney covering every square inch-- just a bunch of good records.

The place does a number of things every record store ought to-- there is a listening station without any officious demands of collateral, a daily rotating section of new arrivals, and a deceptively manageable volume of well organized and fairly priced records. Eric the owner is an amiable, totally without pretense, righteous man who I secretly worship (secret's out--thanks Internet!). Add to this impeccable curatorial powers and aesthetic judgment* His label of the same name has released several handsomely packaged records over the last few years, both compilations and reissues as well as some local Portland artists. Nearly everything is stellar and otherwise impossible to find or outlandishly expensive. So without any further goofy adulation here are some links to two releases.

First, the exceptional compilation of gospel Life is a Problem

And perhaps my favorite, Love is Love a compilation of songs from throughout Africa, many originally appearing on the wonderful and long out of print Original Music release Africa Dances.

*The whole aesthetic package is money including the lovely hand painted window The sign gives you an idea of the shop's politick in a contentious neighborhood.

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