(From Arthur 24/October 02006)
Note: C & D is a dialogue presented as a series of record reviews, and intended to be read straight through.
C: [Looking at publicity photo of band] I’m surprised these guys haven’t featured in Arthur yet. They appear to meet many if not all of this magazine’s apparent requirements for coverage.
D: What, they have beards?
C: Yes. I think the magazine is pretty clearly a beards-only policy. It’s pretty clearly where the underground beard was re-born. Or should I say, re-grown. Remember Alan Moore on the cover of Arthur No. 4?
D: That was a beard to be reckoned with. No razors and shaving cream in the Moore household!
C: Total ‘Lord of the Beards.’ On the other hand, Alan’s finger armor stylings haven’t caught on yet.
D: I will keep an eye out for the beard as we check out these records today. I assume there will be ladies, too?
C: Yes, of course.
D: Who presumably are not of the bearded variety.
C: One never knows, does one? [arches eyebrow meaningfully] Anyways, Akron/Family not only have some beardage, they have four-part harmonies, great cascading drumflows, sprawling late Trane skronk, and that’s all on the first track! I saw these guys once in L.A., they were like a devotional Animal Collective…
D: [smiling upon hearing the refrain “Gone, gone, gone/gone completely beyond.”] Ah yes. Beyond. One of my favorite places.
C: [ignoring, continuing] … in Oshkosh overalls, without the echo delays. Like Lubavitchers gone Sun Ra or Ya Ho Wha—
D: Say wha?
C: [snobbishly] Those who know, know. [continuing] They were awesome, in complete uni-mind synch. The audience made backward-and-forward ocean ripples and sounds at their command: ‘Shhh, shhh.’ It was beautiful.
C: Lovely—possibly perfect?—debut album from this girl-and-boy lovebird combo who sound like they’re living down by the sea on some magic moonlit beach that stretches from France to Baja to Bali.
D: [looks at biographical notes and photo] Actually they live in Baltimore. And there is no beard.
C: Waiter, get this man a beard, se vous plais.
D: [ignoring] But Victoria Legrand—
C: Is that a real name???
D: —is definitely a lady. A lady who knows how to wear an aqua dress.
C: [looking at the photo] And a big gold amulet as well.
D: I would say this is late summer music, recorded at the beach house after everybody else has gone back to the city.
C: It’s kind of minimal naturalismo—organ, drum machine, gorgeous female voice: Stereolab, minus le krautrock propulsion. Midway between Brightblack slow-to-stillness, Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” melancholism and Air and another Carpark artist, Casino vs. Japan. Also, what the heck, I’ll throw in that first Bjorn Olson record on Omplatten [“Instrumentalmusik: Instrumental Music…to Submerge in…and Disappear Through,” 1999]. Nordic beaches. As you can see, D, it’s a very particular, yet universal, mood. I see soundtracks in their near-future. [picks up phone] “Hello, Beach House? This is Sofia…”
D: Her voice reminds me a bit of Sigur Ros. Hey, whatever happened to those guys? It’s like they evaporated.
C: She can really SING, when it’s called for, which is in creamy middle of the album on the song “Auburn and Ivory.”
D: Is Auburn the new Ebony?
C: All the songs have some sophisto pop songwriting going on: bridges, key changes, et cetera. And the sounds… when the organ comes in on “House on the Hill,” it’s like Captain Nemo down in the Nautilus playing pipe organ for the octopi. Whew! Can you imagine these guys with a big budget…?
D: Ahoy! Captain Nemo: ANOTHER famous bearded musician.
MICK BARR & ZACH HILL
C: New summit album by underground instrumental speed kings: guitarist Mick Barr of Ocrilim, and drummer Zach Hill of Hella. It’ll tighten yer wig!
D: Well, I won’t need coffee for the next five months.
C: They’re going in for the kill like two old ladies speed-crocheting. Mind the wheedlework.
D: They are the speed criminals who no doubt are under surveillance by the authorities of rock. There’s a NEW MOTHER IN THE TEMPLE if you know what I mean!
C: It does have that High Rise/Mainliner/Musica Transonic thing going a bit. Ah, Japan. Some people may also be put in mind of the Peter Brotzman Octet classic assault album, Machine Gun.
D: That’s a ripping title, “Earthship.” [considers] If you lived there, you’d be home by now.
C: Sometimes they’re against each other, sometimes they unify.
D: I must ask: is there a beard?
C: [looks at publicity photo] Have beard, will rock.These guys are the opposite of Sunn o))): they do as many notes and beats as possible per hour. It’s anti-void music, filling everything with sound.
D: Without the benefit of riffage.
C: There ARE riffs—you just need to adjust your attention to catch them. It’s condensed free rock. Like the instruments are too hot to handle. Except for this one song I keep coming back to… [plays “Closed Coffins and Curtains.”]
D: Whoa! What…is…THAT???
C: It’s like some super-processed symphonic tri-guitar. Like what that weird Godley & Creme instrument was supposed to sound like, remember that? The Gizmo. They made a whole triple-album with it, and Peter Cook too. Bonkers stuff.
D: [playing the 30-second track again] I am totally spooked. [musing] Perhaps if Mr. Ocrilim slowed down and contemplated like this occasionally, he’d get to somewhere really rewarding.
C: Rewarding to you.
D: [laughs] Of course, me! Who else matters?
“The Horrors” ep
D: [Reading song titles] They have a song called “Sheena Was a Parasite”? I worship them already.
C: Frantic organ and guitar-driven psychobilly freakbeat rock’n’roll by five sharply dressed’n’coiffed Dickensian Brits from the belfry.
D: They look like they live in chimneys and spend all day drinking red wine and listening to The Cramps, Tav Falco & Panther Burns…probably the Hives too, and the Birthday Party, and Screaming Jay Hawkins (who they cover here), and Screaming Lord Sutch, and of course the right honorable Arthur Brown. I think they like bourbon and some pretty nasty stuff.
C: [listening to “Excellent Choice”] They’ve got a good look and a good sound and they seem up for a good party. They’ll come to your town and help you burn it down. And then dance in the ashes.
“Riot City Blues”
C: They’re been around approximately forever. And this is their once-a-decade “rock n roll is dumb fun” concept record, apparently.
[C & D cringe for 15 minutes]
C: Talk about the horrors.
D: Where’s the pooper scooper?
C: Rock n roll should be fun, it can be stoopid, but it should never, ever be tedious. One hates to witness someone failing at slumming. It’s embarassing to all involved. Does [Primal Scream singer] Bobby Gillespie seriously think this band can boogie? Ha ha ha. Poor Mani…
D: [thoughtful] Every once in a while an object is mysteriously withdrawn from stores by its manufacturer shortly after its introduction. That kind of decisive action may be appropriate here.
THE USA IS A MONSTER
“Sunset at the End of the Industrial Age”
C: You will recall that both members of THE USA IS A MONSTER are members of Black Elf Speaks, which is one of the great band names ever.
D: What did Black Elf have to say?
C: I don’t know, it was this kind of gibberish? But it seemed important. [sadly, as if narration] ‘And Black Elf spoke, but no one could understand what he said.’
D: [helpfully] Maybe he had something in his mouth.
D: Or, he might have a speech impediment.
D: [looking at album cover] Naturally I am wondering, what kind of monster?
C: Probably some kind of troll. On PCP.
D: That’s pretty negative. … Um…. “Idiocracy” got you down again?
C: Yeah… Between seeing that and re-reading Chris Hedges’s “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” last week, I guess I’m feeling more bleh about human life than ever. The idiots don’t know when to stop. And there’s more and more of them. They want war and fast food and spectacle. They’re bad at learning. We’re outnumbered, and it’s only getting worse because the herd never gets culled, since we lack exterior predators.
D: [considers] No more trolls.
C: What are we gonna do? I don’t see a way out. Ah, hell. Maybe that’s why the industrial age is going to end, as it says here on the album cover. [reading from the press sheet] “Of course The USA Is A Monster wants to turn the tide and prepare us for the time after the lights go dim on Western Civilization’s exhaust pipe party.” Sounds good to me! Let’s engage. [starts “The Greatest Mystery”]
D: YEARGH!!! THUNDERAMA!
C: Whoa. [45 minutes later…]Whoa.
D: A shining path indeed! Was that all one song?
C: Unbelievable, just ridiculous. The Who, Bruford-era King Crimson, Oneida, minutemen, Lightning Bolt, Liars, Rush. Homeopathic progrock with a lot of heavy spiritual-political truths and theories (“We are only holograms”) and jokes and accusations (“You’re a liar! And a CROOK!”) and digs (“My favorite subject is…me!”). That last song, the three-section “The Spirit of Revenge”…
D: What a giant marching groover that one is! These guys must be super-fit. I’m guessing it’s a lentil and walnut-heavy diet.
D: [listening to “A Million Years”] This makes me insanely happy but I can’t put my finger on why exactly.
C: I feel like it’s 4am at the docks and we’re hearing the soundtrack to some new-millenium industrial-environmental horror show. To update Funkadelic: Mother Earth is REALLY screaming now. [listening to “Lake of Roaches”] Especially now that these noise dudes have a horn. Yikes.
D: I see scrapheap monsters vomiting spare parts and microchips.
C: Urgh, this is uncomfortable in a really good way, like a good ol’ Khanate death-slog through the bog. It’s the feel-nothing hit of the fading summer.
D: “Rusted Mange” sounds like somebody getting run over.
C: “Leper War” is more queasy listening. I’m thinking of torture gardens and animal abuse science labs. All the atrocities going on behind the curtain. Machines playing with their prey. Angry dogs chomping on kids’ talking playtoys. Trains full of prisoners.
D: [thoughtfully] This is music to blow up Monsanto to.
C: Wolf Eyes: for when you want to detonate your day.
“The Body, The Blood, The Machine”
C: Melodic meat-and-potatoes punk rock trio from the Pacific Northwest. Two women and a beardless man. This is a concept album about being on the run from a Christian authoritarian USA of the future.
D: [in Chuck D. voice] Fear of a Christian Planet. Fear, baby.
C: In other words, it serves as science fiction adventure, prophecy and soundtrack for real life in half of this country. It’s okay—I like the sentiment and the ambition—but I’m bored.
D: None of the hooks go in deep enough. It’s probably good to drive to, though.
C: The guy’s voice reminds me of Lee Ranaldo’s, which makes me think I’d rather be listening to “Daydream Nation.” Ha!
D: That should be the new Arthur bumper sticker: “I’d rather be listening to ‘Daydream Nation.’”
“Good God!: A Gospel Funk Hymnal”
C: Here’s another shining path: Christian funk-soul music from the late ‘60s, early ‘70s, which, let’s face it, that period was insane in every genre, every medium.
D: The first two minutes of this album provide everything I need from music.
C: This makes me love Jesus a lot more than when they come to my door and yell at me. Another Grade AAAA reclamation project from Numero Group, America’s most consistently great record label. No one runs a dig like they do.
D: They live in the crates.
C: They were BORN in the crates.
D: [boogieing] I’m happy as a Christian on the pipe and there’s nothing Bobby Gillespie and the Thermals can do about it! [thinking] If Christian soul is so good why is Christian rock so bad?
C: Well, you know what they say: the The Lord records in mysterious ways. And nu gospel metal is one of the most mysterious.
D: Christian rock has more preservatives and additives and pesticides and weird chemicals in it, which gives it big hair and a nasty sheen. This, on the other hand, is organic soul. Black granola Jesus.
“There Is A Season” boxset
C: Four CDs and a DVD for you, the gracious few. Their sound really sounds good right now. It must be those harmonies. In the book McGuinn talks about how none of the three of them had a distinctive enough voice for pure lead—but together the three made one beautiful voice. Then you’ve got those great jazz drums, that guy’s got interesting stuff going on all the time, and is willing to stop it all when it’s called for. And the guitar solos are completely nuts. People always think about the Byrds and the chiming 12-strings, band there is that, but the guitar solos are these wonderful jagged raga/jazz stop-start-scatter runs, if that makes any sense. I guess I just never had ears to hear it before. Music for golden hours in the forest, by the river. Pretty good for cleanly shaven gents. They were always tasteful ‘til they got shaggy in the ‘70s—played folk songs, played contemporary stuff (Dylan covers), some beautiful originals.
D: [sings along to “5D (Fifth Dimension”] “I opened my whole heart to the whole universe and I found it was loving/and I saw the great blunder my teachers had made/Scientific delirium madness…” Still one of the best descriptions of the spiritual side of an LSD trip I have ever encountered
C: David Crosby’s extremely gentle three-way plea “Why Can’t We Be Three” is pretty astonishing in its brazenness. You want to know how it will be/me and you/or her and me?’ Etc. And their version of “Wild Mountain Thyme”—“we’ll go gathering mountain thyme across the wild purple heather”—with harmonies and orchestra is as goosebumpraising as that Ravi Shankar at the Kremlin album.
D: Live cuts on disk 4? Not so happening.
“Lonely Road Revival”
C: Really good cosmic country-tinged Bonnaroo-ready indie rock from San Francisco by dudes who can write hooks. Shit, I bet they can jam it out too.
D: I don’t know why I’m filing it under “guilty pleasure,” but I am.
C: No need to feel guilty. But yeah I can already hear the hacky sacks being hacked, or kicked, or whatever it is they do. Still, you can’t judge a band by who you think their fans will be…
THE BLACK KEYS
C: I guess their fan Robert Plant didn’t end up joining the band on bass after all. Maybe he forgot to file for his post-beard exemption.
D: Excellent! The Black Keys. They take this stuff so seriously. There’s axle grease on their denims at all times.
C: So, after their tremendous levee-busting EP of Junior Kimbrough covers, here’s their major label debut. Are diminishing returns setting in?
D: It’s already a cult classic with me! And that’s the only one who matters.
C: You know, I hate to say it, but this is really underwhelming material from an incredibly talented band. I’m not hearing a single one of those choogling grooves that they used to mine so effortlessly. Sometimes low fidelity does not equal authenticity, it just means it sounds like crap.
D: Well it’s good enough for me to want to fire up the grill and have a cookout.
C: I’m hungry for something more.
“Ed Rosenthal’s Big Buds Calendar”
(Quick American Archives)
D: The best month is the Dutch still life with the other herbs and stuff:
C: It’s called “after the harvest” of course. [laughs] They totally have this calendar hanging by the desk at all the farms up in Humboldt. [Reading] Ha, “Slacker Thanksgiving” on Nov. 23, that’s a funny one. “As the bud ripens.” Heh.
D: To paraphrase AC/DC: Ed Rosenthal has the biggest buds of them all.
C: Trio from Cincinnati—stomping ground of Bootsy Collins and Afghan Whigs—with two lumbering looking beard brothers who make a sweet racket that recalls the Black Crowes, Mountain, Hendrix, Screaming Trees. Definitely some Beatles on the first two songs.
D: From the same label that first signed the Black Keys. They must have scouts all over Ohio.
D: My main concern is why don’t they call themselves The Buffalo Lovers. [suspiciously] Were any buffalos harmed in the making of this album?
C: I love an album that builds and starts hitting its stride by the halfway point. All “River Water” needs, if it needs anything more, is P.P. Arnold singing backup. Then they destroy you with the next tune…
D: [listening to “With Love”] Now THAT is a ballad.
“London Hyde Park 1969” dvd
C: Well this is pretty cool. They’ve issued the DVD of this great film of this short-lived supergroup playing for free to 100,000 at London’s Hyde Park back in 1969.
D: It was so weird living through the decade called the ’80s and witnessing Steve Winwood wearing a leather trenchcoat and making sterile radio pop. And now to see Winwood here, looking so young. [The band kicks into “Sea of Joy”] He really was a great soul singer. Whoa check it out, they pan the crowd and there’s is Kenneth Anger himself in epaulets and sideburns and black lips waving his wand of joy.
C: Did you ever notice that every object or action is suddenly improved if you add “of joy” to the end of it?
D: Let’s see…I think I’ll grow a beard of joy. Shitbonger, you’re right!
C: Nice to see that bearded Ginger Baker brought along his handpainted drums on this occasion. Ginger in the ’60s was the equivalent of Gary Young from Pavement in the ’90s: a wild older dude who’s really good, but may not mix well with the others.
“Love Travels at Illegal Speeds”
C: Here comes the resolute ex-guitarist from Blur with just a corking great solo album, his best one so far.
D: Blur? I did not appreciate that bloodless dress-up party called Britpop.
C: Well between this and that Dirty Pretty Things single I’m ready to get out my Fred Perry shirts again.
D: Yet if you hadn’t told me about the Blur connection, I would simply be feasting on this short spiky guitar nugs. He sounds like a long lost friend of Wreckless Eric, which makes him a friend of mine.
C: Listen, Graham’s even written the essential tune addressing the new beard conundrum. Dig this song, where he’s watching a guy and girl get off together, it’s kind of an thematic update of Joe Jackson’s “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” [puts on “What’s He Got?” and turns up the lyric “He’s got a lot of hair on his face and on his head/ So why I get my hair cut so short instead?”]
D: Apparently in cleancut Graham Coxon’s world, the beard gets the girl.