Longtime Arthur music reviewers C and D, as depicted by Pete Toms
This C & D session was originally published in Arthur No. 31 (September 2008)…
C & D
Two confirmed schmucks grapple with the big issues.
C: Our work continues.
D: Or at least our drinking does. Ahahaha.
C: [frowns George Will-style] Let the record show that whatever we say from this point forward about any of these records that the Arthur staff have so carefully assembled will invariably be colored by what we’ve just been listening to: Born to Be with You by Dion, 1975, produced by Phil Spector, downloaded off the Heat Warps blog. We are basking in its rather substantial afterglow.
D: A stone gem beaut of an album…which, by the way, has never been released in America! What is wrong with you people?
C: Have some pity on a country in decline. And you full well know it’s (apparently) Mr. Spector himself that kept the record from ever being released here. But keeping to the point: the readers should know that not only did we just listen to it, we just listened to it three times in a row. We are smitten by this version of “(He’s Got) The Whole World In His Hands,” which just sorta echoes all over creation in a melancholy way…
D: [muses] It is strange to feel so instantly nostalgic for a record you’ve never heard. And yet I have been having that distinct feeling for the last hour and 25 minutes as we have been watching the sun go down over the Manhattan skyline while listening to the wonderful, stirring, heartfelt, heretofore unheard-by-these-ears work of the incomporable team of Mr. Dion and Mr. Spector. I guess it’s what they call that old deja voodoo, eh?
C: Ha, yes I suppose they do…
FELA! A New Musical
at 37 Arts in New York City
Book by Jim Lewis & Bill T. Jones
D: So you went to a musical?
C: Yes, I did.
D: How did you like it? Did you laugh? Did you CRY?
C: From the first minute when the actor playing Fela sauntered by, two rows in front of me, on the way to the stage in his pink jumpsuit, led by his dancer/singer/wives, as Antibalas played the opening to “Everybody Scatter,” I was weeping openly.
D: I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. It is said that dancing by yourself in your living room to Fela Kuti music is the only known cure for depression.
C: If it is that good, imagine what it must be like if you dance with others to it in public! The collective righteous joy is unbelievable. This thing broke me out of my post-David Foster Wallace suicide negative power zone.
D: So it was a full-on simulation?
C: Well… It’s not simply a tribute/costume concert, it’s an extremely brilliant musical-fueled biography of the man himself. The piece is two hours, 40 minutes and is set inside Fela’s club in Lagos, the Shrine. It’s 1976, I think, and he is onstage performing, and preparing to leave Nigeria. He’s had it with the ongoing corruption and idiocy in Nigeria. The government has arrested him, the military has stormed his commune, beaten and raped his wives and thrown his mother out of a second story window, leading to her eventual death. So he’s in and out of songs and monologues, reviewing his life to that point, smoking his big marijuana joints, laughing and crying and leading this band and this dance troupe, putting on this two-tier Afrobeat performance of… It’s spellbinding, just awesome, and I gotta say… As somebody who’s watched every second of available Fela Kuti footage out there, I thought I’d understood, as best I was gonna be able to understand in 2008, the man and the music. Well, I was totally wrong.
D: Wouldn’t be the first time!
C: Quiet. It’s one thing to see the pictures, to see the video, but to actually BE there, with the whole force of the music and the costumes and the VIBE in your face, at full volume, done with such love and care and attention to detail, with so much thought put into it… I don’t really understand how they did it, especially the guy who plays Fela, this brilliant actor named Sahr Ngaujah. Who inhabits him, completely, scarily. It’s enough to make you weep.
D: Which you did.
C: I should report that there is one major inaccuracy: the size of Fela’s rolled joints of Igbo, here it’s like a cigar but really they were more like torches.
D: Like a baby’s arm?
C: More like a bodybuilder’s.
D: That’s something they can fix when it goes to Broadway.
C: All the shit Fela talked about, it’s still true. More true. Bankers, government officials, colonial-minded lackeys, cowards, fools. Vampire Weekend? If only. It’s been a Vampire Millennium. And I can’t think of an artist alive today with the balls, and the trickster humor, and the anger, and the appetite for pleasure, and the gift for performance, and the raw charisma, the undeniable conviction, that he had. Did you know how musicians and other artists are not allowed to express views of the world in America? And if they break the rule, it’s cause for alarm and outrage and Drudge-shaming and record-banning and harassment and slandering and worse from the well-funded right-wing authoritarians. Don’t be political at the Oscars! Now is not the time! Nor at the Emmys. Oprah shouldn’t endorse! And so on. Because apparently they sometimes confuse the message from the government and break the entertainment moment that the viewer was anticipating, and indeed had every right to expect, given their school training and subsequent mediated experiences. The timing of Fela! is impeccable. He couldn’t believe the public would fall for this shit that the people in power were pulling.
D: But we do.
C: Over and over again.
Loud Is the Night
Alive/Natural Sound Bomp
D: Well, another oldie but goodie. Or oldie but moldie as they used to say.
C: Actually, this is new.
D: You say that every issue.
C: Well, it happens to be true sometimes.
D: Let me see this. [grabs cd sleeve] Aha! I should have known by these golden tones—it’s another Dan Auerbach production.
C: He of the Black Keys.
D: Yes, I know. The bearded bandana-wearing one.
C: I’m talking to them, you idiot.
C: The readers.
D: What readers? [laughter]
C: Yeah well… So, Hacienda are from that hot gateway to the great southwest, San Antonio, Tejas. Three brothers with a last name of Villanueva plus a cousin with the last name Schwebel.
D: [Repeating lyrics of “Useless and Tired”] “Never want to work in the day/no reason for it any way/any troubles I sleep em away.” I resemble that remark, as they used to say.
C: Who is this “they” that you keep referring to?
D: [Repeats lyric and melody] What is that? “When you’re awake you’re out of your head”?
C: Ah! Nice nod to Los Beatles.
D: [sips beer] This is very sweet, warm music, but there’s something else. Like that moment during summer when you realize autumn is around the corner.
C: Beauty tinged with mortality. But not death-haunted! It’s like when you forgot to eat your ice cream cone fast enough and now it’s melting and you make a move. The good times were right there, but time kept on slipping…
D: …into the few-chah!
GANG GANG DANCE
The Social Registry
D: I believe this is a concept album but I am unsure what the concept is.
C: Internet says: “Saint Dymphna is traditionally held to be the daughter of a pagan Irish chief and his Christian wife in the 7th century.”
D: So she is the saint of miscegenation! Cross-fertilization! Pairing of native and invasive species!
C: But Dymphna ends up being beheaded by her would-be incest-minded widow pagan father.
C: “Her feast day is May 15 and she is the patron saint of those who suffer from mental illnesses and nervous system disorders, epileptics, mental health professionals, happy families, incest victims, and runaways.” Well, there you go. The fact that St. Dymphna’s is also a the name of a bar on St. Marks Place is simply a bonus. Would that we were there, indulging in libations.
D: What I hear is a post-Animal Collective/Black Dice loop daze with zero interest in melody.
C: A rather reductionist assertion, sir. She’s singing but I can’t understand a word she’s saying. And admittedly I can’t find the rhythm either. And yet I must admit that I kind of dig it.
D: Perhaps it is your infamous fondness for weird Greek mystic chicks?
C: Silence in the lower ranks! Once I saw this Gang Gang Dance perform at the Hollywood Bowl. It was like Euripedes interpreted by New York Eye And Ear Control. Firmly in the recombinant tradition of Adrian Sherwood, Jon Hassell, Bill Laswell…
D: “Inner Pace” is like advanced Casio atomic dub, but I can’t find something to grab onto. My fingers itch. There’s no groove, no bassline to lay back in. They do everything I don’t want a group to do!
C: Perhaps we should discuss your unrealistic expectations.
D: Okay, “House Jam”—this is the jam.
C: Kate Bush’s goat-song!
D: The whole album should sound like this. The rest is just clippings and trimmings. Not that I have anything against trimmings and clippings.
D: Yet I take it you prefer more jams.
in the 7th moon, the chief turned into a swimming fish and ate the head of his enemy by magic
Crammed Discs US / Amazon
C: This is third in the “congrotronics” series of albums by various contemporary African artists who utilize..um…
C: It says “Kasai Allstars draw their songs from festive and ritual music played in the bush before being banned by the Europeans, who considered the highly erotic dances and the pagan trance ceremonies as “satanic.” Based in Kinshasa, DR Congo—
D: That’s like the Compton of Africa!
C: “—the Kasai Allstars collective revolves around 25 musicians originating from five different ethnic groups, each with their own language and musical tradition.”
D: And judging from the title, I believe this is a concept album.
C: Great title. It’s like a caption to a comic book panel.This sounds like the music Jack Kirby’s “Forever People” would’ve made, up in their electronic trees: gamelan thmb piano chantdown on babylontronix with classic eternal North African guitar circles. This is what I thought psy-trance would sound like from the way everybody went on and on about it. What they really meant was advertising agency music.
D: They’re on some serious ritual witchdoctor shit. Like a tribal Funkadelic.
C: Trans-ethnic, five traditions…. I wonder who’s going to protest here regarding non-native species invasion?
D: While they argue about that, the real predators circle.
C: I want to know more. they’re so elaborately done up, it’s beautiful.
D: Other bands draw their record covers. these guys draw themselves! African glam!
C: Is the stuff traditional or new fashion or—remember that book that Alia was talking about, Natural Fashion: Tribal Decoration from Africa (Hans Silvester, Thames & Hudson)….? You know with some bands, the more I know about them, the less I want to know. But these guys? Gimmie.
D: “Mbua-A-Matumba” is the jam to beat.
C: You could play this right next to Panda Bear.
D: Those guys should collaborate.
C: Can you imagine AFRIKA COLLECTIVE???
NATACHA ATLAS & THE MAZEEKA ENSEMBLE
World Village/Harmonia Mundi/Amazon
C: Talk about erotic. I believe you Europeans would probably outlaw this too.
D: [ignoring the jibe] At last: printed lyrics!
C: Ha, like you’re gonna sing along.
C: Just relax! You always need to know what you’re listening to, what kind of music it’s called, how it’s regarded, what you can expect to hear.
D: Yes, yes, yes… I am cursed with the need to know more.
C: Well, I feel the need to sit on a rug. Recline on the pillows. Have some red grapes.
Pass the pipe.
D: I am the pipe-passer.
C: I suspect this is a concept album.
D: [reading from sleeve] “…East and west musical collision for the Natacha Atlas acoustic project.”
C: Calling St. Dymphna!
D: They do a take on Nina Simone’s “Black is the Color,” which it says here is based on a Scottish folk song!
C: “Hayati Inta Reprise (Hayatak Ana)” sounds more like Stevie Wonder “Higher Ground.” This is Arabic gypsy cabaret music. And “El Asil” is Egyptian swing. I wish an interzone nightclub existed where I could hear this all the time…
C: Is “El Guincho” Panda Bear in Spanish?
D: They say he comes from the Canary Islands.
C: I say he comes from… Chants and loops gradually getting guitars layered… Steel drums. South American soccer hooligans. M.I.A. and Diplo are the gateway for el guincho. But.. [listening to “Antillas”] Wait, is the CD stuck?
D: I don’t hear enough melody. The hooks are too simple.
C: We should mention that we are listening to this on stereo when perhaps it is best appreciated on los headphones… “Cuando Maravilla Fui” brings on the bhangra. This may be Le Jam.
D: El Jammo.
C: Thee Big Jam.
D: One jam, large please. With some dub on the side.
C: “Buenos Matrimonios Ahi Fuere” is awesome. Eternal schoolyard kid chants.
D: You can’t lose when you sample schoolkids, everybody knows that.
C: The Canary Islands, eh? I look to the South for hope these days. USA and Europe are descending into dumbness on a mass scale. They’ve completely crushed the left and the indigenous. Only in the South is there anything like successful uprising. Venezuela, Brazil, Chiapas, Bolivia…!
D: Forget the Third Way! Bring on the Fourth World.
C: This is a side project recording by Devendra Banhart and the guy from Priestbird—
D: The new Pink Floyd! But nobody realized it…
C:—who drums in his band. That guy can write songs, but I don’t know about his bands’ names. Tarantula A.D.? Priestbird? Megapuss?
D: There is a time and place, and yes name, for everything. And right now I am saying to you this album, which features at least 12 novelty hits by Dr. Demento Banhart and Sir Priestbird, is the exact reason why I for one am going to enjoy the Forthcoming Depression. Surfing is not my idea of a good time. I am not an advocate of voluntary physical endangerment. I am, however, happy to watch from the safety of my beach chair.
C: With a Jimmy Buffett tape on no doubt. I just want to say that if it’s going to be about goofballing and bad clothes, can we switch back from Jimmy Buffett and Les Claypool and the truly unctious Infected Mushroom to, oh, how ’bout Frank Zappa and the Fugs? Thank you. This is good stuff: some more of those great upbeat afrobeat/reggae/tropicalia party jams that Devendra’s been pumping out in the last few years that sound so deep in the pocket live, I think this is the first time he’s caught that on record. And some true goofery. And hey hang on, there’s some spooky stuff on here at the end.
D: A dark undertow?
C: Watch out for riptides while Surfing.
D: And jellyfish. And tar spots on your back.
C: Some serious haunted canyons vibes on this record, I’m serious. Loooook out, lovers…
D: Tell me there is not a band that is called Infected Mushroom. That can’t be true.
D: [listening to “The Next Time Around”] It’s the Strokes’ beach party album!
C: Ha! Actually this is a new band called Little Joy, named after Joe McGraw’s spot in Echo Park. It’s the Strokes’ drummer Fabrizio Moretti, also on guitar here, and Rodrigo Amarante, a beardo from Brazil who’s been playing with Devendra lately, on vocals and the guitar, and guitarist/composer/arranger/Devendra associate/man-of-hair Noah Georgeson, producing.
D: And introducing the mysterious Binki Shapiro, right here on the lady reggae vocals.
C: Gotta admit I didn’t see this one coming from down the coast.
D: It sailed right in when we were watching the surfers.
C: Rodrigo has such a great voice. But on a track like this one [“Keep Me In Mind”], it must be recognized that the similarity to Mr. Casablanca is uncanny, but Rodrigo has a bit more color, more tenderness. What a great pop song. I’d listen to this on a bistro on a beach. Heck I’d go to a beach to listen to this. I would apply super-SPF 300 cream to listen to this. Every song is good! And there are actual ballads.
D: Samba. Bossa nova. And what do they call it?
C: MPB! Música Popular Brasileira.
D: But the question remains, who is this “Binki Shapiro”? That’s suspicious nametaking there, that one. Reminds me of all those pseudonyms on the old Desert Sessions records…
C: [listening to “Play the Part”] Perhaps I am going overboard here, but this—and “Evaporar”—is reminding me of modern Jobim, my amigo. But I am not an expert.
D: [lost in space] And Jobim and Jim Beam are secret brothers…
C: [listening to “Don’t Watch Me Dancing”] The Doors…! Wow. 11 songs, 30 minutes. I think we can issue a joint statement, or a communique as we said in the old days, stipulating this as darkhorse album-of-the-year contender. First class work, gentlemen.
D: And that includes you, Binki Shapiro!
C: You know when you make a wrong turn and then instead of correcting it, you make another wrong turn which is even worse because this time you don’t even realize a mistake has been made and you go 90 miles in the complete wrong direction?
D: Oh come on, it’s not that awful… [reads from promotional notes] Did you know that on this record Mercury Rev experimented “with laser harps, ad hoc computer programs and random note generators?”
C: What? To mathematically determine that this was the worst possible music they were capable of? To quote Greil Marcus, What is this shit? Former members of this band have grounds for a class action suit based on dereliction of aesthetic duty. And I volunteer to be their expert witness!
D: Whew! Beware the wrath of the betrayed longtime fan!
White Light Strobing
C: Ah, bliss. Pure balm from these young dudes out of Olympia.
D: Is this what they called “shoegaze” in the olden times?
C: I suppose. But it’s more like that one little moment in time—’88-‘90???—when there were all these modest late-afternoon psychedelic folk-rock guitars-and-organ-and-reverbed vocals bands floating and swooshing around… the Rain Parade, the Cocteau Twins, Galaxie 500, Spacemen 3, ultra vivid scene, then Mazzy Star, Pale Saints… Ah, “college rock.” More recently, I would say BEACHWOOD SPARKS.
D: That’s right. I am getting a very benevolent salvia essence inmpression from this.
C: “Come Over In Your Silver Car” is song title of the month. “Turquoise and Gold,” “Horizon Star”…these are like Brightblack Morning Light song titles.
D: White Light Strobing, eh? [Listening to “Forget Everything”]: I feel like I’m watching Stan Brakhage, even though my eyes are closed…
I’m Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill
C: Speaking of sleeping… Here’s the new album by the lady who calls herself Grouper, which she recorded in her sleep. She’s upstairs from Beach House, mixed by Belong into into-the-red, into-the-fog reverb absinthia. Which means it sounds like home demos for a new My Bloody Valentine album. You know what I’m saying.
D: Not really, but um… Where’s a fog machine when we need it???
C: Funny you should mention that. Ladies and gentlemen…
C: [Pushes button on remote control; fog shoots out from behind chair.] The Antari Alpha F-80Z!
D: Exxxxxxxxcellent! So, um, what year is this fog?
Paths of Ignition
C: About five minutes into the lead-off track “Weissensee,” which is a Neu chestnut Rother/Dinger cover, it’s like Randy Holden crashing into an ashram where Sandy Bull was having a hip jam session.
D: That’s some serious stormbrewing guitar! Matt Baldwin! Who is this lightning bringer.
C: I think it’s the first record from the dude. He’s Bay Area and he’s over six feet tall.
D: Clearly this is a keeper. In fact [D runs to CD player]—I’m confiscating this CD for personal use.
C: It figures. Ah well. We should tell the people out that that there’s four more songs, including one entitled “Eulogy and Dark,” [in Jim Sjveda voice] which I am guessing is some sort of homage to Funkadelic’s classic “Eulogy and Light” off Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow. Talk about a song recorded at the edge of sonic legibility—a prayer over backwards tape. 38 years on and people are still responding to that album… You know why people are still responding to records from 38 tears ago? Cuz the music was so much better then. The vibe was COMPLETE. Look on the CD tray for “Free Your Mind”—they reprint the Best Selling Soul LP’s from Billboard Magazine for week ending December 12, 1970…
D: [reading chart] “1. Third Album by Jackson 5 2. Sly & the Family Stone’s Greatest Hits 3. Curtis by Curtis Mayfield 4. To Be Continued by Isaac Hayes 5. Abraxas by Santana 6. Sex Machine by James Brown 7. Temptations Greatest Hits Volume 2 8. Still Waters Run Deep by Four Tops 9. Chapter Two by Roberta Flack 10. Everything Is Everything by Diana Ross 11. Free Your Mind by Funkadelic 12. Indianola-Mississippi by BB King 13. Spirit in the Dark by Aretha Franklin 14. We Got to Live Together by Buddy Miles 15. The Last Poets 16. Pocketful of Miracles by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles 17. New Ways But Love Stays by the Supremes 18. In Session by Chairmen of the Board 19. Signed, Sealed, Delivered by Stevie Wonder 20. The Isaac Hayes Movement 21. Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) by Delfonics 22. I Am My Brother’s Keeper by Jimmy & David Ruffin 23. Booker T & the MG’s Greatest Hits 24. Workin Together by Ike & Tina Turner 25. Burning by Esther Phillips 26. I (Who Have Nothing) by Tom Jones 29. Shirley Bassey is Really “Something” 31. Led Zeppelin III 37. Grand Funk Live 39. Cosmo’s Factory by Creedence Clearwater Revival.” Whew.
C: Well, there it is. All civilizations have high points, some so high that they reverberate for the rest of the civilization’s life, however long that may be. It’s shadow of the colossi, dude.
D: Electromental …pardon me, electonic instrumentals… [coughing]
C: Sorry about the fog.
D: It’s okay. I’ll survive. Is this the new Klaus Schulze???? Or early Tangerine Dream
C: It’s like he’s got the same drum machine and keyboard. Serious vintage gear. Recorded at “The Equinox.”
D: Probably an Antari in there somewhere!
C: Have you seen the Z-800II? Wireless! Anyways.
D: I believe this music was made without laser harps.
C: These are basically covers. Throbbing electro-orbs float by with John Carpenter at the helm.
D: “How to Adjust People” is my pick to click. And you can take that to the bank, baby!
C: In my ideal town, there would be a geodesic juke joint at the edge of town where they play this music four nights a year—on each equinox.
D: Is it possible that it was easier to program soul into analog equipment than it is into digital? That digital is not really for humans, it’s for machines. Can we reverse digitalism? That is the question.
C: Here’s to vintage solid-state equipment!
D: The old ways were the wise ways!
C: I think the fog may be getting me high.
D: Waiter, I’ll have two quarts of fog juice, see vouz play!
Of Sirens Born
C: Here comes another super-quality analog guy. He’s a little bit further out there, but you can still see him. Employed on this record: “Sine/square wave generator, analog modular synth, melodica…”
D: [“Jubilee”] It’s going like flute-style Jajouka! This is some kind of new shiznits. I’m confiscating this one as well.
C: Impending doom music for fans of Godspeed and Silver Mt. Zion, Mogwai, Radiohead, Sigur Ros… I think it’s a concept album, but…
D: “In the 7th moon, the chief turned into a swimming fish and ate the head of his enemy by magic…”
C: “It’s not dark yet / but it’s getting there…” This is very good as far as it goes, and maybe I’m being totally unfair, but it might be past time for the wordless dread. Maybe now we need something more explicit about what’s going down. Does that make me old?
D: [thoughtfully] No. But it might make you a little bit wiser…
C: Moving from A to Z. Zach Hill is the powerhythmic drum half of hard art chargers Hella, who have been known to rock the show.
D: I shook hands with someone once who’d shaken hands with Zach Hill. There was a residual charge.
C: Considering his serrated cymbal work Zach must have hands like a camel’s backside!
D: But sensitive. Apparently Zach met Jimmy Page at a show once and told him, “I should play drums for you.”
C: C’mon, imagine how many drummers must say that to Pagey.
D: The thing is, Zach Hill is actually the man for the job! He’d take Pagey to a whole new power grid!!
C: Yes indeed, Zach’s got a rad attack, as proved by this here double album. This jam [“Keep Calm And Carry On”] is like Zeppelin, Zappa, and Zorn rolled into one.
D: The guy is a total thrash jazz assassin. [cranks the volume] Check this out out, it’s called “Necromancer”… a thirty-three minute epic beginning with Marnie Stern reciting an original fable in the Brothers Grimm/ Henry Darger mode, followed by Zach on drums and Marco Benevento on piano playing a deranged duet like Dave Lombardo versus Duke Ellington.
C: I’ve got blisters on my earlobes!
EAGLES OF DEATH METAL
C: Moving from the gnarly to the nasty… This is the third album by Eagle of Death Metal, who are led by handlebar mustachioed Jesse “The Devil” Hughes on guitar and vocals, with Josh Homme from Queens of the Stone Age on drums and whatnot. Basically it’s a caped male Peaches doing “Brown Sugar” variations, and it’s a hoot.
D: Eagles of Death Metal—they have always rocked your mustache pretty hard.
C: Not many Americans know this but Eagles of Death Metal played possibly the coolest gig of all time: a women’s-only show in London at a place that’s usually a strip bar.
D: I think that’s what you call an “everybody wins” situation.
C: [Listening to “Anything ‘Cept the Truth”] Not sure about this one. There’s not supposed to be bridges on Eagles of Death Metal songs! Then again “Now I’m a Fool” is something they’ve never done before—an acoustic guitar, mid-tempo, melodic toe-tapper song-of-yearning—and it totally feels right. It’s PRETTY.
D: Old eagles can learn new tricks.