Originally published in Arthur No. 15/March 2005
D: [to tape recorder] Hello. We are back!
C: [very formally] It is time to exchange views once again, after our brief vacation from these pages. A vacation, I might add, that was not entirely voluntary—
D: But we will speak of that some other time.
C: Everything was going well until they caught you putting the potato in that Hummer’s exhaust pipe in front of the military recruitment center.
D: I told them I was removing the potato that I had just witnessed some crazy anarchist put there. I was actually de-vandalizing their truck—
C: But, strangely, they were not convinced. Especially after they found the grater in your jacket.
D: Yes, well…
C: [Yawns.] Please remind me to forget to call you next time something is going down, because I can’t afford any more of these “vacations.”
D: Soooo, Nina Simone’s 1974 album Baltimore has been reissued.
C: Apparently she didn’t want to make this record. She didn’t like making the record. She didn’t like the finished record. And it’s such a good record!
D: The title track is the greatest Randy Newman cover of all time. I mean, Randy Newman done in a loping funk mode? If you’ve ridden the Amtrak through Baltimore, the route it takes gives you an unobstructed view of a horribly blighted ghetto, and her voice here really captures that sadness.
C: I’m guessing she thought the more pop-orientated /songs were beneath her, that it was somehow undignified for her to sing Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl,” and maybe she was right on that count. But this is really a unique Nina Simone album, and frequently magnificent.
Antony and the Johnsons
I Am a Bird Now
D: Give me that. [looks at sleeve] I was happier when I didn’t know what he looks like.
C: Hey man, everyone looks like something.
D: It’s like if you heard Pavarotti singing and then turned out he looks like Pee-Wee Herman!
C: Well, how hard is it to just listen to the music? My goodness.
D: I’m just saying.
C: This guy’s voice is known to have moved Lou Reed to tears. I might be wrong, but I don’t think Lou Reed cries very often. The tracks of Lou’s tears…
D: …could not extinguish torch songs this strong. So very beautiful. [towards end of album] Yet here we have instance number eighty-seven-thousand-four-hundred-and-two of a greaseball, cheeseball Saturday Night Live style saxophone solo ruining another otherwise faultless song.
C: Clarence Clemmons, so much to answer for.
D: They still don’t have a drummer? Another incomplete band…
C: That means that each get an entire half of the proverbial pie! Great opening salvo, it’s the drum beat equivalent of a strobe light in the face. They have a song about asking if you got the real good cigarettes from the store like I asked.
D: A frequently posed question around my house.
C: There’s that chugalug thing they do so well, on the chorus of “I Hate the Way You Love.” You can ride that into the sunset. By taking instruments away, rock’n’roll has reminded us that at it’s core it’s dance music. Fewer instruments means the sound has room to breathe. And breath plus beat equals boogie. Even if the beat is that of a machine. See? Drum machines do have soul.
D: I am more enamored with their human qualities. Speaking of which, I’d like to give a hearty salute to VV for being that rarest of regional species: the untanned Floridian.
D: [end of “Rodeo Town”] That is so Velvets! She is fearsome yet vulnerable, a potent combination.
C: The fella in the group goes by the nom de rock Hotel. I think Motel would be more appropriate. Someplace where rooms can be rented by the hour.
D: [Listening to the three note piano riff on “Ticket Man”] They should use piano on more songs. And they should use more of the piano, period. I think there’s 85 more keys to be precise. It’s like the music has been shaved to an inch of its life.
C: I’ve always said there’s two types of people: the shaves and the shave-nots.
D: Not as catchy as the first album, but The Kills aren’t dead yet.
D: [listening to “One Life Away”] He actually says, “I’m visiting my fraulein”! An inspired approach to breaking into the hofbrau circuit. How sweet is this…you could whistle or hum along to this entire album without feeling stupid once.
C: This guy seems unassuming. I’d like to hang out with him in an Airsteam trailer crossing the country. Easygoing, but clever. He’s making lyrical origami out of the sad history of rock on “Fuel For Fire”: “I’ve dug beneath the wall of sound/the song is always the same/I’ve got lonesome fuel for fire/And so my heart is always on the line.” This album is genius. For fans of Dylan, Red House Painters/Sun Kill Moon, even Chris Isaak aficianados feeling frisky.
D: I have seen M. Ward. He has curly hair. And if the hair is curly outside your head, it means there is something curly going on inside too.
C: This song “Big Boat” is the dis track of the year! All about how this guy who says he’s got a big boat really only has a tiny dinghy! HAHA!
D: “I’ll Be Yr Bird” – a bird reference, just like Antony. The whole lot are ornithology-crazed.
C: What do you think the M in M. Ward stands for?
D: Megamensch. Obviously.
D: Ween covering Kraftwerk?
C: It’s like they’re playing the zaniest parts possible. Zappa plus Sandy Shaw plus Miami bass plus Peter Frampton talkbox plus “Da Funk”-era Daft Punk. [as song builds] You can hear why this band has such a good live rep. And there’s the Disneyland Electrical Parade. Geniuses, pushing it forward: a band mashing itself up. And dig those fistfulls of piano notes!
D: Eleanor and Matthew Friedberger, I salute you. Or I would, except I am sitting on my hands in an effort to behave.
C: Somewhere, Neil Hagerty doesn’t feel so lonesome anymore.
D: Todd Rundgren looks up, with interest.
C: Friedberger & Frampton has a certain ring to it. The law firm that rocks!
D: That’s very similar to an Echo & Bunnymen song, “Killing Moon.” [tries singing along]
C: You can’t sing along with this record. How you going to do “fireman Frank friendly fed fee-free/daznk dusty doughnuts den da dribble drank”? Can you imagine Fiery Furnaces karaoke?
D: Only after multiple pitchers of margaritas.
C: Pace yourself, please.
D: You may call me Margarita Friedbergerhead from now on.
C: I may not.
Illegal Tender EP
C: More complex melodic pop, lotsa cool elements. One song goes into a violin and horn shuffle! Uptempo, Fall-Stones swagger.
D: “Are you ready Steve?”
C: Especially the garage-glam stomp here. I love the theatricality of these guys. Brian May type clipped, melodic, strutting guitar. What a tone.
D: You know, it cannot be coincidence that Brian May and Louis XIV, I mean the historical figure Louis XIV, have the exact same hairdo.
C: There may be something to your curly hair theory after all.
Kings of Leon
Aha Shake Heartbreak
D: I can’t understand a word he’s saying but I like the way he’s saying it.
C: Hawaiian washboard, dub reggae bass, tropical storm strumming… Prince Valiant takes a holiday in Waikiki. Then it goes into a Strokes/Beefheart/Talking Heads thing, taut’n’funky.
D: These guys appear to be cooking up something in the shack in back. Remember that time we were driving through Llano, Texas in search of Cooper’s Pit BBQ, and suddenly there was so much smoke in the road we had to pull of?
C: And we pulled right into Cooper’s parking lot!
D: Yes, well, Kings of Leon have a compellingly smoky sound that make me think of that. Big britches and brisket.
C: This band is like, all brothers or cousins or both. And Fiery Furnaces are brother and sister. How come my siblings were never that cool?
D: I’m sure they feel just as highly about you.
D: This rocks! Straight outta the penal colony commonly called Australia. “Purple haze is in the sky/See the angels wink on high!” I can understand and appreciate every word.
C: For fans of Blue Cheer and Black Sabbath. Of which we are two.
D: When I was last in Australia, I drank beer made from Tazmanian water. It gave me special insight into the psyche of the Tazmanian devil. And, I believe, into the dark hearts of Wolfmother.
C: Dude, they have a song called “The White Unicorn”!
D: See, if they were from Brooklyn, that would be irony. But Australians rock unrepentantly and irony-free. This is the way for me.
C: Break out the two-hitter.
D: It’s a no-brainer.
Parchman Farm EP
(Jackpine Social Club)
D: [listening to Mirror Spirit] “Heyyyyy something’s burning/Again.” I know that feeling.
C: Cool screecher gnome there, doin’ the bluesy shouter vocals. But he’s got that yowl that echoes.
D: Some of the Grand Funk/Cactus/ZZ Top boogie woogie oogie.
C: Harmonica. Roadhouse! Makes me wanna pour some Jameson’s in my latte. I’m still waiting for some piano or the proverbial blazing lead guitar. Like Dickey Betts, she takes a while to get into it but then—
C: Yes, she. Guitar mixed too low. They really foreground the vocals and hi-hats.. [listening to “Too Many People” still] When she soloes…she has a real good solo flow going, it’s non-rushed, just thoughtful melodic lines. Hardly anyone plays like that anymore, it’s a lost virtue, being able to jam it out without going all melismatic on the fretboard. I am digging it, I just wish they’d turn it up more.
D: [listening to chant that starts midway “Chosen Child”] This is for the people who want to mellow their harsh.
C: Another Bay Area band. Shit! This and Comets On Fire and High On Fire, all from the same bioregion. Unbelievable.
D: The West Coast is in the roadhouse again! [looking at sleeve] Another EP??? First incomplete bands, now incomplete records…
C: I like how their songs can switch direction hard in the middle, or in the final third. There’s a loosening of the song structure rules. They need a deeply psychedelic ballad with all the trimmings—Mellotron, phased vocals—and so on here somewhere.
D: That’s the flaw in the flow.
Stairs and Elevators
C: Another chick guitarist playing rock n roll. Cool voice, she can really siren-ate when she wants to, nice Nirvana chords, catchy vocal turns, not the best lyrics especially “New Resolution.”
D: I resolve to skip this song.
C: Her name is Erika Wennerstrom.
D: Kind of a country voice.
C: I picture her hand on her hip on “Runnin’”—awful song titles by the way—scarf on her head, in a heat-fogged kitchen at the stove, kids running around, telling off her husband, at the end of her rope… “I hope there’s a higher ground/Cuz I’m going steadily down.”
D: Sounds like there’s a piano under there, I’d love to hear her without a rock band, away from the plodding bass, although I kinda like the plod on “The Will Song.” It does have a nice tug to it, that groove she’s riding.
C: When it starts stomping on “Swamp Song”….look out. That’s her tempo.
Sunday Nights: The Songs of Junior Kimbrough
C: Featuring Heartless Bastards doing their righteous shitkicker stomping on “Done Got Old” – weirdly defiant given its sad lyrics, so maybe that doesn’t work on the conceptual level – why would you be so proud that you can’t do what you used to? – but it sounds awesome. In a way it’s the Led Zeppelin treatment.
D: I’d buy this just for the Spiritualized track. That’s a brainstormtrooper.
C: The Stooges, doing two versions of the same song, one of Junior’s cruelest.
D: Hey it’s the Black Keys rocking. Hey it’s our friends the Fiery Furnaces, man listen to that fleet fingerwork. That’s like hillbilly Mahavishnu Orchestra stuff right there.
D: Birds of Fiery Furnaces!
C: Thee Shams’ track is a stomper too. Stomp is the tempo of the year! Queens of the Stone Age, Kings of Leon, Louis XIV…
D: I gotta get some new boots.
C: More Stooges here at the end with Watt. Iggy is saying frankly unsayable things. And the band is getting down into the meat of the monster. Lock up your daughters. And your sons too.
Love’s a Real Thing: The Funky Fuzzy Sounds of West Africa (World Psychedelic Classics 3)(Luaka Bop/V2)
D: Not sure what’s specifically psychedelic about this.
C: …Other than it might expand some people’s consciousness to listen to electric music from Africa. We always forget that there are kids who haven’t yet lucked into hearing King Sunny Ade or Fela Kuti or Ali Farka Toure or Tinariwen, yet…
D: These guys shoulda been on the Junior Kimbrough tribute album instead of Mr. BUH-LOOOZE Explosion, who is, after all, the worst kind of novelty artist: a failed humorist.
C: Mmm that’s true, now!
D: “Better Change Your Mind” by William Onyeabor is the coolest homegrown soul-funk I’ve heard in some time. Like a home demo of a bitter-but-still-sweet-singing Curtis Mayfield giving a word of advice.
C: There’s a Fela cover on here—I think, I could be wrong—“Ifa,” by Tunji Oyelana & the Benders, what a monster groove that is.
Hey that’s the beginning of theme song for The World on NPR!
D: “I’m Lisa Mullens.”
C: “And I’m Korva Coleman!”
D: “Let’s do the numbers!”
The Chemical Brothers
Push the Button
D: Push the “off” button.
C: Drugs help with this kind of music, but not as much as they used to… So much machine repetition, like a child’s TV program. If I’m going to live in a loop, I want it to be organically played, not by robots.
D: If I am not mistaken, and I seldom am, Keyboard Money Mark already had an album called Push the Button. Mark’s button was better.
C: They always are lifting off other people. Remember when they started out, they were calling themselves the Dust Brothers? Bizarre. You can’t sample someone else’s name for your own name!
D: Unless you have good lawyers.
C: Let’s at least salute them for “Left Right,” an antiwar electro-stomp song featuring American rapper Anwar Superstar. “What’s the difference between Bush and Saddam?…If it’s so important for us to fight for mankind/Why don’t I see any of they kinfolk out on the front line?” Sounds like your standard-issue late-’90 know-nothing No Limit rapper, except he’s pissed off and he’s aware.
D: Maybe I’m a misty-eyed optimist but this could be an anthem. Somewhere, poor Soulja Slim is still crying.
C: Speaking of aware. I think Mr. Ex-Stone Roses singer here has been reading his Galeano. This little chant at the end of “Upside Down” (which is the tile of Galeano’s book of fury): “Seven percent own 84 percent/Of all the wealth on earth/Oil is the spice to make a man/Forget man’s worth.” That’s some pretty heavy stuff. I always get the feeling that the music Ian Brown is most into is really rasta reggae, because that’s what his political perspective and lyrical approach resemble, even if the music doesn’t always.
D: [Listening to “Time Is My Everything”] Ladies and germs, you are witnessing the cheesiest horn recorded in the last four decades.
C: That really is outrageously bad. That’s the kind of thing that people usually get disciplined for. Lose their jobs, no severance, future wages garnished by court order…
D: [listening to “Destiny and Circumstance”] I like his voice but this music is just embarassing. That guitar work is just [haughty voice] dreadfully dull. I can’t be bothered to listen to it. You bore me, Ian Brown musicians. [listening to the title track] It’s better when it’s more tripped out like this.
C: Yes, but…
D: [“The Sweet Fantastic “ starts] There’s that horn again!?!
C: All this electronic stuff is the wrong approach for him. He’s so close to the earth, he should use as few electrical appliances as possble. Just natural human energy playing drums and guitars, and for goddsake real horns. Street musicians in Morocco, or Cambodia, or Brazil. Anything but this.
C: British band, hot over there. Live in a barn.
D: Let’s do the numbers. Obvious inspirations: Happy Mondays, Regular Fries, late-period Primal Scream.
C: Lads on LSD, into raves and comedown music, but enamored by rock n roll’s inherent mystique and power.
D: Plus Air.
C: [belches lightly] Pretty decent for a first record.
C: They could write an anthem or they could become something embarassing. We shall see.
D: Based on the evidence before the court, the piano is really making a comeback in music…
C: This reminds me of the guy who shows up at your party and you have to figure out a non-confrontational way to make him leave. Sounds like Drive Like Jehu or the Rapture or Entrance at a full-moon piano recital at an iceskate rink. They’ve already got the organ there for these guys.
D: Reminds me of the circus scenes in Wings of Desire.
C: Always back to the German filmmakers with you. Well, I’d rather hear some Vincent Price narration than this guy’s Crime and the City Solution impression. But the music’s pretty good.
D: This last song [“Sharing Your Soul With the Group”] has a nice gothic flourish to it. And a decent chord change.
Another Nail in the Remodeled Coffin
D: Cleveland band. The legendary Mirrors!
C: [listening to “If I Swear”] Very angelic voice, like if Peter Cetera was fronting the Feelies. I have a theory that all music that comes out of Cleveland reflects that state of its sports teams at the time. I bet this was from the era when World B. Free was playing for the Cavaliers. And Super Joe Charboneau was having his one and only big season hitting home runs.
D: Wasn’t he Snoopy’s favorite player? I think Snoopy wrote letters to Super Joe that went unanswered.
C: No, I think it’s Charlie Brown that wrote letters to Super Joe. Anyways I bet this was created the year the Indians had 10-cent beer night and there ended up being a riot. It was music made on the cheap for everyone to have a good time to, but things got a bit out of control and everything went up in flames in the end.
D: I think this stuff is just as important as Television, but of course Mirrors were not from New York City so nobody talked about them then, or now. Except for themselves. As frontman Jamie Klimek writes in the sleeve notes: “Dedicated to all the people I’ve worked with whose names I can never remember. You know who you are. I sure as hell don’t.”
C: One gets the sense that the feeling was mutual.
D: Michael Yonkers?
C: No, it’s some varying-fidelity weirdbeard Italian psych band. At first this sounds like Animal Collective, without the dizzyness, alittle more twee. But you know, I’m not into sped-up voices.
D: Smells like Demento. “Fish heads, fish heads…”
C: But this [“Circles of Sorrow”] is gorgeous. Intimate, slow-dawning rural psychedelia.
D: Whispering is underrated, under-used. Morrison used to do it all the time, there was a reason for that. I once heard Bjork whispering some Anais Nin erotica on the radio and I almost fainted. When your instrument is your voice, you gotta use every thing it can do. The ears will respond.
C: And beautiful birdsong here at the end of this song, beginning of the next one, entitled “The Garden Pt. 1.”
D: Now they are birds. Please, gentle Arthur readers, stick with this album, its riches lie near its center, like a luscious basil-mint blow pop.
D: Everyone’s gone bird-crazy. Ornithologists all.
C: Birds, flute drones, gamelan, bells: meditative. Reminds me of Kraig Grady’s false ethnographies. And Jon Hassell’s fourth world records too, of course. And Holger Czukay. And late-period Talk Talk. Anything David Toop wrote about in Ocean of Sound, you know?
D: And like that other drone-unit on Kranky that we adore: Growing. Wonderful, brilliant lifebuzzing stuff. Birds taught humans to sing, but since then humans drowned them out with their own voice and instruments. That was our loss. Perhaps it’s time for us to start listening to their song again.