Originally published in Arthur No. 17/July 2005
C: We meet again.
D: Indeed. [goes to fridge, returns with chilled brownie]
C: Okay? We are ready to begin. D, I wish you clarity.
D: Yes. Focus pocus.
Global Enlightenment Part 1 DVD
C: I thought this was gonna be Keith being oh-so-weird but actually it’s him being clever… He’s talking philosophy.
D: He’s talking seltzer water.
C: He’s talking about theft, it’s a favorite subject of his. And this is about how he dealt with that: by doing something that is unstealable. Listen to what he’s saying…
Kool Keith on screen, talking about what he keeps in his refrigerator: “I learnt that people like to steal your sodas. Seltzer water, people don’t like it. You could send a big jug of seltzer water around, and nobody would touch it… But people taking my Hawaiian Punches, people drinking all my Tropicana. That happened for weeks, and months. I really learned that seltzer water keeps people away. It’s like a twist: I really don’t like it myself, but I like it because people don’t like it. You have to do it that way. But you have to learn how to like it, like it’s so good to you: it’s SO GOOD to have a glass of seltzer water.”
C: That’s the way I’ve felt about Keith’s last, uh, five records. They’re hard to like! But now I gotta listen to them again, because they were hard to like on purpose!
D [musing]: Hmm. I have to admit I did not even hear those records.
C: Keith is brilliant even when he’s talking about being weird as a conceptual survival strategy. This is funny: watching Keith on Tour. It’s a sustained critique of status-obsessed modern hip-hop. So, he’s supposed to be showing how large he’s living, that’s what hip-hop stars do on their DVDs. But here he’s living in a hotel, he’s eating at Popeye’s. He’s got no hot women on his wing so he follows one around buys her some shorts. He hangs out with music stars friends, that is, the streetbusking guitarist. He has trouble finding liquor. The whole thing is done straight….
D: Even straighter than the Turbonegro film.
C: Which is saying a lot, when you think about it.
Kool Keith on screen, walking through Manhattan’s streets: “I’m always touring, even when I’m walking…. Am I above the streets? I am above the streets at my mentality level. Everybody now raps behind the microphone and a couple of bodyguards and they say they’re the streets. You see a lot of rappers, they walk around with a lot of people with ‘em, with headsets? Their reality is not even reality. It’s a fantasy. I don’t sit in an SUV, doing my documentary, ride around and talk about ‘I was in the streets, I live the street, I am the streets.’ You mean you ride through the streets. Ha. You know what I’m saying?”
C: He’s goofing like Sun Ra. Everything has at least two and a half meanings.
D: Thirty-five minutes of new stoner comedy-philosophy.
Little Freddie King
You Don’t Know What I Know
D: [looking at cover, reading the album title] “You don’t know what I know?” I have a feeling he knows the same thing Kool Keith knows. Which it is I do not but I am trying to know.
C: It’s obviously a Fat Possum production.
D: Which means it’s thick enough to eat with a fork.
C: Raw John Lee Hooker feel, without sheen or Clapton cameos.
D: John Lee Hooker would never have a song called “Crack Head Joe.”
C: It’s about time someone paid tribute to a crackhead.
C: Blowfly is an old R & B songwriter dude who’s been running the crude parody game for 75 years. Wears a cape and mask to protect his secret identity. Totally classic if you’re in a certain mood.
D: We have to give him some major credit to the cover picture, which is a takeoff on the Bad Brains’ first album cover, only Blowfly is doing a urine lighting strike on the Capitol building.
C: Blowfly has to be experienced live, he’s a comedian provocateur goofball. (You can see why he’s on Jello Biafra’s label now.) I saw him opening for the Pixies and Soul Asylum once at a half-empty Universal Amphitheatre, and I know this is damning by faint praise Blowfly blewflied them off the stage. And get this: his ENTIRE band was wearing GIANT…RAINBOW….AFROS!!!!
D: [looks at sleeve picture of Blowfly with his middle fingers extended] I like his fingernails more than his new record.
C: To update George Clinton: Smell my fingernail.
A Band of Bees
Free the Bees
C: There are songs on here that are as good as the originals they’re styled after– whether it’s the Zombies, or the ballads, the Afrobeat stuff. The writing is great, the spirit is there, the production is definitely there, but… Could it be that they are the men who know too much? With the internet and Mojo every phase of Western pop music is now available to kids, and it’s all presented with this sexy, dramatic gosh-wow. What does that mean for young smart musicians? Are they perhaps over-educated in music history?
D: Maybe you are an over-educated listener!
C: Could be true. I’m sure if I was 12, I’d listen to this one record all summer. But back then, you did listen to only one record all summer because that’s the most that you could get your hands on. You had just enough money saved up to buy a new record. Do kids even do that anymore, listen to one record for a whole summer? This one record, with all its styles and the sheer rich quality of the writing and playing, would keep me going. But now…
D: Now you are becoming an old man. Which is sad for you, because for me this is wonderful stuff. It’s not just vintage décor, the innards are top-notch too. And as my good friend Gertrude Stein said, A good song is a good song is a good song.
C: Another high-quality retro band from across the Pond. A fruity harmony pop mix of everything from 1974: Elton John, The Raspberries, Supertramp…a splash of BTO. All that’s missing are Flo & Eddie. You wouldn’t say they scorch.
D: I would definitely deny scorching here.
C: If they could just rock a bit—is that too much to ask?—they could be the new Pooh Sticks. Cuz even I have to admit it’s good stuff. But pianos and high male harmonies? I can only take so much before I reach for my revolver. I need some gee-tar, D, come on.
D: You are becoming impatient and whiny in your old age, with each passing minute. May I suggest that you have one of these chilled brownies?
D: I heart this record from the first second.
C: You know how some people say ‘I’ve liked that band since the beginning’? Well, with Teenage Fanclub, I HAVE liked them since the beginning! And this is great. Critics have for years said all they were doing was the Byrds and Big Star, from the hair and the style of songwriting and so forth. Now they’re like the Byrds in another way: they just keep on putting out records, long after they have a chance at having a hit. This is their sixth album, they’ve now got an undeniable body of work. And they have someone named Frances playing drums, who I at first thought was Frances from fellow Scotpop stars the Vaselines, but I am now discovering that this is an altogether different Frances.
D: They march to the beat of a different Frances.
C: Yes. Anyways at this point you listen to a Fannies album and since each member gets to write a few songs, you get to see how they’re each getting along in life: who’s married, who’s divorced, who’s been single too long. Each album is an update on their domestic life. Which is cool, when you’ve grown up with them.
D: You’ve grown up with them, singing along with them from a distance.
The Glasgow School
C: The Scottish band from whence it all issued: Orange Juice.
D: Is there something wrong with the singer? It sounds like a weak Morrissey.
C: But this is before the Smiths! And not nearly as solipsistic. I think when you’re Scots and you like Otis Redding, this is what your singing ends up sounding like. This is a great band, totally innovative. Check the song “I’ll Never Be Man Enough For You.” They crated that fey indie rock boy thing, which was basically scandalous after punk made stuff hard and aggressive.
D: What about New Wave?
C: But this is guitar based, not keyboards. They loved the Byrds, not glam. It’s even here in the lyrics: “I wear my fringe like Robert McGuinn.” It does sound thin; it’s more of a treble sound. But that’s the aesthetic.
D: I can hear their significance, even if I’m not donning a turtleneck and scarf to listen to it.
C: This is the real source of Franz Ferdinand, not Gang of Four. Along with Josef K and Fire Engines and other records store clerk specials. This is a great collection, all the singles. [pauses] I’d also like to say here: Best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery to former Orange Juice mainman Edwyn Collins, who’s been struck down by a brain aneurysm. Get well, Edwyn.
C: Speaking of fey, the new EP from Vetiver: a coupla new songs, a Fleetwood Mac cover, a live version from the album last year. “Been So Long” is another humble Cabic classic.
D: I like Vetiver, and I like this, and I’m not even into the new folk thing!
C: You always talk about ‘the new folk thing’ like there’s a private club and the members all speak in code and have badges on their bongos.
D: [getting up to go to the kitchen] Anyone who I can imagine having a flower or curl in their hair, I call them “new folk.”
C: New folk? New fey.
C: Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance has been covering Higgins’ “Thicker Than A Smokey.”
D: This is music to burn one to.
C: To burn out to. It’s a reissue of a record that is an underground collectors’ favorite. Some of it’s in that vein of folkdream—check the Vetiver-like acoustic guitar-and-cello-and-sensitive-male-voice thing here. But this record came out in 1973. It’s some heavy country-folk soul-rock with an acid edge…that got buried in its birthyear, I guess by sensitive singer-songwriters laying a lot thicker stuff on the same surfaces. The dude articulates that really pretty subtle mood, when you’re just generally down, feeling vaguely doomed, when destiny becomes clear for a second, and paths seem to have narrowed, and the one that’s opened isn’t the one you wanted…
D: He sounds like he might not make it to the studio tomorrow…
C: Yeah. Or, he did make it to the studio, but everyone else had already gone home, and he was just there, alone.
Dreams Come True/Hi I Love You Right Heartily Here
D: Judee Sill! I have her first two albums. California crystal stream radiance of the first order.
C: This is the Jim O’Rourke-supervised presentation of the‘lost’ final album and other recordings made by another underground collector’s ‘70s soft-rock-folk-pop hero, the strange and beautiful and sadly late Judee Sill, a beloved-by-some woman-artist-cosmic freak of the universe who wandered to the edge and didn’t make it back. The biography as told in the booklet here is amazing; one husband says Sill “was convinced she was a genderless angel with a message and cross to bear and she called us ‘donors’ because she said that I had the same karma or similar karmas.” But… Well, I can see my mom putting this on between Carpenters sides. There’s just so much joy but sometimes it’s just too AOR for me: tasteful, honey crystal Cheerios for the soul type stuff
D: I love it. It’s almost too wholesome to bear.
C: I can’t associate any of the music here with what usually comes out of a heroin addicts. [pauses] Then again, Jerry Stahl wrote Alf.
C: Finally this record is being made available to the general public, not just those lucky enough to encounter Ms. Cluck at a show when she had some handmade copies on her. It’s good stuff, more of this sort of soulful folk thing that’s out there right now: a sadness that is more on a spiritual than personal level? Musically it’s pretty bare.
D: Somewhat Cat Power, a bit.
C: A banjo. A guitar. Cluck’s beautiful voice. Brooklyn. “Did you receive my love across the telepathic desert? A million signals sent…”
The Saga of Mayflower May
C: Dark folk-country concept album edging Nick Cave-ward, but of course much more mannered. Which may be where she still comes up shy for me: it’s all so beautiful and chorale-like, and from that way Enya and a thousand New Age Witch extras beckon.
D: Blixa is not slashing his guitar around on a Marissa Nadler record.
C: So we get lots of Espers-ish acoustic guitar and flutes and very pretty, haunted wintry singing. If only she spread her wings a bit more, and tried for different vistas once in a while, instead of the fog and forest and sea.
D: She could look to India…
(Riverboat/World Music Network)
C: He plays traditional Indian ragas on steel guitar. Of course it’s amazing. Joyous and contemplative, barely there and totally intense.
D: [looking at the sleeve] He’s got four instruments and he’s hugging them all.
C: [Quoting] “A thousand-year tradition of music.” And we were complaining about the effects of 40 years…
D: Might need to do a re-think on that one.
Gang Gang Dance
C: New album from New York’s Gang Gang Dance. Sounds like Yoko Ono collaborating with Sun City Girls, all music sourced from the 4ad catalog with a few Savage Republic guitars thrown in. And I mean that in a very positive way.
D: This sounds like really early Residents. I could have totally gotten laid to this in ‘84. I would be really embarrassed if my friends caught me listening to it. Unless there were naked girls and ecstasy involved. Then everything is acceptable.
C: It’s such a weird mix, the songs feel like they, or the album as a whole, could go anywhere at any moment, into a chorus, off to another continent, into another time. I think they’re only limited by their budget.
Akuma no Uta
C: Now for something completely different.
D: WHOA…. This is like ice age man thawing music… He thaws out, walks to his guitar, plugs in his amp and this is what he plays.
C: It’s a death affirmer, alright. An apocalypse summoner.
D: Who is this?
C: Boris, a trio from Japan, been going for a while. Holy shit. I was all set to sit through an entire album of the introduction drone and was happy about it. I didn’t expect this…
D: ROCK ONSLAUGHT!
C: I needed some guitar and this is the free-flow I.V. Okay, I hereby call this meeting of Facemelters Anonymous to order.
The Psychic Paramount
Gamelan Into the Mink Supernatural
C: I think we are required by our Arthur oath to like this, but I just want to say that were I not bound by those rules, I would still stand up and be counted for these guys. It’s amazing isn’t it? The first track is like where My Bloody Valentine would’ve gone if they’d continued after Loveless…
D: What an explosion of sound.
C: And it’s not just another needless projection of power. This second track is like Led Zeppelin doing chase music, in a Michael Mann cop film, circa 2009. Instrumental trio from back East.
D: I don’t know what to say except excuse me while I scrape my brain off the wall with a spatula.
C: This is Residual Echoes, from Santa Cruz. Feedback warriors who like to wig out into grooves and then back out into the old hyperspace. Bless ‘em.
D: This is the good stuff!
C: Can meets Chrome, and things gets rough.
D: Another double-banger. So many new bands blowing it into interstellar overdrive right now…
Growing/M. Evan Burden
C: [listening to Growing’s 20-minute track] Reminds me of early Tangerine Dream or Fripp & Eno. Clean, kind of cold, a million miles deep.
D: Sounds from the slowly rotating electric chrysalis.
C: That guy stuck in the ice? This is what he heard for those 70,000 years he was frozen…
D: There is nothing berserk about this one.
C: An excellent Animal Collective-related project that continues their good works, humming along through some electric fairieland. They’re on a roll right now, creatively.
D: It’s very visual music. Spherical chorales… celestial Cologne… minimalist landscapes…
C: … and now there’s swarms of birdnotes—birdwords—like Rautavaara’s Cantus Arcticus. But also like a lot of recent albums, it seems…
D: The birds are singing more these days, haven’t you noticed?
The Juan Maclean
Less Than Human
C: I’m going to dance to this, the finest straight-up dance album I’ve heard in years. I’m not sure how a guy from Six Finger Satellite ends up making an on-the-one pulsing joyride of New York electro-funk that this is…
D: [calling a rhythm] Talking Heads!
C: Yes. And sped-up Aphex Twin. And I don’t know. There’s something really wonderful about this. I can’t put my finger on it because it’s too busy moving. This guy has an extra finger, maybe he can make music that other people can’t…. In any event, looks like I will be dancing for the rest of the summer in private and in public. You have been warned.
D: As long as you don’t do the Crackhead Joe, everything should be fine.
C: Two fingers up.