Originally published in Arthur No. 12 (Sepember 2004)
REVIEWS BY C and D (and E…)
THE GRIS GRIS
The Gris Gris
C: Okay D, we’re gonna start this one off with something I know you will dig—the debut album from San Francisco psych-rock three-piece Gris Gris, who are led by that kid Greg Ashley, whose solo record we dug last year.
D: Yes I remember Mr. Ashley well! He is the new Syd Barrett and [listening to keyboard run] he is advising us to join him on an interstellar overdrive magic carpet ride.
C: The carpet’s in the garage, and it’s kind of greasy. It’s not used, it’s vintage.
D: Rock bands were doing this in garage basements in the Bay Area of ‘60s, after they got their first Yardbirds records. And all across Milwaukee in 1987. Mister Ashley is singing his ASH off! I also like the simplicity of the drumming.
THE BLACK KEYS
C: Third album from Akron’s finest, once again produced by themselves.
D: [listening] I am not sure if they needed to make another album on their own. There’s not enough progression here.
C: It’s more mellow than the last one. But I like it. Listen to the solo here on “Desperate Man.” And this one on “Stack Shot Bully.”
D: Hmm, definite burning there. This is a 7.5 moving up to 9.3…
C: And this Kinks cover, “Act Nice and Gentle” is great, really blissed out, reminds me of going down to the river in the summertime. I didn’t think I ever wanted to hear another take on “Summertime Blues,” but…
D: That’s a rocker with extra thrusters, baby! It still is summertime and yes I still have those blues! Even though it says “do not duplicate,” can I duplicate it?
Wet From Birth
C and D: [blank stares]
C: Um… Pretty belabored electro dance new wave blah blah.
D: I am in Berlin getting down with the transvestites.
C: I see 16-year-old girls dancing poorly.
D: Who are they? I wish he woulda left the transformer effect at home.
C: They come from Omaha. This is their second album.
D: Really??? [listening more closely] They’ve finally written a song good enough for Victoria’s Secret commercial. Congratulations!
C: Maybe we just don’t have an ear for this stuff, but, sheesh, this is painfully shitty. Crap new wave is a joke that didn’t need to be told, ever again.
MOUSE ON MARS
D: This is so bad in such an obvious way. They don’t even number their tracks! So inconsiderate.
C: What, you’ve never heard of glitch in Milwaukee or Berlin?
D: Yes yes, but this… Mouse on Mars have lost it. This trying-to-be-funky-and-clever thing is not working in their favor.
C: You are not happy with the Mouse’s progress.
D: They are progressing to a place where nobody wants to dance. And I am a dancing kind of fellow!
She Loves You
(One Little Indian)
C: An album of covers by Greg Dulli’s Twilight Singers project. He used to lead the Afghan Whigs, about four decades or so ago.
D: Never heard of ‘em. I am not a fan of the ‘90s.
D: Really? [listening to cover of “Hyperballad”] This sounds like U2. Agh, can’t stand it. Even the guitar is ringing! Can we please listen to something I might like?
C: Dulli does sound like Bono when he tries to hit those trailing Bjorknotes.
D: Is that her voice in the background? [sarcastic] Are they holding hands? This is ghastly! [listening to cover of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”] Now he sounds like Marianne Faithful. I’m getting a drink. Okay, maybe three drinks. [heads for kitchen]
C: I only like the songs where Mark Lanegan sings, really. This version of the blues “Hard Killing Floor” where Lanegan sings lead is all nice and charcoal and moonshine… But basically, I like this album more in concept than in execution. The world doesn’t need an easy listening MOR version of “A Love Supreme,” in my humble opinion.
Trust Not Those In Whom Without Some Touch of Madness
C: [to tape recorder] D’s in a bad mood, again! Sheesh. Okay, guess I’ll keep going here. This is the new album by the sublegendary Thalia Zedek, who lead the great lost rock ‘n roll band Come for many years. Unforgettable voice, jointly sponsored by Jameson’s and some devilry, I think. Like later Marianne Faithful, actually. Anyway, this is pretty straightahead sad-eyed twilight rock ‘n roll, with some violin on it, which of course sends me back to another lost-‘90s-rock-n-roll-band-with-a-great-female-singer: the Geraldine Fibbers. They also had a violin. Yep.
The Second Man’s Middle Stand
C: Mike Watt from the minutemen and fIREHOSE and current Stooges bassist doing his first album in six years, a total concept piece about his near-terminal illness, plus Dante and one thousand and one other layers of meaning, played by a storming organ-drums-bass three-piece. 9 songs, with eight of them over 5:30, which means this earns Prog certification. Like a particularly smart Deep Purple, subbing out the ponderousness for some art-punk new-beat spastics, splatter and stutter. Do you need a lyric sheet to make sense of it? Yes you do.
C: One of the worst album titles in recent times, but let’s not hold that too much against it. Continuing in the ‘90s-semistar series here, the new solo album from the former singer of the Replacements, who were also doing traditional American rock ‘n roll when that wasn’t exactly called for by the times. Never really dug his solo work, but this is ridiculously good at what it’s doing: really melodic mid-tempo rock ‘n roll that you listen to at the gaspump and then hum the rest of the way home: kinda Oasis, actually, and kinda Tom Petty. And “Looking Up In Heaven” is gorgeous perfection. Yep.
D: [walks back into the room holding big coffee mug, mumbling to himself] People can’t tell you’re an alcoholic if you drink it out of a coffee cup…
C: [oblivious] Solo album from the guitarist for the Black Crowes, who are on some kind of trial separation. Very in-the-pocket, and lovely harmonies, just solid rock ‘n roll songs for longhairs washing their VW bus on a Sunday afternoon.
THE WHIRLWIND HEAT
Flamingo Honey EP
C: This is the new EP from the Detroit band Jack White called the closest we’re gonna get to a Devo in this generation.
D: Hmph. I will be the judge of that!
C: 10 songs, 10 minutes, each song almost exactly one minute.
D: [listening to “The Meat Packers”] Sounds like when the White Stripes covered all those Beefheart songs on that Sub Pop 7-inch.
C: You’re totally right! Good call
D: These guys sound a little too smug to me. They’re just good enough that they’re getting laid.
C: I like conceptual limits, generally. Sometimes it gets you out of a creative jam, makes you go into a new space you wouldn’t’ve otherwise thought of. It necessitates invention and problem solving, keep you from getting too set in your ways. Standard John Cage theory, right? Brian Eno…
D: These guys should work with Eno!
C: He did produce Devo’s first album, didn’t he? Hmm. Perhaps it can be arranged.
COLONEL CLAYPOOL’S BUCKET OF BERNIE BRAINS
The Big Eyeball in the Sky
(Prawn Song Records)
C: Okay, I think I’ve had enough Primus for one lifetime but this looked interesting. It’s Claypool on bass, Bernie Worrell from P-Funk on keyboards, Buckethead on guitar and Brain on drums. Like one of those old Axiom jams that Bill Laswell used to put together back in the early ‘90s with Bootsy and all them.
D: I used to listen to Primus. They had one good album, I don’t remember what it was called but it certainly wasn’t Pork Soda. That was the worst.
C: [cracking himself up] The wurst, you mean, ha ah ha!
E: [entering room] Hey guys, what’s going on? This sounds great!
C: Whoa. The notorious E dares to enter Arthur’s inner sanctum.
D: We have not seen a woman here in sometime.
C: But your presence here has been foretold.
E: You guys might have more company if you guys didn’t lock the door all the time!
C: Sorry… So, you really like this, E?
E: I love Les Claypool’s voice. I admire his integrity. And can you say “Pork Soda” without laughing? I think not.
C: Er… I believe no one should imitate Zappa. Well not like this, at least.
D: I do like things that are circus-y. It’s like a Fellini movie, you’re waiting for the transvestite to pop out of the tent…
C: I think I’d like it more if I was 16 and playing Nintendo.
E: This is great. What’s your problem, C? If it said “Ween” on the box, you would totally dig it. They’re clearly incredibly smart and having fun.
C: Hmm. Okay, maybe if I was 14.
D: This is totally late Residents and is making me want to get very high right now. I could get a lot of cleaning done to this.
Who Is This America?
E: Fela? Tony Allen? This is cool, of course.
D: Is this from Nigeria? If I had to DJ a wedding, I would definitely play this. You can do any kind of dance to it, there’s so much going on. You can meringue to it.
C: But it’s not Fela Kuti, it’s Antibalas, that group from New York trying to bring back that original Afrobeat. They’re so good now, I can’t tell the difference, really.
D: Don’t they have like 86 people in their band or something?
E: [dancing] More like 20! It’s between them and the Polyphonic Spree for largest band in the Arthur world…
C: I have to say that as good as they are, their lyrics still aren’t there. Fela’s was always really biting and clever. Most of this is too straightforward, there’s none of that really cutting, mordant wit.
D: [dancing with eyes closed] Who cares, this is phenomenal! It makes me want to put my ass into it!
C: [to tape recorder] He said he was a dancing fellow, and now he is proving it.
E: Hey, did you guys hear that Rick James died today?
C: A lot of people owe him big time.
D: Especially those guys who had girlfriends who became superfreaks!!!
Pigs of the Roman Empire
E: Now for something completely different.
C: Is it Godflesh?
E: It’s actually the Melvins with Lustmord.
C: Awesome dark sludge from some creepy condemned industry at the edge of town.
E: [listening to “The Bloated Pope”] I think this music is really erotic! Much more than easy listening or slow jam, because it’s dark and there’s an element of mystery.
C: And the fifth song is called “Pink Bat,” which is almost as good a title as “Pork Soda,” eh, E?
E: [smiling] Yes, exactly.
D: It’s not my favorite kind of music, but I could scrub the walls to it.
E: Hey D, what are you drinking in that coffee cup? It doesn’t smell like coffee…
Original soundtrack by Bobby Beausoleil
C: Speaking of dark and mysterious, here is the original soundtrack for Kenneth Anger’s legendary Lucifer Rising. The original composer was supposed to be Jimmy Page, but Anger ended up using this score by Bobby Beausoleil, an old Manson associate who recorded it in the ‘70s while in prison…
D: UNBELIEVABLY black! Black turned to 100, with lizard eyes. But subtle and beautiful, somehow. This is a high point of human culture.
D: Throbbing Gristle!!!
C: Yeah kind of, right? It’s actually Wolf Eyes, who we reviewed last ish.
E: [reading song titles] “Black Vomit.” “Urine Burn.” And of course, “Stabbed in the Face.” I think they need to get some grooves going. That’s their problem.
D: I used to go see a lot of bands like this. Then I stopped.
C: You have to see it in a small space where the sound of just overwhelming and crushing and inescapable and you are just being confronted with it. I can’t really picture listening to it at home—
E: Me either.
C: —but maybe that’s my problem?
HOPE OF THE STATES
The Lost Riots
D: [disgusted] Is this the new Billy Corgan album?
C: It’s Hope of the States, young band, they’re being hyped as the greatest thing since buttered bread and bangers by the British press. One of the guitarists hanged himself in the studio before they finished the album.
D: [listening to “Don’t Go to Pieces”] I have a theory about the suicide. Maybe he did it because he heard the singing on this song!
E: [groans] Double-ouch. No need to be so callous, D. You might want to lay off the vodka a bit… But yes, this singing is really awful.
C: I thought I’d like this because they’re supposed to be dark and political and grand but it just sounds like the dreary precious bits of Radiohead. No thank you.
E: Hype of the States!
The New Face of Smiling
E: My Bloody Valentine plus post-rock.
C: One of those doesn’t belong. And My Bloody Valentine always had good melodies.
E: I’d give it some more spins, but yes, this is one for the connoisseurs of shoegazism or whatever it’s called.
E: Reminds me of Belly. Or Suzanne Vega. “Oh woe is me, I’ve got a spot on my blouse”-type stuff. [in teenage girl voice] “Tori Amos was the one person who could understand my heartbreak.”
C: I think it’s sort of pretty, but yeah it is another record from these Scots who never change their mood from guarded pessimism.
E: This gives women a bad name. Let’s listen to that RTX album so I can feel better about women in rock.
C: [digging around in CD pile] I can’t find the RTX. That figures. It’s already been stolen from the Arthur offices.
D: Hey man, don’t look at me.
C: So anyway here’s thee Shams. Young band on Fat Possum label.
E: Sounds like the Standells, recorded with modern equipment.
D: Finally something I can dig here, I’ve been going NUTS!!! New garage rock to smash your beercans too!
E: They’re not doing anything new, but they’re doing it very well.
C: [thoughtfully] Seems like that’s what we’ve been saying about everything lately.
San Francisco’s Still Damned
E: Vintage punk rock from ‘70s San Francisco.
D: “Baby you’re so repulsive!” If you don’t have it, buy it, this is awesome American history. It’s not that stupid staccato punk of the last 20 years, it’s closer to original rock ‘n’ roll. [spills drink] Coffee cups aren’t made to drink ice cubes out of.
C: Would you like a bib?
D: Only if I can have some lobster too!
E: This is really good shit, man. Why can’t people sound like this anymore? Oh, when punk was young.
D: You know why? Cuz now if someone gets punched in the face during a show, they have to quit! For a month! [everyone nods, sadly]
E: Okay, I’m outta here, guys. No more nostalgia for me! Tra la la.
C: New one from the Libertines, England’s most troubled band. Somehow they made another record.
D: It’s pretty good for 1981. I just hope the next song is about his happy knickers.
C: Sassy! But seriously, this is good stuff, English beyond belief of course. Poetic skiffle mod punk rock n roll rockabilly with good riffs and close harmonies by young guys living the bohemian dream in the Old Smoke. [dreamily] It’s all very romantic…
D: I can’t put my head around this. The cover makes it look like it’s a compilation of ‘60s Italian psychedelic softcore porn soundtracks.
C: It’s actually this band out of the Bay Area… Somewhere around Miles’ more out-there stuff in the ‘70s, when he was playing a keyboard.
D: Nervy. There’s a fine line between experimental and self-congratulation.
C: I dig it. There’s a lot of fine contemplative electric piano stuff on here too. More music for Sunday afternoons, drifting off into siesta after a couple of mint juleps…
FESTIVAL IN THE DESERT DVD
(World Village/Harmonia Mundi)
C: A full-length documentary about what may be the music festival in the world—out in the Sub-Saharan dunes in Africa, in Mali, near Timbuktu. Besides the nomads who live in the area, the only people there are people who’ve made a real effort to be there.
D: Look at those robes! The greens and blues really pop. [definitively] This is what people are supposed to do – sit around fires and talk and make music.