Originally published in Arthur No. 18 (Sept. 2005)
REVIEWS BY C and D
Shinola Volume 1
C: Ween, the house band of Arthur.
D: Not that they’d ever come to our house.
C: Coming through with an album of outtakes. But it doesn’t—
D: [singing along to opening track “Good on the Bun”] “Tastes! Tastes! Tastes good on the bun! Tastes! Good on the bun! Tastesssss…”
C: Another great Ween album. I mean, this is just a guide vocal, and a Miami bass drum pattern and the Deaner wanking away.
D: And we wouldn’t want it any other way.
C: Once I was talking to the singer of a band who shall remain nameless who went on tour opening for Ween. All the people couldn’t wait til Ween came on, and when they played a 20-minute version of “Push the Little Daisies,” people were in tears, just losing it. That’s when he realized his band was never going to make it.
D: Which is a terrible thing to realize.
C: [listening to “Boys’ Club”] “You can talk of the future/you can talk of the past/you can go find yourself a nice piece of ass”: What is this, a jingle for the Catholic Church? Amazing. And “Israel” is a Jersey Jew, perfunctorily giving a benediction, backed by the greasiest Sopranos saxophone possible…
D: It’s a one-man bar band at a bar mitzvah—
C: He just pressed the “pan flute” button on the Korg.
D: The cheese is frying on this one, that’s for sure.
C: I heard someone say these guys are one step removed from Weird Al—
D: Totally ridiculous.
C: Weird Al changes the words to popular songs. Ween write the best songs all of your favorite bands should’ve written. That’s a big difference, bro. “Gabrielle” is total Thin Lizzy action—
D: [spilling beer, exclaiming] Thinner Lizzy!
C: Please, D, contain yourself.
D: Like you’ve never spilled a beer! [muttering] So arrogant!
C: [continuing] And “The Rift,” which I think is “Roses Are Free” slowed down—is like the worst slash greatest Styx song possible. “I am the commander of time/in my vessel of god/I go through the rift/to the palace of ice … we may not come back from the palace of ice/because the rift is a door”—it’s prog written by the guy who got held back in eighth grade. I know I’m not saying anything new here but they’re the closest thing we have to Zappa, sending up everything they love, without mercy. These guys are a national treasure. And like Zappa, just as scatologically obsessive.
D: Pass the Shinola, bro!
The Best of Shel Silverstein
C: Speaking of national treasures, here’s a compilation of stuff by Shel Silverstein.
D: I must confess, I do not know him.
C: Sure you do. He wrote Where the Sidewalk Ends and Light in the Attic, which is like required reading for the young and intelligent. Funny poetry for kids, he does these hyperdramatic readings of them here—
D: Sounds like Joe Cocker’s creepy uncle—without his pants on.
C: Plus, he wrote story-songs like “Cover of the Rolling Stone” and “A Boy Called Sue”—
D: I know that one, of course—
C: —and then there’s tracks like this “I Got Stoned and Missed It” and this one by Dr. Hook, the orgy ode “Freakin’ at the Freakers’ Ball.” [reciting lyrics] “Everybody’s kissing each other/brother with sister, son with mother/smear my body up with butter/take me to the freakers’ ball/pass that roach please/and pour that wine/I’ll kiss yours and you’ll kiss mine…”
D: Sounds like a pretty good time at the freakers’ ball.
C: “Well all the fags and the dykes/they are boogieing together/the leather freaks are dressed in all kinds of leather/The greatest of the sadists/and the masochists too/are screaming, ‘please hit me/and I’ll hit you’”… A funny guy into music, drugs, storytelling and kink—who drew gag cartoons for Playboy? He must’ve been the most popular dude alive in the ‘70s…
D: And looking at these pictures of him, I bet—
C: I know. Total human bonobo.
C: Devendra has a lot more hair on his head than Shel, but I think there’s a certain similarity in sensibility. Good times, weird times, you know he’s had his share.
D: He knows where the sidewalk ends.
C: So this is Devendra stretching it out in studio splendor, playing solo, playing with a band, playing a ton of acoustic guitar and piano songs. In English, in Spanish, in jest, in all seriousness, in duet…
D: [listening to “Now That I Know”] In the style of St. Nick Drake.
C: Such a range on the album as a whole, you can hear it in just the first five songs [out of the album’s 22]: whispers, tropicalia, a gentle piano protest lullaby, dreamytime-in-the-hash-den psychedelic-folk…
D: These songs… [listening to “Mama Wolf”] Every syllable is soothing, which is not something you hear done that often anymore. [seriously] Listen to me: Something magical is going on here.
C: Check out the singing, probably the best he’s ever done: that’s a guy who’s going for it in a heavy, trembling way—without losing it. He didn’t used to be able to sing like that. Incredible. And the lyrics, “Yeah when they come over the mountains/we’ll run yeah we’ll run right round them/we don’t have no guns/no we don’t have any weapons/just our cornmeal, and our children…”
D: I’m joining Devendra’s unarmed forces.
D: [grimacing after a few seconds of the first song] I think I’m going to need three more beers. Immediately.
C: Don’t worry, I’ve got this one covered. [pulls out sheet of paper, clears voice] And to think this man formerly claimed he was nearly “hospitalized for approaching perfection”! Whatever D.C. Berman’s been smoking, his voice is shot. He once had a stentorian authority on par with Kristofferson and Robert Frost, now it’s lost. This might be a mere symptom of his decline —
D: Or the need for throat-coat tea and a personal trainer.
C: —or at least to mix the vocals up front—
D: Maybe he’s been freaking a bit too much at the freakers’ ball?
C: —but it dovetails with another problem, which is that since he is not a performing artist, he has never learned how to improve his craft by translating it live to an audience.
D: Which doesn’t help when it comes to making a record.
C: He now sounds as if he’s reading from a script rather than singing songs. His lyrics are great though, maybe as good as ever, like this choice couplet from “Sleeping Is the Only Love”: “I had this friend named Marc with a c / his sister was like the heat coming off the back of an old TV” altho’ his never ending quest for the ultimate bohunk cliche—”I’m getting back into getting back into you”—can be a little trying. There are a couple nice guitar moments, probably attributable to the Malk—
C: Steve Malkmus from Pavement, who’s on this album. [continuing] Otherwise the music is a detour-round-this junction of indie and bar band. Oh waitaminute, the seven-minute “The Farmer’s Hotel” is a sprawling gothic masterpiece: Breece D’J Pancake meets Stephen King meets Rick Brautigan in, apparently, a pernicious country inn where “there was no air of slumber/ there doors they had no numbers”…call it an analogue to being a Silver Jews fan: you can check in but you can never check out.
Throw Down Your Arms
C: Sinead does an album of extremely faithful reggae covers, recorded in Kingston with Sly & Robbie. It had to happen.
D: [stroking chin, deep in thought] I believe Sinead was the first celebrity I’d ever heard of who checked herself into a rehab center for addiction to that demon weed. Sometime in the mid-‘90s, it was.
C: And didn’t she retire from the music industry a couple of years ago? So this is an interesting turn of events.
D: The main question is whether she has grown the dreads or not. The answer, thank Jah, would appear to be no.
C: I gotta say combining the stridency of the Irish with the righteousness of the Jamaican reggae artist doesn’t seem like the best strategy, and most of this album is the dull hybrid I feared it would be: too serious, too austere. Missing is the sense of playfulness.
D: She is just doing the songs she wants to do, without regard for what anyone else thinks.
C: Respect to her for that. It is weird to hear a woman with her range do songs that offer her so little room to exercise her pipes. You get the feeling that these are songs that she’s sung along to a thousand times…the versions are so faithful, at this point, she’s more of a mimic than an interpreter.
D: I think as usual you are being too hard. If you were sitting there and a girl across from you started playing “Downpressor Man” on acoustic guitar and singing, it’d be all over.
C: Her take on Lee Perry’s seduction ballad “Curly Locks” is certainly seductive.
D: And “Untold Stories.” And “Vampire.” Come on, man!
C: I’m just saying, when Sinead does an album of Ween covers, then we’ll really be getting somewhere.
Buckwheat Zydeco ils sont partis band
100% Fortified Zydeco
D: I am not what you would call an expert exactly, but I do not detect too much zydeco here.
C: It is pretty generic—I keep seeing John Belushi doing backflips down the center aisle. An authentic practitioner shouldn’t be caught delivering this stuff. Then again if I had an alligator po’ boy and a cup of Dixie Beer in my hand, I might have a different opinion.
C: The legendary Terry Reid gets a long-overdue compilation. A soul singer more than a rock singer, he came up in the ‘60s at the same time as Steve Marriott, Rod Stewart and all those guys. He’s best known as the guy Jimmy Page asked to front Zeppelin, who had to turn it down cuz of contractual obligations.
C: They said Plant sang like a woman, and Terry Reid does too. Guess Page knew what he wanted. To paraphrase My Fair Lady,…
D: [singing] Why can’t a man sing more like a woman?
C: In that case, it’s a man singing like a woman singing like a man. In the tradition of Tina Turner and Mavis Staples or Inga Rumpf from German blues rockers Frumpy
D: This guy is a super-rocker. A mod-era master. He fucked it up, though.
C: Not as bad as Dave Mustaine. Better to have Led Zeppelin yelled at you on the street by the local smartcakes than Metallica.
D: [listening to “Stay With Me Baby”] Ian Gillan of Deep Purple totally took from his voice.
C: “Speak Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace” is unbelievable—the propulsive, tuneful, template for Slade, and by extension Oasis.
D: But Liam’s not a soul singer.
C: It’s very Faces. “Tinker Taylor” is the same thing. Word to the Djs out there: this is the only album you need to keep the dance party going…
Over and Over
C: Second album from The 88 from around Silver Lake…
D: Ha! That’s L.A. guys doing late-‘60s U.K. vision of California a la the Kinks’ Muswell Hillbillies. I like it. This is MUCH more potent that that Paisley Underground revival stuff that was going down in ’84. Silver Lake, eh?
C: But it’s not just Kinks stuff. That’s a big Elton John roadhouse ballad on here, which they can do cuz that guy can really sing.
D: If you’re going to do this, you better be able to take on El Dorado.
C: [Listening to “You Belong to Me”] Such a good singer, great voice. Too bad about the completely unrepresentative album cover, which doesn’t do them any favors.
D: Surprisingly sophisticated, this shit. It’s like known puzzle pieces being put into a new revised order… Man, if this comes from Silver Lake, this isn’t such a bad area! Maybe I should come by every now and then on a Saturday afternoon to hang out with these guys? Because they’re basically hip-hugging mod-haired Sixties guys, on a mission to pull through the gates of rock. That’s what I am too.
D: Although I am a bit older.
Shake Some Action
C: Weren’t they the band that made rock dangerous again?
D: Yes. This came out in ’73, can it be? They wore white shirts and black tailored suits — they were the best dressed band besides the Band. During the glam period. The good ol teenage rock band but played by some slightly older guys. Critics’ favorites who never had a hit. I think Shake Some Action was their only popular song, though they had plenty more worthy ones that got ignored.
C: [Reading liner notes] “Dave Edmonds, formerly of Love Sculpture, produced.” For garage rock, it’s pretty reedy and thin.
D: But it’s not garage, it’s…well, it was retro even back then. They were going for the high school hop sound. They were the conservatives of rock n roll. Which is not a very conservative thing to be.
C: While you are busy speaking paradoxically, I am reminded of the time I went to a Johnny Rockets with my father and he said “This is exactly what diners were like in the ’50s!”
D: Ah, so you see, retro can be a happy place to be.
Galactic Zoo Dossier No. 5
C: New ish of Mr. Crimewave’s completely hand-drawn and hand-lettered magazine, great features as always on everything underground and psychedelic from all eras and levels of obscurity, plus tons of Acid Mothers Temple photos…
D: And best of all, these two CDs of Crimewave picks. This is some primordial freakbeat stuff! The Four O’Clock Balloon, whoever that is, covering Don’t You Need Somebody to Love.
C: It sounds like a live recording from a psychedelic cantina in Baja. I wish someone had the courage to record something like this now, with this trashed up fidelity…
D: [reading from magazine ] This song is from a battle of the bands in Ohio in 1967.
C: You don’t hear about too many battles of the bands these days.
D: This song is called “Pippi Longstocking.” It’s like in Spinal Tap, when the guy says “That’s pretty, what’s it called? ““Lick My Love Pump.” Only this is really ugly and primitive but has a pretty name.
The Time Flys
C: 90-second Ramones party songs. Four-second solos. One of the dude from The Cuts.
D: Sounds like really early, VERY tuneful punk. Pre-Stooges DMZ without the amps. And like Wire on the drums. Tss-tss-tss.
C: [listening to “Jailbait”] Not just punk—bubblegum, too. 1974. Sweet and their kind. Or closer: Kim Fowley.
D: The mighty Runaways.
C: There should be a track on here called “Paging Rodney Bingenheimer.”
D: [looking at sleeve] Whoa, do you look at the protrusion in the pouch of this punk’s jeans? How do you like his cucumber?
C: More importantly, how does Jimmy???
D: You know what they say: Put your best something forward.
C: Well last issue we had the first Teenage Fanclub album in four years. And so, poetically, here is the first album in 30 years from the band that inspired them…
D: I am almost hesitant to put this on. Big Star were so special, they were Memphis digging London. To me they were always incredibly melancholy, to the degree that you couldn’t bear to listen to the words, it was too much pain. And there were these beautiful melodies and harmonies and then also this deeply layered Memphis beat soul music. That song “Holocaust” on Third/Sister Lovers cannot be listened to. That’s what Chilton must’ve felt after his mother died in the fire. The original drummer and the bass player died like a lot of them did in the ’70s, from heroin. They and Alex Chilton’s old band the Box Tops were criminally ignored just because they were from Memphis, and not from L.A. or New York. Or so they say.
C: Chilton and Jody Stephens, the band’s drummer and other surviving member, have been doing gigs with these two Posies guys form some time, off an on, under the name “Big Star.” But over the last 30 years he never seemed to into doing Big Star records again.
D: [Puts disk in] Well, here goes something.
C: [listens quietly for some time] This is the real deal. If you love Big Star then, you will want this now.
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club
C: [after listening to “Ain’t No Easy Way] You’ll never guess who this is.
D: Full-on Led Zeppelin. with the harmonica, slide guitar and the fucking Bonham stomp in the house. [looks at sleeve] Whoa. A double gold star surprise. Before they bored me to death with their one-two chord guitar bullshit, which is good for one song on the first record. But now they come back as the guys who stole the spear of destiny, a full-fledged rock ‘n’ roll monster.
C: It’s a pretty amazing transformation. I guess Spiritualized’s path is what they’re following, headed into gospel and blues stomps.
D: [starts waving hands around enthusiastically] Tav Falco says the blues was a howl before it became a song. People were hollering about their pain, in the kind of land where you hope a train will come through and take you far away. Music…music can be about the EQ, not the IQ. The emotional quotient is what’s important here. Here they display the will to break through the final door, which you have to do to be a good band. What the hell happened? I am floored again, in a good way.
Rubber Johnny short film DVD and image book
C: We should let the people know that it’s a four-minute Aphex Twin music video—and a very good one, I’ll admit—with a minute padded to each end to make it a “short film.” For 12 bucks. And the revolting photos on the DVD cover and inside the books are not images from the film. So…
D: It’s Joel Peter Witkin meets Floria Sigismondi, but this stuff is ten times better. All this creepiness comes from this guy Gottfried Helmvein (shouting people with bandages on). It’s just the sort of thing that comes from being a lanky weird kid being permanently confronted by non-lanky weird-in-the-other-way kids. And probably suffering beatings from them.
C: Basically it’s The Elephant Man in a wheelchair shooting lasers out of his hands in time with the music, between snorting lines off a camel’s scrofulous rump. Unbelievable editing. But…yikes.
D: This is the alternate ending of Eraserhead. [thinking] Which it’s kind of like, in another way. They asked Lynch questions, and he always changed the subject. “What about the baby?” “What was that?” “Is it real, or is it not real?” “Did you kill it?” This guy Cunningham likes to leave things open like Lynch did. What are those photos of?
C: [looking at screen] Well, that’s definitely a chihuahua.
D: I think I just dropped my chalupa.
the music from Drawing Restraint 9
(One Little Indian)
C: New one from Bjork, the soundtrack to the new film by her bugaboo Matthew Barney, who is at the art museum edge of the New Grower Cinema—
D: I don’t give an ant’s fart about Bjork—
C: Well I adore her, but I gotta say this one might be for collectors only…
D: Always the same thing: Starts low, goes high. Whoa-ohhohhohh-ah! Same trick she’s been doing since the Sugarcubes.
C: She’s barely singing on this one though. Just a lot of very musically simple interludes, a weird curiosity tune with Will Oldham that’s interesting the first time you hear it—
D: Excuse me while I yawn.
C: —and then a lot of grunting and what I guess is a holy man’s tuneless mewling and—
D: To quote Beavis: This sucks!
C: To quote the dad of Lars Ulrich: I would say, delete that.
Saturday Morning With Sid & Marty Krofft DVD
C: The pilot episodes of seven Sid & Marty Krofft series. Original stoner television—not especially clever but deeply weird. Essential to understanding certain kinds of people. Some of these are pretty lame and kind of unrepresentative of what the series would be like later. But Lidsville and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters are wonderfully bananas and make you wonder how this stuff got on the air. And what were they smoking?
D: Whatever fell out of Sinead’s dreadlocks.
In the World
C: Some 3-D Monsterism going on on the cover here. Good ol’ Peter Fowler.
D: Let me look at that. The Super Furry Animals designer guy scores again!
C: It’s Cotton Casino from Japanese cosmic freakout collective Acid Mothers Temple, with another dude from Iceland. Recorded in Osaka and Oslo.
D: What a package vacation that would be….
C: Yeah, lots of people booking that one. This reminds me a bit of the Boredoms’ latest record, in that it opens with a woman doing a lengthy a capella piece before going into something totally different.
D: Although this isn’t a drum circle in a hurricane.
C: Naturalist psychedelia without special effects: just nature and her voice. Like they recorded it in the nude.
D: I dig this song but it might be one of those over-the-edge things. It’s music that you play after a catastrophe with stuff that’s lying around. The lost souls are still flying around trying to find out what happened to them.
C: Yep, I know that feeling.
C: Another duo collaboration between people at long distances from each other. This is West Coast guitarist-singer Ben Chasny from Six Organs of Admittance and Comets On Fire, in quiet, experimental mode, working with the Japanese guy named L, who was in Ghost at one point and has been involved in other cool stuff through the years.
D: Difficult music.
C: There’s a song here where there’s three melodic lines going along and they shouldn’t work together— they sound so separated—and yet it all works.
D: It’s like tuning your ear to accept unusual signals from the old psychedelic music man up on the mountain, hanging out above the fog clouds with Popul Vuh.
(Touch and Go)
C: Pretty much same as the first Coco Rosie record: two gifted American sisters making music box speakeasy music that’s part Billie Holiday homage, part experimental ageless whatsit. Sublime to some, unbearably mannered and pretentious to others. I go back and forth, honestly.
D: I do not enjoy this style of music, but “Beautiful Boys” with Antony is a sad knockout.
The Curious City
D: A facemelting beast machinery soundtrack. Like Suicide, the band.
C: Oneida’s march-thrust crossed with Fiery Furnaces’ unapologetic quirk factor five.
D: With some of the driest singing not by a band called Om.
The Dick Cavett Show: Rock Icons
D: Sly & the Family Stone live on television in 1970? A full hour of performance and interview with an extremely nervous David Bowie in 1974? Stevie Wonder in 1970?!? A full disk of Janis Joplin… Joni Mitchell, George Harrison, Paul Simon, Jefferson Airplane?
C: Whoa, look at Grace Slick! Her spray-on tan seems to eerily predict Jessica Simpson as Daisy Duke. But I would buy this whole thing just for the Sly Stone segment, where, after showing up late—of course—he and his band put on the funkiest bar none live television performance I have ever seen. They make it look effortless. The greatest band of all time, even when Sly has a cold. And when he tells Cavett he writes music in the mirror, well… I won’t ruin it, except to say this DVD is a good argument in favor of television.
C: Reissue of vintage Sonny Sharrock, a mighty out-there jazz guitarist in the ‘60s. He wanted to play jazz like Coltrane but he couldn’t play a horn cuz of asthma. So he got a guitar. Here he’s with his wife Linda, who’s just singing her soul out. He’s playing these weird drone chord progressions that cloud out into clusters-clots…
D: I couldn’t even begin to find words to try to describe this. When everything is so constricting, you need a place to be where you’re allowed to expand into these sorts of orgasmic explorations. She uses her voice like a hawk. Does anyone dare to sing like this today?
C: Do you know any couple that dares to get this gone in public, today? With this naked go-for-itness? Just mindblowing. Coley says “they were ready to collapse the universe” here in the liner notes.
D: Sounds accurate to me.
D: This is the Kyuss shiznit.
C: Two songs, fortysomething minutes, totally instrumental like a more straightahead Ash Ra Tempel. One song is called “Flower Travlin’ Man,” a homegrower’s nod to the Japanese Sabbath-Zeppelin chopper-riding groop the Flower Travelin’ Band.
D: They’re holding the torch again. New blossoms in the desert…
C: They’re actually from San Diego but I know what you’re saying. They’re jamming it out and they keep going, he just keeps riding that groove—
D: Yeaaaaah. you can run but you can’t hide from the wall of thunder! [thoughtful] I’d like to review this record every month.
C: Who knows? We just might…