Reviews by C and D (Arthur No. 20/Jan. 2006)

Originally published in Arthur No. 20 (Jan. 2006)

C AND D: Two guys bicker about new records.

TV on the Radio
“Dry Drunk Emperor”
(Touch and Go)
D: I’ve listened to this probably a hundred times by now, and I still find it overwhelming. It’s a devastator.
C: For those out there who haven’t heard it yet, this is the song TV on the Radio released in the wake of Katrina, free to everyone via the Touch and Go website [go here]. This is what they said at the time: “we were back in the studio thinking and feeling again and made this song for all our everybody… in the absence of a true leader we must not forget that we are still together…. hearts are sick … minds must change … it is our hope that this song inspires, comforts, fosters courage,and reminds us… this darkness cannot last if we work together. let us help each other… heal each other …. look after one another … the human heart is our new capitol…. this song is for you…. us…..we….them… it is free. pass it on. TO THOSE AFFECTED BY HURRICANE KATRINA: NEW YORK CITY’S HEART IS WITH YOU… STAY STRONG! WE LOVE YOU.”

We don’t usually do this sort of thing, but this is a special case. Here are the song’s lyrics:

DRY DRUNK EMPEROR
baby boy
dying under hot desert sun,
watch your colors run.

did you believe the lie they told you,
that christ would lead the way
and in a matter of days
hand us victory?

did you buy the bull they sold you,
that the bullets and the bombs
and all the strong arms
would bring home security?

all eyes upon
dry drunk emperor
gold cross jock skull and bones
mocking smile,
he’s been
standing naked for a while!
get him gone, get him gone, get him gone!!
and bring all the thieves to trial.

end their promise
end their dream
watch it turn to steam
rising to the nose of some cross legged god
gog of magog
end times sort of thing.
oh unmentionable disgrace
shield the children’s faces
as all the monied apes
display unimaginably poor taste
in a scramble for mastery.

atta’ boy get em with your gun
till mr. megaton
tells us when we’ve won
or
what we’re gonna leave undone.

all eyes upon
dry drunk emperor
gold cross jock skull and bones
mocking smile,
he’s been standing
naked for a while.
get him gone, get him gone, get him gone!!!
and bring all his thieves to trial.

what if all the fathers and the sons
went marching with their guns
drawn on Washington?
that would seal the deal,
show if it was real,
this supposed freedom.

what if all the bleeding hearts
took it on themselves
to make a brand new start.
organs pumpin’ on their sleeves,
paint murals on the white house
feed the leaders LSD
grab your fife and drum,
grab your gold baton
and let’s meet on the lawn,
shut down this hypocrisy.

C: The harmonies they get on this are just shattering. And the chorus…
D: This is soul, with zero retroism. That’s not supposed to be possible anymore and yet here it is. Pure righteousness.
C: I find this song overwhelming too. Not just for the song itself, but for the spirit in which was recorded and offered to the public, and the immediacy and selflessness involved. That’s what being an artist is about, in times like these. They get to something really tragic about the current situation: all those poor idiots who have been buying the Bush balderdash since 9/11… because they did that, now we are all paying for their mistakes, and will do for decades. And I’m broke, man. My pockets are empty. And I’ve got it easy. Think of all the unnamed, uncounted dead civilians in Iraq, all the dead and mistreated in New Orleans, all those detained in the secret torture prisons in Poland…
D: This song is so good I can’t believe somebody made it. The build and release, the chorus, the singing, the lyrics, the fife and drum…
C: It’s a call to imaginative action, for less talk and more walk. This is prime Fela Kuti-level stuff, seriously: talking truth directly to power, giving comfort and uplift to the powerless. I’ve never heard this song on the radio, yet it’s exactly the kind of song radio was made for.

Cast King
Saw Hill Man
(Locust Music)
C: Debut album from 79-year-old white fella. Recorded in a shack in Alabama.
D: Seniors rock. Look at this guy. I think our friend T-Model Ford might have some new competition!
C: He recorded eight songs for Sun Records in the ‘50s. He he had a touring country and bluegrass band, Cast King and the Country Drifters, but it didn’t work out and he never released an album.
D: Sweet baby Jesus, what is wrong with this country?
C: I find myself wondering that often these days…
D: The first line of this song is “I don’t care if your tears fall in my whiskey.” What more do you need?
C: The guy’s voice is so rich, it’s a pleasure just to hear his singing. The sadder the lyrics, the brighter the music. The songs are clever, catchy, simple. How could nobody care for three decades? This nation is so cruel to its artists.
D: There’s some Johnny Cash here for sure.
C: To our modern ears, of course. But I’m starting to wonder. Who came first? Not that it matters as much as, well, just how many other guys are out there still who are this good, who we’ve never heard? Maybe it’s a lot more than we think. People who got skipped over by accident of history or circumstance. That’s the lesson of the reissue culture that’s so strong right now—the Numero Group label’s releases, the stuff they talk about in Wax Poetics, all the rediscoveries of people like Vashti Bunyan and Gary Higgins and Simon Finn—all of this teaches us that actually the cream doesn’t always rise to the top. It often sinks to the very bottom.

Nina Simone
The Soul of Nina Simone dual disc
(Legacy/RCA/Sony BMG)
C: You’re not going to believe this, either. A new dual disc release: one side is a greatest hits run, the other side is vintage live footage. Deep vintage.
D: [looking at track listing] Whoa! None deeper vintage. Pure black power, 1960s. Look at this!!! [Reading aloud scrolling text on screen] “By the end of the ‘60s, the civil rights movement was in a shambles; its key leaders were dead, and race riots had erupted in several U.S. cities. ‘It felt like the shutters were coming down on anyone who dared to suggest there was something seriously wrong with the state of our country,’ said an angry Nina Simone. A ray of community hope appeared in the sammer of ’69, when the Harlem Festival—called ‘a black Woodstock’ by its producer, Hal Tulchin—came to Central Park. Crowds of up to 100,000 flocked to six free concerts. The stars included Sly and the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, Gladys Knight and the Pips and Simone. These excerpts from Simone’s performance have never before been shown in America.”
C: I’ve never even heard of this festival.
D: Me neither.
C: How is that possible? I thought we knew our shit. My god. Are they saying this footage has just been sitting there since 1969? Listen to her go. Listen to this band. Look at that set, look at this audience. Look at the songs she’s playing—“Revolution,” “Four Women,” “Ain’t Got No—I Got Life” and “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.” Look at the setting. Look at the situation is which this was performed.
D: This is right before she went into self-imposed exile.
C: She looks absolutely purposeful. There is a resolve in her voice, in her comments to the band and the audience, in that gorgeous face of hers as she sings that is just absolutely… She looks like a woman about to leave, because she’s been wronged. You know she’s gonna slam that door.
D: No whining. “My life has been much too rough,” she sings. [Listening to “Ain’t Got No—I Got Life”] Listen to the band swing! Unbelievable.
C: She’s holding back tears for the entire performance… She finally breaks—just a bit—on “To Be Young Gifted and Black.”
D: I think this is the greatest single live performance I have ever seen.
C: Especially when you consider the context. This is just extraordinary. Le Tigre and other no-skill apologists who say technique is irrelevant would do well to watch this. The reason people are listening to what she has to say is because she had skills beyond even her conviction.
D: It’s an absolute travesty that the American public hasn’t seen this footage until now.
C: Can you imagine what the rest of this festival must have been like? Look at that lineup. Sheesh. We’ve got to ask again: WHY HAVEN’T WE HEARD OF THIS UNTIL NOW? Where are our cultural historians? Why do we know about Jimi liberating the national anthem and not taking the brown acid and all that other Woodstock jive but not about this? It’s criminal.

Niger: Magic & Ecstasy in the Sahel dvd
by Hisham Mayet
(Sublime Frequencies)
C: And now for somebody who knows how to document and distribute important stuff immediately, rather than waiting for 36 years…
D: [spills beer in joy] YES! The mighty Sublime Frequencies strike AGAIN!
C: 70 minutes of footage of hot blast from the streets of Niger, one of the quote poorest unquote nations in the world. Oil can drum duos, one-stringed instrument maestros, harmonizing ululators, invocation dances. Divination ceremonies and informal nighttime initiation rituals, Taureg trance funk at the end.
D: Absolutely riveting.

OOOIOO
[Untitled]
(Thrill Jockey)
C: New album from project featuring Yoshimi who is in Boredoms. Don’t really understand the provenance of this album—recorded in 2000 but only released this year? Weird vocal calisthenics, big tribal drum thrusters, chimes and flutes and birds and trumpets, synthesizers, tablas, loopage and harmony chants, Sean Lennon and Yuka Honda amongst the guests, the best album booklet I’ve seen in 2005—it seems to illustrate a place directly midway mushroom wonderland of the Allmans’ Eat A Peach album centerfold and the post-toxic landscapes of Lightning Bolt—and check it out, here on Track 7: straight-up female Tuareg ululations!
D: Sometimes I think Bjork gets all the attention for trying to do what Yoshimi is already doing.

Pearls and Brass
The Indian Tower
(Drag City)
C: We really shouldn’t be reviewing this til next issue cuz it’s not out til January 24. But excuse me, I think I need to turn this up.
D: Cream covered by Kyuss?
C: Yeah, kind of, huh? It’s actually three dudes from Pennsylvania.
D: These are some pretty knotty riffs. Quite a brush. A hedgerow.
C: Thorny stuff, but they still give you a riff. Here, have one.
D: Why thank you.
C: Total air guitar and drum practice CD. “The Face of God” is the face they make when they play, I bet. And there’s the vocal harmonies, and the fingerpicked acoustic blues.
D: This is bigrig truck driving music.
C: Forty-wheeler stuff—for the poor dudes trying to forget about the price of gas as they drive the nation’s clogged freeways. If it’s time for a Convoy remake, then this is the soundtrack.

The Fall
Fall Heads Roll
(Narnack)
D: The Fall is now at its best since the ‘80s, and I can say that with some authority.
C: This is the kind of spare, rocking Fall we all want. I like the words—Mr. Smith’s is still a totally idioscyncratic lyrical approach—but sometime I think just hearing his caffeinated bark against a good beat is enough. It’s a very rhythmic thing—the words are almost secondary to the song’s breath. There’s something about that “ah” that he still does at the end of each line that just feels good when you imitate it. I know that sounds weird but try it-ah.

Tarantula A.D.
Book of Sand
(Kemado)
D: Classic early King Crimson sound. Excites one’s nerves, doesn’t it?
C: If Marc Ribot likes them, that’s all I need to know. But yes, this does get the blood racing down the alleyways, I must say. “The Century Trilogy II: Empire” is power metal Crimson, cello beautiful acoustic guitar, hugely romantic pastoral, hugely alarming screech and crunch. I don’t usually like something that has such a self-consciously stark, exaggerated dynamic. But both parts are pretty tremendously great in and of themselves, on their own terms. Maybe it’s those kinds of times now, eh, where the loveliness, the absolute beauty and love can exists side by side total horror. As the Irish philospher Mark Patrick Hederman said, “Singing is a way of proclaiming a better world, a refusal to give in to the grimness of the past.” [listening to “The Century Trilogy III: The Fall”] Whoa… like Jeff Buckley in his full, abandoned gypsy mode and his secret sisters fronting Godspeed You! Black Emperor.
D: They are equipped with maximal music range.

Mi and L’au
Mi and L’au
(Young God)
C: Taking it down a notch… Like old weird Tom Waits fairground songs sung by a Finnish waif in the key of air and a humble-voiced post-Nick Drake haunted gentleman from France. It’s closely recorded , delicate songs—that is there’s tape hiss and falling rain and throat-clearing—written to each other, based on a lived natural intimacy.
D: Reminds me of Mojave 3, when Rachel sang…
C: Mi and L’au apparently lead quite the reclusive, romantic life together in the Finnish woods. Life beyond electricity. This seems to be happening a lot lately: younger musicians and artists retreating, or withdrawing, to rural settings, refusing to engage modern civilization except when necessary. Little Wings and Brightblack Morning Light definitely. But nature is already providing the setting for more promotional films and photographs: see Cat Power’s live DVD, or Sleater-Kinney’s The Woods, or Growing’s work, or Six Organs of Admittance and Devendra and Feathers’ album covers, and stuff from the New Energy movement people, or those photos of Pearls and Brass…
D: I think she’s whispering along with her singing. A secret recording technique that few know about. I think Jim Morrison did it sometimes. Or I like to imagine he did.

Bjorn Olsson
[untitled album with lobster on the cover]
(Parasol)
C: We’re almost out of time so we gotta make this quick. New album of vaguely Morricone guitar an et cetera instrumentals from Union Carbide Productions/Soundtrack of Our Lives co-founder. That first album on Omplatten was a keeper. Frosted goodness, magically delicious.
D: I think he has long ago retired from this world.
C: If this was the soundtrack to your life, what would your life be like?
D: More candles. More seaside town time. More fish. Probably more wine. More chopped parsley, more diced onion. More time riding horses and picking buttercups. Less inner rage…

Biff Rose
The Thorn in Mrs. Rose’s Side/Children of Light
(Runt)
C: Nicely done reissue of 1968 and ’69 albums by long-forgotten bright eyed groom of the psychedelic morning dew piano roll: Biff Rose, a white fella from New Orleans best known as the guy who wrote “Fill Your Heart,” covered by Bowie on Hunky Dory. He’s a Randy Newman, incapable of cynicism; a Beefheart for kindly eared folks, a goofball master punster writing advice songs about human and animal and god follies and foibles. A whimsical male Mary Poppins, singing at an anti-war saloon or a soup kitchen. Free to Be You and Me for adults.

Lavender Diamond
The Cavalry of Light four-song EP
(lavenderdiamond.com)
C: Lessons in harmony (of all kinds) from the love and peace actionists who stole the show at ArthurFest: four songs in the key of love, reviving the lost tradition of the uplifting psychedelic pop. All sung by one of the most charismatic women I have ever witnessed.
D: Supremely gorgeous music. I might not be at DefCon 5 all the time if I listened to this regularly…

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