Originally published in Arthur No. 26/September 2007
C & D: Two guys “reason” together about some new records.
D: Christ on a crutch, it’s hot in here.
C: [winces] Uh yeah, I guess I forgot to mention the “air conditioner, lack of” situation we’ve got going over here.
D: It is going to be difficult for me to do my work in these conditions.
C: [guffaws] You call listening to records “working”? Ha! That ain’t workin’! You get your money for nothin’ and your chicks for free.
D: Where have I heard this before. What money? And I don’t see any chicks around here.
C: I regret that my hosting skills are not what they once were.
D: Yes your place is not only a sweat lodge—it’s sexist. I cannot work in these circumstances.
C: You can do it if you put a beer into it.
D: Okay. Beer me.
C: Of course! [Heads to the kitchen, ceremonially] Come! Let us drink beer and reason together.
C [returns from kitchen with a sixer of St. Pauli’s, starts CD at medium blast]: So for some reason I thought it was a good idea to kick things off with the darkest, most negative thing possible. Alan Vega from New York City electro-rock-minimalist legends Suicide, talking about the condition of this nation. Analysis: dark. Prognosis: bleak to terminal.
D: [listening to “Freedom’s Smashed”] Turn it up! This is the ’80s back with a vengeance! [listening to lyrics: “Smashing down freedom / Smashing our freedoms / Wah! / Smashing our freedom / Freedom’s running scared/ Freedom’s running out of time/Freedom’s gone!”] Shit! I’m flipping out here. I could live inside this sound.
C: The rhythm is really amazing, it’s like John Henry hitting a punching bag—and Alan Vega is the ringside coach talking to himself about how they’re gonna lose, the fix is in.
D: Yeah baby! Freedom’s going down. It’s terminal idiocy, nobody’s paying attention. But Suicide always knew what was going down in the negative times.
C: The vocals really are astonishing in their range, very actorly. Repeated phrases in different intonations, suggesting different moods, different meanings—shock, resignation, despair, hope; and then there are all those Goblin-esque shrieks and gurgles in the background.
D: This is America at its most violent, self-flagellating. [Repeating lines from “Station Station”] “There was a TIME/ When you could dream /Now—NOW / It has become a crime/ to dream! / It has become a CRIME/ to dream.” Talking about the dream losers. Doing a deeper analysis of American society. Sometimes there’s something at work in the culture that normal journalism can’t decipher. And right now is not normalcy, my friend. One thing’s for sure: this won’t be giving comfort to the neighbors.
C: Hey, Springsteen has been doing [Suicide song] “Dream Baby Dream” live lately.
D: [pause] Little Steven was pretty good, but I always thought Alan Vega and Martin Rev should have had characters on The Sopranos.
C: Especially with those world’s biggest sunglasses that Alan Vega always wears.
D: It’s his signature. They belong in Cleveland in that Rock N Roll museum.
C: Yes, right next to all the other sunglasses of rock ‘n’ roll: Stevie Wonder, Bootsy Collins, Ray Charles, Velvet Underground, Elton John, Sly Stone, Yoko Ono, Roy Orbison. Only, Alan Vega’s would be behind cracked glass with bars in front and you’d hear someone yelling at the television in back.
D: [in Alan Vega voice] “Freedom’s smashed!”
D: More ominosity.
C [handing D another beer]: This is the new Magik Markers album, and it’s much more straightahead than you’d expect from their reputation as improv poet noise-stars. These are recognizable drums-guitar-vocal duo songs with relatively melodic chant-singing by Elisa Ambrogio and surprisingly in-the-pocket drumming by brother Pete Nolan. There’s even a pretty good stab [“Empty Bottles”] at a piano ballad.
D: “Body Rot” and “Taste” remind me of the lest-we-forget great dark mystical ’80s Californian band Opal—
C: Respect to Kendra Smith.
D: —and that band the Kills who made one really good album and then….
C: Yeah there’s a similarity—in a driving, on-the-edge-of-something-intense, and she has a similar voice to the Kills singer V.V., but this seems more committed to um, murder, or something. “Last of the Lemach Line” has that good ol’ grimy looming-catastrophe-in-a-dying-factory-city sound… like Godspeed!, or Kim’s Sonic Youth jams. Patti Smith in her freer, less barroom moments. This is not beer music. [looks at band photograph on CD] But you could drink bottles of whiskey to it on a hot Saturday afternoon, which is apparently what they did when they were made it!
D: [in own world] Hmm… What did happen to the Kills?
C: Being confused with The Killers would probably be enough to cause any band to do themselves in. But my best guess is they were killed by a drum machine WITH NO SOUL.
D: That never would’ve happened if they’d used Suicide’s drum machine. Early ’70s SoHo soul, baby! [looks at empty beer bottle, bellows in Jim Morrison voice:] Beer me madly/Beer me one more time today!
C: Life: enjoy it while it lasts!
D: [looking at CD spine] “Blues Control”?
C: I know, sounds like a pimple commercial. “Son, we know you’ve been having a hard time lately. Maybe you should think about using…BLUES CONTROL (TM)? It wipes away those hard-to-kill blues in a matter of minutes. “Control your blues today with Blues Control.”
D: I think my current blues control is a beer with a German girl on it. [pauses, thinks] They are hard at work on something, but I’m not sure who’s at the controls.
C: It’s a di-sexual instro duo on guitars and keys, with a drum machine. Lea Cho and Russ Waterhouse. Seems like they have two major modes: brute force monstrosity trudge in the cloudsmashing style of the mighty Blue Cheer…
D: And impressionist, introspective space and electronic plant music on that subtle plane visited by Eric Satie and Popul Vuh, with the subaquatic melodica of Sir Augustus Pablo…
C: [chuckles] That’s a team-up to be reckoned with.
D: These other songs are some pretty heavy duty stuff! It’s music you hear when you dig a hole deep enough to listen to what’s going on inside the earth. Troglobite rock, baby. And I am a troglophile!
C: [carrying on] If they put this out on vinyl, and I think that they did, it should be on coated 540 gram for the needle’s sake.
D: It should be on shellac. [finishing another beer] Analog all over your face! Ya heard?
C: Maybe I should put something else on before things get any more out of control…
The Modern Tribe
D: Well, here’s our first obvious album-of-the-year contender.
C [listening to “Pressure” and “Pony”] The singer’s totally going for it. It’s like Johnette Napolitano … fronting a shit-hot psychedelic-funk-dance band on an electro-church run to the dub castles of Jamaica. And yes, I just made that up.
D: The singer is not holding back. Fuck me…two times!
C: [ignoring C’s outburst] Like a more passionate, more organic and more, dare I say ‘soulful’ LCD Soundsystem, fronted by a belter of a singer, who is a woman. [rhetorically:] How badly do we need this?
D: Women are DEFINITELY where it’s at right now.
C: [quizzical] And maybe always…? But yeah, so awesome. Produced by Dave Sitek from TV on the Radio, and those guys sing on it too but you can tell that. Reminds me of Moonshake, or Laika, only more muscular, funkier.
D: There is a certain Eurythmics-soul quality apparent here. [pauses] But she may actually be undermixed. Underrepresented. I want to hear the words.
C [listening to “Hands Off My Gold”]: You were right at the top, this is the album to beat, there’s hit after hit here.
D: [self-righteously] But of course, music is not a competition!
C: [smug] Oh yeah, of course not.
D: So, interested in a friendly wager?