Arthur Magazine’s “Thoughtless Grin” downloadable mixtape for $3 is a collection of songs from recent releases that we’ve been digging lately, featuring Tuareg rocker Bombino, melodic psych fella The Gap Dream off his Burger Records debut, a great number from last issue’s cover stars MV and EE, grizzlymen Endless Boogie, a sweet subtle one from Devendra, an opening rush of picked guitar by Daniel Bachman, a gorgeous sad number by Sonny and the Sunsets, top-shelf kosmiche from Herbcraft, California psych rock n roll from Feeding People, stately outro from Arbourteum and a proper lift-off from Radar Brothers. People, this thing has been sequenced with care for your sensitive mind/ear. As an added bonus, each download comes with extended liner notes by long-lost Arthur “music critics”/village fools C and D, and a large-size image file of the cover artwork by Lale Westvind. $3!?! Come on! Buy it here.
Originally published in Arthur No. 28 (March 2008)
C & D: Two guys who will remain pseudonymous reason together about new records
C: [While rummaging through the teeming mail bin.] Hey, look at this. It must be from that new guy who’s always lurking around. What’s his dealio anyway? He’s what my gran would call a nosey nelly.
D: I think he’s here to like, streamline shit. [Reading aloud] To Whom It May Concern: “In my private meetings with Arthur staff and contributors, we have received many disturbing reports regarding the personal, professional and spiritual-energetic conduct of C & D, or as they fancy themselves, ‘The Arthur Music Potentate.’
“There is widespread unease amonst Arthur staff about C & D’s taste in mucic, which has been described to us as ‘bewildering,’ ‘psychedelic parochial,’ ‘arguably harmful,’ ‘contrary to the public’s interest,’ ‘more narrow than their trousers’ and ‘frankly vampiric.’ I don’t quite know what all that means but it’s interesting.
“Moving forward, I have been unable to confirm that C & D are receiving payola from 86 record companies and nineteen out of our fair nation’s top twenty coolmaking marketing firms, but verification of such nefarious activity is only a matter of time.
“I am also unable to confirm their membership in the ‘Brownie-Meinhaus gang.’
“However, in my own cross-examination sessions with C & D, in which, I am preparted to testify, we did not waterboard at all 😉 , I was able to determine that they have indeed ‘lost the keys’—their words—for two of Arthur humor/motorcycle advisor Peter Alberts’ Royal Enfield motorcycles; they have indeed borrowed Arthur contributor Paul Cullum’s all-region DVD player for an ‘increasingly indefinite period’; they confess to doing two cut-and-runs at Sugar Hair Salon in Silver Lake; plainly abused Mandy Kahn’s standing offer to drive them to and from various watering holes of ill repute; and, as you may have surmised, it was indeed they — or them? I can never remember ;-( — who affixed ‘Ex Libris C &/or D’ label-plates to all the reference books in the staff library.
“Furthermore, C & D have charged 38 parking tickets to the Arthur expense account since last June. Woe betide their decision to start chillaxing out in Malibu.
“C & D have presumptuously intercepted others’ mail, especially advance vinyls from the Holy Mountain label. They play the Carbonas self-titled LP at bicuspid-crushing volume everyday before lunch. They crack each other up at staff meetings by prefacing every statement with ‘You must learn, we are the Gods of this magazine!’ They are always ordering curry. Plus they’ve used up all the paperclips, and not, I am saddened to report, in a fashion that paperclips were designed to be used.
“The Editor-in-chief, art directors and even the printer have complained that C & D are always late with their copy, which in turns holds up production of the magazine and inhibits crucial cashflow, all for something that, quoting the Editor, ‘nobody really reads or cares about anyway.’
“In my many years of optimal-sizing firms, I have been forced to make many difficult and even gut-wrenching decisions. This however is not one of them! ;-)- C & D should be shown the door, and the sooner the better. We will call it a suspension of enduring duration. Now would really be the time to pull the trigger on this. I know people who can do it.
“JUST SAY THE WORD.”
D: [gulps] Doh!
C: I always told you we would are the men who knew too much. [puzzles] But how did they find out about the brownies? I told you to watch out for those new surveillance cams.
D: I thought they were fake. And chicken tikka is not a curry.
C: Ha! And neither is lamb biryani. Wait a second… Fake surveillance cams? That’s a GREAT idea.
D: I know a guy! Just say the word!
C: [cackling] Okay but first let’s get one more column in, shall we? “They” never read this so we can say whatever we like and they won’t know til it’s at the printer, hahaha! The funny thing is we REALLY ARE the potentate around here. But if our services are no longer required here, we’d like to say one thing:
D: SAYONARA BITCHES!!!
C: Because we are in control of the horizontal. We’re the last people that see this bad boy before it’s sent to the printer…
D: Oh yeah! Heh heh.
C: …which means whatever we type here gets printed.
D: Which means…
C: They come from Memphis, they sound like Wire and the Buzzcocks, nine songs in 22 minutes. You know what you have to do.
D: Wire and the Buzzcocks? More like attach a wire to your bollocks! [helpfully] And they have a song called “Assvogel.”
C: That’s not a song, it’s a movement. And I think you know what kinda movement I mean…
D: Ahem. It is on the Goner record label. Which is what we are now. Goners.
C: Memphis is the one place I’d be interested in moving to. Start the car, I’ll get my duffel. Here’s to life in exile after abdication!
D: [brightens] I’ve been a goner since the beginning.
C: Being a goner is a serious thing. Who do you think is the original goner?
D: Robert Mitchum, no question. Yeah, that’s it, the Carbonas are the Robert Mitchum of rock!
C: I’ve been into these guys since before everyone else!
D: Except for me. I invented these guys. I put a bunch of purple pills in a blender along with a soiled Led Zep patch from my older sister’s jean jacket. Shazam!
C: ‘Old Growth’ is on the shortlist for greatest album title ever, and it’s a pretty good description of the music.
D: Here’s a better one: take a grandfather clock made of diamond-cut crystal, fill it with molasses and drop in on your head!
C: I can’t believe they’re firing you, D. You just keep getting better. Woah, this song is some serious blues shufflage. It’s like a beer commercial for really stinky homebrew.
D: There’s something about this guy’s voice that hits me like a arctic wind. Pass me my mittens. And the b-o-n-g. It’s been a bong time since I rock ‘n’ rolled!
D: Graveyard, eh. Must be a Goth band.
C: Actually they’re not Goth. They’re not even American!
D: [listening to first track, ‘Evil ways’] Right away you know that no matter what happens, you’re gonna at least hear good tone guitar. This is far too good to be American.
C: You are correct sir. They are in fact Swedish.
D: The world’s greatest mimcs. The arch-inhabitors.
C: He pitches his vocal a bit Danzig, a little bit Bobby from Pentgaram. A little bit Jim Morrison. A little bit of the mighty John Garcia.
D: And it must be admitted, a little Cornell.
C: A little bit’ll do ya. This is Ween-quality mimicry here! Reminds me of that band Witchcraft in that they’re going further out. [listening to “Lost In Confusion”] That’s basically the Doors, right there.
D: It is like Witchcraft, but this singer has more hair on his chest.
C: … So, what do you think of that drumming?
C: Well you know, all those old rock drummers used to play jazz drums too: Ginger, Graham…
D: Keith, Charlie…
C: I listened to this album several times without realizing it. Just kept coming back. I keep coming back to the Graveyard, D.
D: That’s where you’re gonna end up. Might as well get there early and check it out.
C: Vintage live recording from krautrock greats Harmonia, never-before-released!
D: How is this possible? Harmonia are some of the original electronic goners.
C: If you turn it up loud enough you can hear people talking—
D: I can’t hear anything except analog electronic perfection.
C: Frankly I am perplexed by the liners which talk that like this Harmonia are barely known, even to konfirmed krautrock fans. Says here, these guys exist somewhere out beyond the “how to buy Krautrock section in your local record shop.” Is this guy insane???
D: There is no local record shop!
C: No, I mean I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Krautrock section at a record store that DIDN’T include Harmonia. And there is a local record shop, actually. It’s not final for vinyl just yet, my friend. Continue reading
Originally published in Arthur No. 24 (October 2006)
C & D: Two guys reason together about some new records
C: [Looking at publicity photo of band] I’m surprised these guys haven’t featured in Arthur magazine yet. They appear to meet many if not all of this magazine’s apparent requirements for coverage.
D: What, they have beards?
C: Yes. I think the magazine is pretty clearly a beards-only policy. It’s pretty clearly where the underground beard was re-born. Or should I say, re-grown. Remember Alan Moore on the cover of Arthur No. 4?
D: That was a beard to be reckoned with. No razors and shaving cream in the Moore household!
C: Total ‘Lord of the Beards.’ On the other hand, Alan’s finger armor stylings haven’t caught on yet.
D: I will keep an eye out for the beard as we check out these records today. I assume there will be ladies, too?
C: Yes, of course.
D: Who presumably are not of the bearded variety.
C: One never knows, does one? [arches eyebrow meaningfully] Anyways, Akron/Family not only have some beardage, they have four-part harmonies, great cascading drumflows, sprawling late Trane skronk, and that’s all on the first track! I saw these guys once in L.A., they were like a devotional Animal Collective…
D: [smiling upon hearing the refrain “Gone, gone, gone/gone completely beyond.”] Ah yes. Beyond. One of my favorite places.
C: [ignoring, continuing] … in Oshkosh overalls, without the echo delays. Like Lubavitchers gone Sun Ra or Ya Ho Wha—
D: Say wha?
C: [snobbishly] Those who know, know. [continuing] They were awesome, in complete uni-mind synch. The audience made backward-and-forward ocean ripples and sounds at their command: ‘Shhh, shhh.’ It was beautiful.
C: Lovely—possibly perfect?—debut album from this girl-and-boy lovebird combo who sound like they’re living down by the sea on some magic moonlit beach that stretches from France to Baja to Bali.
D: [looks at biographical notes and photo] Actually they live in Baltimore. And there is no beard.
C: Waiter, get this man a beard, se vous plais.
D: [ignoring] But Victoria Legrand—
C: Is that a real name???
D: —is definitely a lady. A lady who knows how to wear an aqua dress.
C: [looking at the photo] And a big gold amulet as well.
D: I would say this is late summer music, recorded at the beach house after everybody else has gone back to the city.
C: It’s kind of minimal naturalismo—organ, drum machine, gorgeous female voice: Stereolab, minus le krautrock propulsion. Midway between Brightblack slow-to-stillness, Beach Boys “Pet Sounds” melancholism and Air and another Carpark artist, Casino vs. Japan. Also, what the heck, I’ll throw in that first Bjorn Olson record on Omplatten [Instrumentalmusik: Instrumental Music…to Submerge in…and Disappear Through, 1999]. Nordic beaches. As you can see, D, it’s a very particular, yet universal, mood. I see soundtracks in their near-future. [picks up phone] “Hello, Beach House? This is Sofia…”
D: Her voice reminds me a bit of Sigur Ros. Hey, whatever happened to those guys? It’s like they evaporated.
C: She can really SING, when it’s called for, which is in creamy middle of the album on the song “Auburn and Ivory.”
D: Is Auburn the new Ebony?
C: All the songs have some sophisto pop songwriting going on: bridges, key changes, et cetera. And the sounds… when the organ comes in on “House on the Hill,” it’s like Captain Nemo down in the Nautilus playing pipe organ for the octopi. Whew! Can you imagine these guys with a big budget…?
D: Ahoy! Captain Nemo: ANOTHER famous bearded musician.
MICK BARR & ZACH HILL
C: New summit album by underground instrumental speed kings: guitarist Mick Barr of Ocrilim, and drummer Zach Hill of Hella. It’ll tighten yer wig!
D: Well, I won’t need coffee for the next five months.
C: They’re going in for the kill like two old ladies speed-crocheting. Mind the wheedlework.
D: They are the speed criminals who no doubt are under surveillance by the authorities of rock. There’s a NEW MOTHER IN THE TEMPLE if you know what I mean!
C: It does have that High Rise/Mainliner/Musica Transonic thing going a bit. Ah, Japan. Some people may also be put in mind of the Peter Brotzman Octet classic assault album, Machine Gun.
D: That’s a ripping title, “Earthship.” [considers] If you lived there, you’d be home by now.
C: Sometimes they’re against each other, sometimes they unify.
D: I must ask: is there a beard?
C: [looks at publicity photo] Have beard, will rock.These guys are the opposite of Sunn o))): they do as many notes and beats as possible per hour. It’s anti-void music, filling everything with sound.
D: Without the benefit of riffage.
C: There ARE riffs—you just need to adjust your attention to catch them. It’s condensed free rock. Like the instruments are too hot to handle. Except for this one song I keep coming back to… [plays “Closed Coffins and Curtains.”]
D: Whoa! What…is…THAT???
C: It’s like some super-processed symphonic tri-guitar. Like what that weird Godley & Creme instrument was supposed to sound like, remember that? The Gizmo. They made a whole triple-album with it, and Peter Cook too. Bonkers stuff.
D: [playing the 30-second track again] I am totally spooked. [musing] Perhaps if Mr. Ocrilim slowed down and contemplated like this occasionally, he’d get to somewhere really rewarding.
C: Rewarding to you.
D: [laughs] Of course, me! Who else matters?
The Horrors ep
D: [Reading song titles] They have a song called “Sheena Was a Parasite”? I worship them already.
C: Frantic organ and guitar-driven psychobilly freakbeat rock’n’roll by five sharply dressed’n’coiffed Dickensian Brits from the belfry.
D: They look like they live in chimneys and spend all day drinking red wine and listening to The Cramps, Tav Falco & Panther Burns…probably the Hives too, and the Birthday Party and Screaming Jay Hawkins (who they cover here) and Screaming Lord Sutch and of course the right honorable Arthur Brown. I think they like bourbon and some pretty nasty stuff.
C: [listening to “Excellent Choice”] They’ve got a good look and a good sound and they seem up for a good party. They’ll come to your town and help you burn it down. And then dance in the ashes.
Riot City Blues
C: They’re been around approximately forever. And this is their once-a-decade “rock n roll is dumb fun” concept record, apparently.
[C & D cringe for 15 minutes]
C: Talk about the horrors.
D: Where’s the pooper scooper?
C: Rock n roll should be fun, it can be stoopid, but it should never, ever be tedious. One hates to witness someone failing at slumming. It’s embarrassing to all involved. Does [Primal Scream singer] Bobby Gillespie seriously think this band can boogie? Ha ha ha. Poor Mani…
D: [thoughtful] Every once in a while an object is mysteriously withdrawn from stores by its manufacturer shortly after its introduction. That kind of decisive action may be appropriate here.
Sunset at the End of the Industrial Age
C: You will recall that both members of THEUSAISAMONSTER are members of Black Elf Speaks, which is one of the great band names ever.
D: What did Black Elf have to say?
C: I don’t know, it was this kind of gibberish? But it seemed important. [sadly, as if narration] ‘And Black Elf spoke, but no one could understand what he said.’
D: [helpfully] Maybe he had something in his mouth.
D: Or, he might have a speech impediment.
D: [looking at album cover] Naturally I am wondering, what kind of monster?
C: Probably some kind of troll. On PCP.
D: That’s pretty negative. … Um…. Idiocracy got you down again?
C: Yeah… Between seeing that and re-reading Chris Hedges’s War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning last week, I guess I’m feeling more bleh about human life than ever. The idiots don’t know when to stop. And there’s more and more of them. They want war and fast food and spectacle. They’re bad at learning. We’re outnumbered, and it’s only getting worse because the herd never gets culled, since we lack exterior predators.
D: [considers] No more trolls.
C: What are we gonna do? I don’t see a way out. Ah, hell. Maybe that’s why the industrial age is going to end, as it says here on the album cover. [reading from the press sheet] “Of course The USA Is A Monster wants to turn the tide and prepare us for the time after the lights go dim on Western Civilization’s exhaust pipe party.” Sounds good to me! Let’s engage. [starts “The Greatest Mystery”]
D: YEARGH!!! THUNDERAMA!
C: Whoa. [45 minutes later…]Whoa.
D: A shining path indeed! Was that all one song?
C: Unbelievable, just ridiculous. The Who, Bruford-era Kid Crimson, Oneida, minutemen, Lightning Bolt, Liars, Rush. Homeopathic progrock with a lot of heavy spiritual-political truths and theories (“We are only holograms”) and jokes and accusations (“You’re a liar! And a CROOK!”) and digs (“My favorite subject is…me!”). That last song, the three-section “The Spirit of Revenge”…
D: What a giant marching groover that one is! These guys must be super-fit. I’m guessing it’s a lentil and walnut-heavy diet.
D: [listening to “A Million Years”] This makes me insanely happy but I can’t put my finger on why exactly. Continue reading
Originally published in Arthur No. 22 (May 2006)
C and D: Two fellas reason together about some new records
D: We have some severe time and space restrictions today because there’s 25 records to examine and I only brought four beers.
C: [disbelieving] I told you all week.
D: Yes, well. We’ll have to be efficient and precise, like the German defense.
C: Always with the soccer metaphors when he’s supposed to bring the beer.
D: [looks at stack of CDs] Hmm, I like this pitch. [smiles broadly, uncaps a Foster’s] Come on man! It’s time for kickoff.
The Real Thing: In Performance, 1964-1981 DVD
D: Marvin Gaye, the sweetpeacelovevibetenormaster of all time.
C: Sometimes things really are essential, and this nine-dollar DVD is one of those times. Or things. Anyways, the reason I’ve been watching this all week long is pretty obvious. There’s nobody like Marvin, no one even close; it’s a blessing just to watch him lip synch.
D: [grabs DVD case] Give me that. Especially when it’s Marvin duetting with Tammi Terrell at something called “Swinging Sounds of Expo 67,” singing “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” in a futuristic phone booth under a plastic dome with a people mover going by in the background.
C: Look at those Dentyne smiles. It’s like a commerical for some future utopia where they are the fertility king and queen.
D: [thoughtfully] A world where you’re not afraid to have a baby
C: Hey, you’ll like this: the a capella option lets you hear Marvin singing in the shower.
D: No it doesn’t.
C: Okay it’s actually just isolated studio tracks. Beautiful. He really can make you swoon with just a voice and a snapped finger. That’s all he needed.
D: Very efficient.
C: “War is not the answer/for only love can conquer hate… we’ve go to find a way/to get some understanding here today”—man, if you sing that today, you’re called a master of the obvious, and yet maybe it’s only a lovesinger who can bring the super-commentary that lasts. He reminds us there’s better things to do with our time.
D: [musing] Lovers and poets make the best peace advocates.
C: This is footage from the film Save the Children—
D: —which should be released on DVD immediately—
C: —which includes live renditions of “What’s Going On/What’s Happening Brother” from a 1972 concert where they did the whole album, and you get Marvin at the piano and the legendary James Jamerson on bass guitar.
D: [sipping beer] Unbelievable. Total butterland.
C: Total ethnographic film of Black America in the early ‘70s: broken windowed skylines and gang grafitti, soul food joints and black pride bookstores, men in dashikis, women in flares and kids in corduroys with spaghetti on their faces, street basketball and barbecue, balloons and checker pants and sweaters.
D: Excellent fashion!
C: He sings like his voice is a horn—and his voice actually has the grain of one. So amazing. Plus there’s multiple appearances on the Dinah Shore show—[notices puzzled D]—that was an afternoon TV show for bored housewives back in the ‘70s.
D: That was the time before they started making all the women work all the time too, in addition to the men. What happened?
C: [ignoring] He talks about What’s Goin On: “I don’t recall much about making it. I feel it was very personal, very divine. I don’t hardly remember writing the songs, it was like I was in some sort of other dimension when we did it, so I know it was a very spiritual.” We could spend weeks talking about everything on here: the polyester jumpsuit future-Chic-soul-P-funk—
D: Somewhere The Juan Maclean is crying.
C: —about getting down on the moon with floor fog that is the promotional video for “A Funky Space Reincarnation”— “COME ON BABY, let’s go peace loving and check out this new smoke/Naw this thing I got, it ain’t classified as dope/Smoke I got from Venus/Have had it all week, it’s getting old/come on and try this new thing with me baby….”
D: This song is my new national anthem.
C: And your new wardrobe, if the world is lucky.
C: This is a collab concept duo album by two geniuses-in-progress: Dangermouse, the guy who did the Beatles/Jay-Z album-length bootleg mashup, and Cee-Lo, the short guy from Goodie Mob with the voice and the lyrics and the concepts. Goodie Mob, those guys were part of that Georgia crew in the ‘90s, all of them interesting—Goodie and the Dungeon Family and Organized Noize and Outkast and Witchdoctor and Cool Breeze—
D: Who had a dream, he was in a place called Butter.
C: Here’s something bonehad obvious: this song “Crazy” is the song of the year—very apropos for these times, in so many ways that [looking at D opening his second Foster’s] we have no time to count. Three seconds and you’re hooked, three minutes and you’re done and ready to begin again. [looking at promotional photo] These guys are total half-bus refugees.
D: The revenge of the nerds is neverending. [listening to the song’s music] Somewhere, The Juan Maclean are crying another tear, alongside N.E.R.D. [repeating lyrics] “I remember when, I remember, I remember when I lost my mind/There was something so pleasant about that place/Even your emotions had an echo, and so much space/And when you’re out there ,without care, yeah I was out of touch/but it wasn’t because I didn’t know enough/I just knew too much/Does that make me crazy?” Whew. I’ve been to that place—I think I lost my mind there too once.
C: [laughs] Once?
D: [glares] SILENCE in the lower ranks!
C: Philadelphian bagpipe-playing long-ago jazz dude with new studio record. Coltrane indebted. Whoa that’s a nice double-deep in the pocket beat underneath the drone on the second track. It’s weird how the bagpipe drone works, immediately.
D: It’s dronetime once again.
C: Sometimes I’m not sure he’s playing the same song as his band—
D: [singing that Gnarls Barkley song] Mayyyybe he’s crazy?
C: —which, according to these liner notes, includes his son Messiah, one of 17 kids?!? Is that right?
D: Could it be a misprint?
C: What, he had 1.7 kids? That’d be hard to do, then again it might not be hard for a guy that plays bagpipes in 7/4.
THE BLACK KEYS
D: I am very happy sitting in front of this speaker.
C: This is the Black Keys doing six Junior Kimbrough songs.
D: One thing’s for sure: Junior had a lot of riffs.
C: One other thing’s for sure: Junior had a lot of kids. 36, to be exact.
D: [The Black Keys’ singer-guitarist] Dan Auerbach is not one of them.
C: Not that we know of. But yeah, it is uncanny how his guitar tone, style and voice can all echo Junior’s so much—on “Have Mercy On Me” at first I thought it was Junior. Who knows why what pops up where. As they say in Africa, the wind blows the seeds. Nice to hear the Keys branching out on the track, by the way, with the organ and tabla—it’s a good sound for them. And that knotty riff.
D: Wasn’t Robert Plant gonna join these guys on bass?
C: He didn’t make the cut. Re: Zeppelin, it should be said: the guitar does have that tone and bottomlinenastiness that Jimmy Page could get sometimes. So good. Great, varied drums from P. Carney, his best work yet. And here comes another long snaking moan riff.
D: Junior’s music wasn’t done evolving, even if he’s gone.
Broken Boy Soldiers
D: Yes meets the Eagles?
C: That’s a bit harsh. I know you’re a stict Megitarian, but come on: you’ve always liked both Jack White and Brendan Benson. There’s some good cuts on here, especially the Deep Purplish stutter funk on this one [“Store Bought Bones”].
D: [sagely] Sometimes when you split the difference, the difference gets split.
EAGLES OF DEATH METAL
Death by Sexy
C: Another supergroup, featuring Jesse Hughes and his boomerang of love, plus Josh Homme.
D: Unlike the Raconteurs, this group knows what it’s doing.
C: And what it is doing is very simple: retarded Rolling Stones riffs that you can go-go to.
D: This music encourages sexual tendencies and is proud of it.
C: Quality high-fiber retro guitar-and-organ pop and ballads from Bay Area sweethearts.
D: That the Raconteurs would, uh… raconteur for.
C: Dude, you gotta stop ranking on the Raconteurs. You need another beer. [hands fresh Fosters to D with ridiculously gay(e) smile] As Marvin would say, ‘Here, my dear.’
C: Very nicely done modern retro-dub from the Arthur office favorites, with guestwork from Ranking Joe, Mikey Dread, Ras Congo, the Scientist. You can’t argue with a band that uses a six-foot-long papier mache electric doobie—with smoke machine and lights—as its onstage prop.
C: Very nicely done retro rocksteady, with just the right amount of grit and spit, from members of bands I don’t usually care about.
D: A pleasant shockah.
THE FIERY FURNACES
C: Our favorite geniuses. Some may say this is the record they’ll be remembered by, but I say this is just them scraping the gravy off the ground. The endless Disneyland Electrical Parade keyboard squigglery and backmasked vocals and whatnot sure sounds to me this is a band trying to stay ahead in the weirdness sweepstakes.
D: [smugly] It’s not nearly as weird as Gnarls Barkley, and not nearly as good. And I bet you they know it.
C: Don’t they know competition is so 20th century? The key is to listen to the album in reverse order, last track first. That way you’ll listen to all of it, and you’ll be sure to hear the best song, “Whistle Rhapsody?”, which is also one of the saddest songs I’ve ever heard.
C: Okay, this is sadder.
D: I like these Espers. I sense naked hippies dancing around the maypole. After dark. Drinking the stuff from the milk of the frogs… [closes eyes]
C: It does have a certain Sandy Denny/Pentangle quality. I bet they get tagged with the New Wave of Ren Faire thing, but I bet they wouldn’t be caught dead at that party—they’re gloomy gusses and sad-lifed maidens who’d rather be in the woods than the castle, anyway. I’m speaking metaphorically of course.
D: [continuing, rhapsodic] Or they they may be playing in that town called ‘Machine’ in Jarmusch’s Dead Man. Which featues Robert Mitchum in his last performance. [opens eyes, smiles] One of this nation’s finest weedsmokers.
A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing
C: Okay, this is even sadder.
D: An American woman singing all 18th or 19th century German folk songs for children, in German, is the personification of melancholy. It might not be the right music to listen to when you’re deciding whether to live or die, deep at night in those grey hours.
C: As Marvin would say, That’s not livin’! But it sure is singing. Absolutely beautiful.
D: Excellent art-rock that doesn’t rock from a living legend, but I’m afraid this music encourages morbid tendencies. This is immense, this record. But what is it? The mood somehow implies a seriousness that might not have to do with worldly events. It is religious? spiritual? There is an urgency! Dreadstorms coming. I think of Japanese ghost music…
C: We’re running out of time, D. I think this is one we’ll have to come back to next time.
D: At least we let the people know that the mighty Scott Walker has returned.
D: The great freckled Greenwich Village folk soul who wrote “Everybody’s Talkin’,” which Nilsson had a top ten hit with in 1969 off the Midnight Cowboy soundtrack.
C: [puts on “That’s The Bag I’m In”] Check out the morning he’s having: “toast was cold and the orange juice was hot.” There’s so much soul in his singing, this is an album for the dinosaurs.
D: Not the dinosaurs man, the dolphins!
C: It’s true, these are songs for the dolphins. Seriously.
C: I’ve been let down by NASA, what with the militarization of space and all, but this gives me some insight as to what it feels like to be launched into space. Beautifully fluttered and static-drenched, like those between-song passages of Loveless-era My Bloody Valentine.
D: [blissed out]
C: [blissed out]
C: Okay. One more beer, we’ll split it. This is the new Boris, the co-ed heavy guitar sludge march trio from Japan who in the last year have dropped the overt Melvins moves and become a band of varied powers—
D: [Stands on couch with bepuzzled-in-happy-way face] Majestic dry ice fog riffage that can’t be turned any louder!
C: A landmark record, a virtual catalog of extreme rock guitar strategy—Godflesh/Jesu ethereal rings and reversed dread, overdriven High Rise-style rhythms, post-Sonic Youth squall, Kim Thayil-style tone, Grand Funk/Montrose laying-it-out-there vocals—all on the first two songs. I don’t know if any of that makes sense but I’m trying to give people a general idea.
D: Unbelievable, neighborhood-destroying pummel drumming here [on title track].
C: [listening to ‘Woman on the Screen”] Wow. Reminds me of really, really good Nirvana-style punk/grunge, only somehow much huger.
D: [listening to “Blackout”] A mighty behemoth from the Far East is throwing mountains!
C: I think we are all in agreeance. Rock album of the year so far, easy.
D: [Dancing to “Electric”] You can lose fingers to this album.
C: One last supergroup: Howlin Rain, which is Moloney from Sunburned Hand of the Man on drums and Ethan Miller from Comets on Fire on vocals and guitar, working out their common interest in that seemingly lost-forever continent of great 1968-1973 American rock ‘n’ roll, when the hippies went back to the land and kept on rocking until the Man pulled all but a few back into his lame grip. Allmann Brothers, Creedence, Grateful Dead, Neil Young…
D: I sense benificent Jerry Garcia vibes coming from smiling visage of Ethan.
C: He is singing at the edge of his capability like Jerry —it’s a high, roasted voice. But, curcially, not shrieking. He sings like he’s losing his throat. One of those guys whose vocals get quieter the louder he sings. He’s got the goner’s high moan.
D: Like that guy in Canned Heat. [listening to “Calling Lightning With a Scythe”] Or Faces-time Rod Stewart. [laughs] I call this album Another Side of Ethan Miller, Workingman Rock Star.
Originally published in Arthur No. 21 (March 2006)
C and D: Two guys bro down over some new records
D: I’m looking at the stack of stuff we’re going to talk about and I am noticing an absence this time round of certain records, or styles, that I am particularly fond of. I am worried about the lack of brash super-volume riff-monster guitar and backbeat.
C: Well D, the way I look at it is: We certainly can’t review everything that we come across—who has the energy for that? And we can’t even cover everything that’s obviously worthy—there’s just not enough space. So it’s a bit down to what most interests us at the moment. As Allen Ginsberg pointed out, “Mark Van Doren used to write book reviews for the Herald Tribune and almost every one of the reviews was intelligent and sympathetic; he was always talking about something absolutely marvelous. I said, ‘What do you do with a book you don’t like?’ and he said, ‘Why should I waste my time writing about something I’m not interested in?’” And anyways, don’t worry. There’s some riffs on the way.
D: [Listening to “Sewn One”] Hmm… Could it be the mighty Growing?
C: Close, but no cigar. This is Mountains, a duo from New York who I only recently became aware of because Mr. Plastic Crimewave selected them to play at his 2 Million Tongues festival. Their second album. A nice electrical nature hum. I’ve also been hanging out recently in the mountains, so I feel a special affection for them automatically.
D: An orchestral shower with the warm drone reminiscent of Herr Klaus Schulze on the synthesizer.
C: And then, little acoustic guitar lines and horn tones, foregrounded, or deeply backgrounded. It’s pretty great isn’t it? Total mama nature kids in a low-wattage electronic garden. Reminds me of what Ginsberg’s “great peaceful lovebrain” would sound like, slowly comfortably spinning drifting slowly in eternal wombspace. An alternate soundtrack to Silent Running‘s opening sequence, or a lost instrumental Talk Talk aria…
D: You’ve been on quite a Ginsberg kick lately.
C: [smiles beatifically] Why bother to paraphrase already perfectly put words of wisdom? I say quotate away til we have something new to say… I like to listen to this at Arthur HQ with the windows and front door open, hoping birds will fly by or neighborhood animals will walk in, and we can all be at peace together, for once… Of course, it’s also useful to drown out the car alarms and sirens and lawnmowers and leafblowers and helicopters. It’s not sentimental flashy hot leftbrain human, not cold technical rightbrain robot: strictly ahuman, objective in a naturalist’s sense.
C: Continuing in the rural mode…
D: Psychedelic canyon and meadow music such was made in ye olde ’70s! [starts air guitaring to closing ascending twin electric guitar line of “Seasons Don’t Fear the Year”]
C: They’re really nailing that rich acoustic-electric rolling tabla honey harmony sound that all those heavy bands—Sabbath and Zeppelin, especially—used to do, back when all the best musicians were inspired by what the Incredible String Band were doing, and were still able (or willing) to express a feminine side to go with their preening barbarian or depressive wail aspects…
D: [reminisces] When the maidens were fair and wore flowers in their hair instead of covering themselves in tattoos and piercings. I am awaiting Sandy Denny’s entrance at any moment.
C: Total “Battle of Evermore” vibe, especially on “Nice Cuffs.”
D: Nice title. I also like this one: “What Never Was and What Should Have Been.”
C: More like “What Always Is and Will Ever Be.” This is an album without a sell-by date, with a song for every season.
D: [listening to “Shalom of Safed”] Monumental. Like the best parts of Deep Purple and the Moody Blues and Pink Floyd.
C: Making music for horse-drawn sledrides thru the driving snow to the lodge in the distance, where pale ale and a fireplace and friends are…
D: [10 minutes later] Was that all one song?
The Duke Spirit
Cuts Across the Land
D: [listening to “Stubborn Stitches”] Could it be Heartless Bastards?
C: Yeah, a little eh? It’s actually the first album from an English band, three blokes with a woman in front who does have a voice not too far from Ms. Bastards, or Ms. The Kills, or Ms. Polly Harvey, or here, on “Darling You’re Mean” …
D: Great title!
C: …which opens like an old Spacemen 3 or Spiritualized tune, she’s got that Hope Sandoval reverbian thing going on, but she doesn’t just mope-pout, she howls too. Pretty standard tunes but a great voice and an interest in building to liftoff, repeatedly. The band reminds me a little of their contemporaries and fellow Englishpeople the 22-20s here and there, which of course takes us back to The Gun Club and X. And I also hear, especially on “You Were Born Inside My heart”…
D: ANOTHER great title!
C: …the sound of Come, of the great Thalia Zedek, an underappreciated true believer voice of blues trauma/”I’m having an episode” rock & roll darkside… This music says: jeans and threads, fringes and belt buckles, whiskey and sunglasses, late nights and tough mornings.
D: They strike me as… promising.
C: What do they promise?
D: Dirty glares, at first. But later? [smiles] Sex with slapping.
Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan
Ballad of the Broken Seas
D: [listening to “The False Husband”] Well the obvious recent comparison would be that Nick Cave & Kylie Minogue song on Murder Ballads. Also Serge Gainsbourg and Ms. Bardot, or Lee Hazelwood songs, or Jimmy Webb, or Johnny Cash…
C: It has a classic vintage feel. There’s a real string section (which more artists should do instead of cheaping it out with the synthesizer), and a darkness and a ’60s country and western duet swirl to it, with an almost inappropriately sexkittenish breathy femme voice—
D: Julee Cruise. Or, Marilyn Monroe singing to the president—
C: She’s a better singer than that, but you get the feeling listening to this—
D: [smiling broadly, with raised eyebrows] I get many feelings listening to this—
C: I have no doubt that you do, but anyways you get the feeling that she’s holding back singing, doesn’t trust her voice so much as she should. But her reticence doesn’t hurt her here because the songs are so accomplished, and she’s got Mr. Mark Lanegan, probably our nation’s greatest wounded survivor voice, to harmonize and duet with.
D: And they’re all HER songs! Interesting…
C: Except for “Revolver,” a really spooky nighttime shortness-of-breath anxiety thing written by Lanegan, and a clever reworking of Mr. Cash’s “Ramblin’ Man.” Yeah, how often do you see women writing for men anymore? It’s great. Lullabies and laments, offers and pleas, thoughtfully arranged with appropriate decor: a fiddle here, reverbed tabla there, an instrumental intermission at just the right point.
D: Which could have been a track on the Citay album!
C: And the pop tune here — “Honey Child What Can I Do?” is pure singalong AM radio gold.The album closer—”The Circus Is Leaving Town”—is an all-timer for closing time.
D: This is the kind of heartsong Tom Waits used to write.
C: What a song, what lyrics, what a melody, what a feel. I wish we could run all the lyrics for this: “The party’s over now/stop howling at the moon/you need a different beat/you need a different tune/Remember that old song/we had when we were young/Life was an empty page/the world would write upon/Do you recall the meadow grass, we’d sit and watch the hours pass/ You were such a good girl then/Oh Ruby dry your eyes/The circus is leaving town/Oh Ruby, roll your stockings down…” When Lanegan sings, “You could make me think/the sun sets in the east” and then hums at the end? Whew!
D: That’s when you know a singer knows how good a song is. When he still wants to sing it even when there’s no more words to sing.
C: Obviously, hopefully, this is just the beginning of a beautiful, enduring partnership.
Comfort of Strangers
D: Wow. Total laugh-cry masterpiece triumph to the 32nd degree. And I was never a huge fan. What happened?
C: Maybe a weekend at Esalen helped? Who knows. It’s a huge creative breakthrough, for sure, on every level. There’s more good words in the first minute of the album than most songwriters come up with in their entire career. And the music is tremendous, really dry and warm and thought-out.
D: It’s called craft at service to a group of great songs.
C: Maybe it’s down to the guys she’s working with—Tim Barnes on drums, Jim O’Rourke on other instruments and production—but it seems like they totally gelled creatively in a way where it doesn’t really matter how it happened. I mean, O’Rourke was involved with those Judee Sill records finally seeing the light of day last year, and I can hear echoes of her work here—that melancholy, that minor joy, those major choruses in spite of everything, that lovely canyon feel, etc. So it makes sense. Still… Man, every song is a hit. Listen to the breakdown on the chorus of “Rectify.” Amazing. Only a live band can do that. Same thing on “Shopping Trolley,” which is practically anthemic, with zero cheese content, and “Heart of Soul,” which she just BELTS. Amazing. Bare music, bare soul. I’m crying here!
D: Coffeehouse denizens of America rejoice, we have a new masterpiece to sip our lattes to.
Belle & Sebastian
The Life Pursuit
D: [singing along to “Act of the Apostle Part 1] “What would I do in Germany?” I find myself wondering that sometimes.
C: [smugly] I have no doubt that you do.
D: Enough with the sarcasm, you, or there may be damages! [listening to “Another Sunny Day”] Who is this?
C: Belle & Sebastian, from Scotland. Your friend Isobel Campbell used to be in this group.
D: I don’t recall them being this fun.
C: Yeah, it’s total record store pop, isn’t it? Almost like Ween in its variety and craft, when you think about it. Just a ton of styles they didn’t have mastered before: 12-string Byrds country-soul, Gary Glitter glam beat with Sweet-style melodies and harmonies, upbeat melodic Creedence chug rock & roll, a stylish Jam dance number, a Stevie Wonder Synclavier summer sunpop hit, all sung in choirboy stylee. Lotsa great music hall stuff, but it’s all perfect for a stylish afternoon-into-evening garden party.
D: Rufus Wainwright, eat your heart out.
C: Clever observational storytelling lyrics too, which they’ve always done well. “Sukie in the Graveyard” is Sly & the Family Stone-style organ riff funk with Kinks kharacter lyrics and long-line melody. “Funny Little Frog” takes me back to Pulp, who I dearly miss.
D: “For the Price of a Cup of Tea” is an undeniable number one hit in the harmony pop heaven of my inner music-lover mind.
Hello Young Lovers
(In the Red)
C: [listening, slackjawed] …
D: [listening, eyes bulging] …
C: Talk about genius.
D: Talk about masterpiece.
C: How do you even start to talk about this?
D: I’ve never heard anything like it.
C: The best I can say is if you ever liked Sparks—any of their many, many startling inventive endlessly idiosyncratic innovator phases during the last 30 (!) years—this will destroy you. And if you never liked Sparks, ever, you need this, just to know that pop music, pop lyrics, pop personae could be so much…MORE.
D: They should be on the cover of Arthur.
C: Stop the presses!
D: I gotta say I didn’t see this one coming.
C: A surprise knockout in the 20th round! Or, in Sparks’ case, the 20th album.
D: [opens window, yells outside to passers-by] C and D are down for the count! [pause] Again!
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
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
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
what we’re gonna leave undone.
all eyes upon
dry drunk emperor
gold cross jock skull and bones
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.
Saw Hill Man
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.
The Soul of Nina Simone dual disc
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
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.
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
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.
Originally published in Arthur No. 19 (Nov. 2005)
REVIEWS BY C and D
C: I feel dutybound to advise you that we shall be reviewing many records today that have shall we say significantly progressive overtones.
D: It should be no problem. I came prepared. [smiles mischievously] With beer.
Blank Unstaring Heirs of Doom
D: This is Cat Power covering Patsy Cline. After a plate of lasagna.
C: Are you sure?
D: I cannot be sure, but I feel it to be true. I am trusting my intuition. My blink-of-an-eye insight.
C: Looks like you got something in your eye. This is Jana Hunter, from Houston, Texas.
D: The home of Mike Jones?
C: The same.
D: I see. What would you call this?
C: I dunno. Downbeat lo-fi folk music with a touch of glum? But it’s more lonesome than depressing, and she tries a lot of different approaches in arrangement, texture and just general aesthetic.
D: There is definitely a deep longing at work here.
C: The album title hints at a sense of bleak but playful humor—you know the way it mimics doom metal phrasing, half believing it, getting off on how suited to these times this exaggerated language is becoming, what with all the war, pestilence and natural disaster. But sonically this is obviously not High on Fire, so you get a little wink there. Her guitar lines can descend towards doomland like Sabbath.
D: Sometimes I see where she gets the title from…
D: Spectacularly beautiful.
C: Quiet English folk artist who made a single, slightly psychedelic album in 1970 with various Incredible String Band personnel and so on, and was then lost to the world. Championed by Devendra Banhart, Animal Collective and Four Tet, who’ve all collaborated with her during the internet era. I think some of them are on this but you just spilled your beer on the notes from the record publicist.
C: Anyways, her first album was re-released last year and here’s the follow-up. Next album is scheduled for 2037.
D: She sounds the same as last time. There’s an almost Burt Bacharach-like feel to this.
C: Yeah the orchestral hook is sweet.
D: They’re very shy, mellowcholic songs.
C: There’s more piano than one might expect. Very pretty, very modest. Quite a comeback, eh?
D: She saved a little…
D: [instantly] I like this band. Make it louder!
C: [turning it up] Andrew W.K. meets Guided by Voices: power-pop played with Marshalls.
D: A melodic Fear. Big influence. [increasingly ecstatic] Perfect music for smart hooligans! You can quote me.
C: I am.
D: “Let’s Nail it to the Moon” is like Blondie’s first record. And “Spend the Night On Me” is full-on Lazy Cowgirls.
C: [quizzical look]
D: Aha, you don’t like them, but they have mighty hooks! “Teenage Frankenstein” is righteous rock, I’m telling you.
C: Who on earth would call their record Raw Power? At first you think they don’t know what they’re doing, then you think they’re just stupidly audacious, then you find out they’ve been around since like 1988 and so it’s just a great reverse inverse record-geek joke.
D: I never heard of M.O.T.O. But they have heard of themselves. They are their biggest fans. They’re like, ‘This is our Raw Power.’ And they’re right: it’s two giant balls on fire!
C: [looking at sleeve photo of mixing board] Notice that everything’s recorded at level Infinity. [calculating] The singer must be like 40 years old. Perhaps he is a schoolteacher too…
D: “Flipping You Off With Every Finger That I Have” is song title of the decade.
C: A good ol’ American fistfight. Those don’t happen too much anymore. What if fighting was in? I don’t mean Fight Club. But you know, hipsters going to other areas of town to get drunk and fight in public.
D: [repeating lyrics] “The moon in the sky/Kicks the ass/of the stars/they all fade.” This is true. Every song has a certain drunk-at-midnight, howling-at-the-moon-in-the-bar-parking-lot anthemic quality.
C: Their label has the best name in recent memory: Criminal IQ.
D: [confiding] It is said that there is a certain IQ where anyone who has it will eventually commit a crime. It’s like 116 or 115 or something.
C: Interesting. [listening to “Girl Inhale”] Anyway, this is an homage to the Beatles tune “Girl” that is so obvious it’s great. And is so great because it’s so obvious. It’s the folk tradition: this is how songs used to change over generations. The keyboard solo is a rip of “In My Life.” I wonder if every song is like that and we only are catching the most obvious ones.
D: I am saluting the mighty M.O.T.O. with every finger of my hand.
Cult Cargo: Belize City Boil Up
C: Another start-to-finish classic from one of America’s very finest record labels, the Numero Group out of Chicago.
D: They are number one!
C: This one is a collection of singles recorded between 1960 and 1980 in Belize. Amazing stuff, lots of covers of American soul hits, some reggae stuff too, all infused with this special feel. There’s a warmth—an ease—that’s absolutely seductive. You can just get glimpses of their accent.
D: [repeating lyric] “You can’t go half way, you got to go all the way/to have all my love.” Song of the third date.
C: Numero Group specialize in upending every notion you have that there is, or has ever been, a meritocracy in pop. They prove that human achievement on this planet is continuous and happens wherever people have time on their hands. It does not take place in the easily circumscribed times and places and sequences that VH1 or self-appointed music experts like ourselves—
D: [Snorts, beer comes out of nose]
C: —like to place it in. The energy is always-there-everywhere, it’s just a matter of whether you’ve found out about it yet. Remember M.O.T.O.? They’ve been going since 1988, they’re in our own country, and we only just found out about them. Think what’s been going on in other countries for decades! We don’t know anything! Admitting ignorance is the first step towards enlightenment.
D: [definitively] Numero Group are international cargo crate diggers of the first order. They should be awarded United Nations medals of honors for service to mankind.
C: Okay, time for a snack. [Offering a jar of tiny pickles from Gelson’s] Tiny pickle?
D: That’s what she said. Wait a second! That’s not what I meant.
Choubi Choubi! Folk & Pop Sounds From Iraq
C: Songs from our musically oriented friends in Iraq, much of it recorded in the Sadaam Hussein era.
D: I like this! You know, maybe we wouldn’t bomb them if we listened to their music.
C: Sublime Frequencies, who were spotlighted last issue in Arthur, also deserve special recognition and financial reward for service to humanity.
D: [looking at sleeve] It says here that this song, “They Taught Me,” is in the style of “1970’s Socialist Folk-Rock.”
C: Very helpful, D. Now, please pass the shisha.
D: [listening] This one sounds groovy… I am at a loss for words—
C: But not at a loss for beer—
D: [glares] Silence in the lower ranks!
C: It turns out that my favorite is the “Choubi” style, which sounds very Indian movie soundtrack to my untrained ears: odd rhythm, acoustic string instruments, orchestral strings, a woman ululating with a choir.
[listening to track 5] Is this one called “bee attack”?
C: No. Although there is an instrument being used called, which is Arabic for “wasp.” By the way, it says here on the sleeve that music was regarded as very important by Sadaam Hussein: he apparently called musicians the “seventh division” of his forces. But musicians themselves are not really highly regarded in Iraq. They aren’t really stars. Professional musicians are usually outsiders and outcasts, who play weddings and parties and illicit nightclubs, a recording is made to keep the artist going between gigs… gigs as income, recordings as low priority… songs are immediately public domained and any popular, locally pressed recordings are pirated… Is the music better or worse for existing in this way? I dunno. If you were to judge American music solely on the basis of each year’s 20 best selling albums, you wouldn’t say our system is outputting much to speak of. Could it be that music is worse in a corporation-ruled market system than in a dictatorship with zero intellectual property laws? If you were a musician and you’re being pirated and you’re not getting songwriting royalties and nobody is getting rich off your labor—stall merchants were just getting by, selling tapes, and in the process getting your name out there—would you care about piracy? You might be pissed off a little, but then again, chances are you built on what was there before you too. And anyways, you’re doing fine.
D: I would like to drink to this and swivel my hips. Generally just do that thing.
C: I don’t think you could get in a bar fight to this.
D: Or a war.
Radio Pyonggyang: Commie Funk and Agit Pop from the Hermit Kingdom
C: Paging Mike Patton, please come to the Lost & Found. We have your Mr. Bungle demo. But seriously: this is a whole record of North Korean stuff: “field recordings, television/radio intercepts and live performances” from 1995-1998. Album two in Sublime Frequencies’ Axis of Evil collection. I guess Iran will be next.
D: There is something special here but I think it takes a certain mind to appreciate it. [smiling] Which I have.
C: I dunno, this is a bit too schmaltzy for me. Where’s the funk? Sounds like that shitty Thai pop you hear sometimes. In the interest of peace between nations, I want to get to this but I can’t.
D: [musing] How can we hate them when they’re so awesome?
Phoenician Flu and Ancient Ocean
D: [explodes] Whoa! WHOA!!!! What have you let into this place?
C: This band almost caused a riot at Arthurfest when they played the first day downstairs in the theater. Socks were blown off. Heads were on their cel phones telling people to get over here NOW.
D: I can hear why. WHOA. Fuck me, this is some full-on majestic streetwalking cheetah thruster guitar rock in Satty-like collage. Man!
C: Year they’re like cousins to the Comets on Fire bros, spiritually speaking.
D: Another strike force from Santa Cruz!?!
C: It’s a question that needs an answer: What exactly is going on up there in the banana slug republic to generate this kind of Hawkwind power gazer goner stuff? I can hear some Dead Meadow blisswork bursts in there too—and Crazy Horse search-soling as well. And Acid Mothers Temple yawning-sound journeying, heavy Bonzo drumming. Amazing.
Hyper Magic Mountain
C: New riff-blat super-attack from the Providence, Rhode Island artcore guitar-drums power duo.
D: The cover art matches at least the first eight seconds.
C: [reading sleeve] “Humans chill out! There is no back-up planet!”
D: Cathartic art attack. They must be a ball to see live.
C: They have some definite hits here., like track 2, “Captain Caveman.” Reminds me of Unsane, Big Black, Helmet, Killdozer, Slayer: everything on that label Amphetamine Reptile used to sound like this. I guess that sound went pretty mainstream with more ink and noserings but there was always some infant-mind tantrum rapping on top of it. But this is more like the original stuff to me, more imaginative and nature-loving, and, as they say, “mastered for metal loudness.” You gotta dig the lyrics: “Health is all the wealth I need/birds and squirrels and bees and trees/all the things that ride the breeze/money makes the world go round/drags it down and burns it out/I am the caveman/I am the timebomb…”
D: Time for another beer. I’ll be in the fistfight in the other room.