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.
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.
C: I feel like it’s 4am at the docks and we’re hearing the soundtrack to some new-millennium industrial-environmental horror show. To update Funkadelic: Mother Earth is REALLY screaming now. [listening to “Lake of Roaches”] Especially now that these noise dudes have a horn. Yikes.
D: I see scrapheap monsters vomiting spare parts and microchips.
C: Urgh, this is uncomfortable in a really good way, like a good ol’ Khanate death-slog through the bog. It’s the feel-nothing hit of the fading summer.
D: “Rusted Mange” sounds like somebody getting run over.
C: “Leper War” is more queasy listening. I’m thinking of torture gardens and animal abuse science labs. All the atrocities going on behind the curtain. Machines playing with their prey. Angry dogs chomping on kids’ talking playtoys. Trains full of prisoners.
D: [thoughtfully] This is music to blow up Monsanto to.
C: Wolf Eyes: for when you want to detonate your day.
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.
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?
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.
Fall Heads Roll
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.
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.
We Are Wolves
Non-Stop Je Te Plie En Deux
C: Another band with a wolf-related name. From Canada. They are Canadian wolves: hear them howl.
D: [Returning with two newly opened beers in hand, enthusiastic] I like this! It sounds like what doing really good coke feels like.
C: Um. I was gonna say these guys sound like it what I had hoped ARE Weapons or that second Faint album would sound like but that’s damning with pretty faint praise.
D: It’s almost like the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage.” Or Devo, even.
C: An agitated, slightly angry Devo. Or Fat Possum’s own gonzoid Bob Log III: churning stuff, guitar and vocals set to high-distort.
D: Canadians freaking out with a drum machine.
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.
Originally published in Arthur No. 16 (July 2005)
REVIEWS BY C and D
D: Before we begin, I would like to say that today I am in the mood to rock.
C: Well, my friend, you have come to the right place.
D: [first song starts, D leaps out of chair immediately] Is this one of those Japanese bands? With a girl?!? Who is this singing?
C: That woman is not a girl—she could show you a thing or two. [dramatic pause] It’s Sleater-Kinney, produced by Dave Fridmann.
D: [Jaw hits floor] Really?!? SLEATER-KINNEY?????!!!!???? Fuck, man! [shakes head] This is a MAJOR statement of psychedelic riot woman super-rock power! Rock ‘n roll album of the year! God DAMN!!!!
D: I know. Maybe the decade. Superfuzz-heavy in the Northwest tradition of Blue Cheer-Nirvana-Mudhoney, expansive like Neil Young with Crazy Hors…Hendrix… Built to Spill? There’s stuff on here that is out as Comets on Fire, possible even further. Who’s going to top this? Absolutely gigantic sounds…amps out of the red and into the black… a 14-minute song at the end that goes as far out as Comets On Fire, even into Les Rallizes Denudes and Ash Ra Tempel territory…
D: I have to admit I would never have thought these three women would make a record that’s this relentlessly face-melting.
C: I don’t know if they’d thought it possible either. There’s some precedent in Babes of Toyland, or early Hole, maybe, but this is just so much further… Well, I’m not sure that they’d call it psychedelic but it’s definitely psychoactive in an urgent kind of way.
D: [musing] There’s a bit of Jefferson Airplane in here, that’s for sure.
C: There’s a structure to everything but there are these void spaces, too. And then there are straight songs too, which rock in this tight, urgent way and then blow into something else via a drum charge or a panned guitar solo or I don’t know what. I know I’m going Beavis here but I don’t know how to [clears throat] …ahem… properly articulate the sensations I am feeling as I listen to this album. For a long time I didn’t like Corin Tucker’s voice, but here? It’s like this is the setting it’s always been looking for.
D: And that’s some hotshit drumming for sure.
C: [dancing] I can’t believe it, but seriously, one must acknowledge what is happening here. This is higher than High on Fire. They are Queens of a more stoned Age!
D: An unheard of power monster, that singlehandedly, forever eradicates the notion that women have no balls.
C: [Gives puzzled look at D, then continues] I cannot account for what I am hearing. Cannot assimilate. How did this happen? Seriously. It’s a lidflipper, a real wig-frier. Can you name another band that seven albums into their career, supernovaed into this kind of territory? This is so rare. It reminds me of something that Michael Moorcock was saying the other day: “In the ‘60s, Dylan, Beatles, Beefheart et al. were all thinking on their feet, if they were thinking at all. While Dylan remained a Guthrie sound-a-like he had no real credibility (although he did bring Guthrie a wider audience, I’d guess). As Dylan dumped the Guthrie cloak, especially when he went electric, he gained authenticity. The less like Buddy Holly the Beatles sounded, the better they got. Eventually, you went into a studio not knowing what you’d come out with.” I think that may be what’s happened here with Sleater-Kinney. Maybe this record just happened. Maybe we are witnessing the joy of unplanned, no-thinking, no-rules spontaneous creativity, of these three amazing women following and trusting their muse, confident in their abilities and each other to give it a trust that most other artists cower from giving these days? In any event, it’s an extraordinary creative breakthrough record made at precisely the right time by artists working at the peak of their collective rock power. That they are women in a stupid, male-centric culture doing this makes the whole thing even more important and inspirational. I want to go door-to-door like an evangelist for this record: “Hey sisters and brothers, have you heard the Good News?” But the old doors don’t exist after this album. They’ve all been blown open.
D: Word to your moms, Sleater-Kinney drop bombs.
C: New one from New York underground trance/art-rockers Oneida: a favorite around the Arthur offices for years now.
D: [Listening to “The Eiger”] They’re using strings?!?
C: Yes! This sounds amazing. The songs are catchier, there’s more dynamics in the structure, the arrangements are more varied. And the production is just nuts. This is another huge artistic breakthrough. Damn…
D: Something is in the air… Something good. A new scent.
C: Shit! Listen to how the keys get sucked out of the soundfield [on “Lavender”]… Listen to the almost-Espers psych-folk that is “Run Through My Hair.” “High Life” is an optimistic vocal over a total Kraftwerk/Cluster/La Dusseldorf electronic bed that changes into something more organic… “Did I Die” is like Wolf Eyes without the noise, [chuckles] whatever that means. Wow. I can’t believe this album…
D: It’s true, it’s beautiful.
C: Listen to how massive the drums are on “Spirits” and “Heavenly Choir,” and how majestic the guitar is. These are their “Kashmir”’s, their “When the Levee Breaks,” and this album is their Physical Graffiti…
D: We are in the presence of genius, manifesting itself.
Originally published in Arthur No. 12 (Sepember 2004)
REVIEWS BY C and D (and E…)
THE GRIS GRIS
The Gris Gris
C: Okay D, we’re gonna start this one off with something I know you will dig—the debut album from San Francisco psych-rock three-piece Gris Gris, who are led by that kid Greg Ashley, whose solo record we dug last year.
D: Yes I remember Mr. Ashley well! He is the new Syd Barrett and [listening to keyboard run] he is advising us to join him on an interstellar overdrive magic carpet ride.
C: The carpet’s in the garage, and it’s kind of greasy. It’s not used, it’s vintage.
D: Rock bands were doing this in garage basements in the Bay Area of ‘60s, after they got their first Yardbirds records. And all across Milwaukee in 1987. Mister Ashley is singing his ASH off! I also like the simplicity of the drumming.
THE BLACK KEYS
C: Third album from Akron’s finest, once again produced by themselves.
D: [listening] I am not sure if they needed to make another album on their own. There’s not enough progression here.
C: It’s more mellow than the last one. But I like it. Listen to the solo here on “Desperate Man.” And this one on “Stack Shot Bully.”
D: Hmm, definite burning there. This is a 7.5 moving up to 9.3…
C: And this Kinks cover, “Act Nice and Gentle” is great, really blissed out, reminds me of going down to the river in the summertime. I didn’t think I ever wanted to hear another take on “Summertime Blues,” but…
D: That’s a rocker with extra thrusters, baby! It still is summertime and yes I still have those blues! Even though it says “do not duplicate,” can I duplicate it?
Wet From Birth
C and D: [blank stares]
C: Um… Pretty belabored electro dance new wave blah blah.
D: I am in Berlin getting down with the transvestites.
C: I see 16-year-old girls dancing poorly.
D: Who are they? I wish he woulda left the transformer effect at home.
C: They come from Omaha. This is their second album.
D: Really??? [listening more closely] They’ve finally written a song good enough for Victoria’s Secret commercial. Congratulations!
C: Maybe we just don’t have an ear for this stuff, but, sheesh, this is painfully shitty. Crap new wave is a joke that didn’t need to be told, ever again.
MOUSE ON MARS
D: This is so bad in such an obvious way. They don’t even number their tracks! So inconsiderate.
C: What, you’ve never heard of glitch in Milwaukee or Berlin?
D: Yes yes, but this… Mouse on Mars have lost it. This trying-to-be-funky-and-clever thing is not working in their favor.
C: You are not happy with the Mouse’s progress.
D: They are progressing to a place where nobody wants to dance. And I am a dancing kind of fellow!
She Loves You
(One Little Indian)
C: An album of covers by Greg Dulli’s Twilight Singers project. He used to lead the Afghan Whigs, about four decades or so ago.
D: Never heard of ‘em. I am not a fan of the ‘90s.
D: Really? [listening to cover of “Hyperballad”] This sounds like U2. Agh, can’t stand it. Even the guitar is ringing! Can we please listen to something I might like?
C: Dulli does sound like Bono when he tries to hit those trailing Bjorknotes.
D: Is that her voice in the background? [sarcastic] Are they holding hands? This is ghastly! [listening to cover of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”] Now he sounds like Marianne Faithful. I’m getting a drink. Okay, maybe three drinks. [heads for kitchen]
C: I only like the songs where Mark Lanegan sings, really. This version of the blues “Hard Killing Floor” where Lanegan sings lead is all nice and charcoal and moonshine… But basically, I like this album more in concept than in execution. The world doesn’t need an easy listening MOR version of “A Love Supreme,” in my humble opinion.
Trust Not Those In Whom Without Some Touch of Madness
C: [to tape recorder] D’s in a bad mood, again! Sheesh. Okay, guess I’ll keep going here. This is the new album by the sublegendary Thalia Zedek, who lead the great lost rock ‘n roll band Come for many years. Unforgettable voice, jointly sponsored by Jameson’s and some devilry, I think. Like later Marianne Faithful, actually. Anyway, this is pretty straightahead sad-eyed twilight rock ‘n roll, with some violin on it, which of course sends me back to another lost-‘90s-rock-n-roll-band-with-a-great-female-singer: the Geraldine Fibbers. They also had a violin. Yep.
The Second Man’s Middle Stand
C: Mike Watt from the minutemen and fIREHOSE and current Stooges bassist doing his first album in six years, a total concept piece about his near-terminal illness, plus Dante and one thousand and one other layers of meaning, played by a storming organ-drums-bass three-piece. 9 songs, with eight of them over 5:30, which means this earns Prog certification. Like a particularly smart Deep Purple, subbing out the ponderousness for some art-punk new-beat spastics, splatter and stutter. Do you need a lyric sheet to make sense of it? Yes you do.
C: One of the worst album titles in recent times, but let’s not hold that too much against it. Continuing in the ‘90s-semistar series here, the new solo album from the former singer of the Replacements, who were also doing traditional American rock ‘n roll when that wasn’t exactly called for by the times. Never really dug his solo work, but this is ridiculously good at what it’s doing: really melodic mid-tempo rock ‘n roll that you listen to at the gaspump and then hum the rest of the way home: kinda Oasis, actually, and kinda Tom Petty. And “Looking Up In Heaven” is gorgeous perfection. Yep.
D: [walks back into the room holding big coffee mug, mumbling to himself] People can’t tell you’re an alcoholic if you drink it out of a coffee cup…
C: [oblivious] Solo album from the guitarist for the Black Crowes, who are on some kind of trial separation. Very in-the-pocket, and lovely harmonies, just solid rock ‘n roll songs for longhairs washing their VW bus on a Sunday afternoon.
THE WHIRLWIND HEAT
Flamingo Honey EP
C: This is the new EP from the Detroit band Jack White called the closest we’re gonna get to a Devo in this generation.
D: Hmph. I will be the judge of that!
C: 10 songs, 10 minutes, each song almost exactly one minute.
D: [listening to “The Meat Packers”] Sounds like when the White Stripes covered all those Beefheart songs on that Sub Pop 7-inch.
C: You’re totally right! Good call
D: These guys sound a little too smug to me. They’re just good enough that they’re getting laid.
C: I like conceptual limits, generally. Sometimes it gets you out of a creative jam, makes you go into a new space you wouldn’t’ve otherwise thought of. It necessitates invention and problem solving, keep you from getting too set in your ways. Standard John Cage theory, right? Brian Eno…
D: These guys should work with Eno!
C: He did produce Devo’s first album, didn’t he? Hmm. Perhaps it can be arranged.
COLONEL CLAYPOOL’S BUCKET OF BERNIE BRAINS
The Big Eyeball in the Sky
(Prawn Song Records)
C: Okay, I think I’ve had enough Primus for one lifetime but this looked interesting. It’s Claypool on bass, Bernie Worrell from P-Funk on keyboards, Buckethead on guitar and Brain on drums. Like one of those old Axiom jams that Bill Laswell used to put together back in the early ‘90s with Bootsy and all them.
D: I used to listen to Primus. They had one good album, I don’t remember what it was called but it certainly wasn’t Pork Soda. That was the worst.
C: [cracking himself up] The wurst, you mean, ha ah ha!
E: [entering room] Hey guys, what’s going on? This sounds great!
C: Whoa. The notorious E dares to enter Arthur’s inner sanctum.
D: We have not seen a woman here in sometime.
C: But your presence here has been foretold.
E: You guys might have more company if you guys didn’t lock the door all the time!
C: Sorry… So, you really like this, E?
E: I love Les Claypool’s voice. I admire his integrity. And can you say “Pork Soda” without laughing? I think not.
C: Er… I believe no one should imitate Zappa. Well not like this, at least.
D: I do like things that are circus-y. It’s like a Fellini movie, you’re waiting for the transvestite to pop out of the tent…
C: I think I’d like it more if I was 16 and playing Nintendo.
E: This is great. What’s your problem, C? If it said “Ween” on the box, you would totally dig it. They’re clearly incredibly smart and having fun.
C: Hmm. Okay, maybe if I was 14.
D: This is totally late Residents and is making me want to get very high right now. I could get a lot of cleaning done to this.
Who Is This America?
E: Fela? Tony Allen? This is cool, of course.
D: Is this from Nigeria? If I had to DJ a wedding, I would definitely play this. You can do any kind of dance to it, there’s so much going on. You can meringue to it.
C: But it’s not Fela Kuti, it’s Antibalas, that group from New York trying to bring back that original Afrobeat. They’re so good now, I can’t tell the difference, really.
D: Don’t they have like 86 people in their band or something?
E: [dancing] More like 20! It’s between them and the Polyphonic Spree for largest band in the Arthur world…
C: I have to say that as good as they are, their lyrics still aren’t there. Fela’s was always really biting and clever. Most of this is too straightforward, there’s none of that really cutting, mordant wit.
D: [dancing with eyes closed] Who cares, this is phenomenal! It makes me want to put my ass into it!
C: [to tape recorder] He said he was a dancing fellow, and now he is proving it.
E: Hey, did you guys hear that Rick James died today?
C: A lot of people owe him big time.
D: Especially those guys who had girlfriends who became superfreaks!!!
Pigs of the Roman Empire
E: Now for something completely different.
C: Is it Godflesh?
E: It’s actually the Melvins with Lustmord.
C: Awesome dark sludge from some creepy condemned industry at the edge of town.
E: [listening to “The Bloated Pope”] I think this music is really erotic! Much more than easy listening or slow jam, because it’s dark and there’s an element of mystery.
C: And the fifth song is called “Pink Bat,” which is almost as good a title as “Pork Soda,” eh, E?
E: [smiling] Yes, exactly.
D: It’s not my favorite kind of music, but I could scrub the walls to it.
E: Hey D, what are you drinking in that coffee cup? It doesn’t smell like coffee…
Original soundtrack by Bobby Beausoleil
C: Speaking of dark and mysterious, here is the original soundtrack for Kenneth Anger’s legendary Lucifer Rising. The original composer was supposed to be Jimmy Page, but Anger ended up using this score by Bobby Beausoleil, an old Manson associate who recorded it in the ‘70s while in prison…
D: UNBELIEVABLY black! Black turned to 100, with lizard eyes. But subtle and beautiful, somehow. This is a high point of human culture.
D: Throbbing Gristle!!!
C: Yeah kind of, right? It’s actually Wolf Eyes, who we reviewed last ish.
E: [reading song titles] “Black Vomit.” “Urine Burn.” And of course, “Stabbed in the Face.” I think they need to get some grooves going. That’s their problem.
D: I used to go see a lot of bands like this. Then I stopped.
C: You have to see it in a small space where the sound of just overwhelming and crushing and inescapable and you are just being confronted with it. I can’t really picture listening to it at home—
E: Me either.
C: —but maybe that’s my problem?
HOPE OF THE STATES
The Lost Riots
D: [disgusted] Is this the new Billy Corgan album?
C: It’s Hope of the States, young band, they’re being hyped as the greatest thing since buttered bread and bangers by the British press. One of the guitarists hanged himself in the studio before they finished the album.
D: [listening to “Don’t Go to Pieces”] I have a theory about the suicide. Maybe he did it because he heard the singing on this song!
E: [groans] Double-ouch. No need to be so callous, D. You might want to lay off the vodka a bit… But yes, this singing is really awful.
C: I thought I’d like this because they’re supposed to be dark and political and grand but it just sounds like the dreary precious bits of Radiohead. No thank you.
E: Hype of the States!