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!